Teaching: on the front line

May 9, 2003

What is your experience of teaching? Pat Leon asks teachers how they manage.

Name: Murray Fraser

Age: 44

Job: Professor of architecture, University of Westminster.

Salary: When taken from all sources, approaching £50K

Qualifications: BSc and graduate diploma in architecture, MSc in architectural history, a PhD. I am also a chartered architect.

Experience: Many years in architectural offices. More recently I've turned to consultancy.

Until last month, I taught at Oxford Brookes University's School of Architecture. I have always encouraged students to take a more theoretical approach to buildings. Historically, architects have seen just the building and have ignored the space created around it. But that space has a social meaning.

At Brookes we struck a deal with a former student who runs a successful computer games and digital design business and asked students to experiment with the latest technology in designing buildings. I have just moved to the University of Westminster because I believe it is the leading digital architecture school in Britain. I see it as a chance to develop the next generation of digital techniques using fully immersive "real-time" environments.

Hours spent teaching: 16 a week.

Hours on red tape: 12. It is important to the job. I was one of the team to write the Quality Assurance Agency's benchmark statement for architectural degrees, and I am active in professional accreditation processes. There are still too many people in architectural education who believe that they have a divine right to teach just because they think they have "a good design eye".

Hours on research: Seven. It is a struggle, but I always try to pursue new avenues of investigation.

Teaching bugbear: Zealots who insist, without any real evidence, that students want, and perform better under, a tick-box and league-table approach. The students I meet want tutors who can make lateral connections and generate enthusiasm, not endless bits of paper.

How would you solve it? Someone brilliant at the Institute of Education needs to write an epoch-making paper that proves that learning, rather like love and laughter, works best when it is not overdescribed or analysed in pedantic detail.

Teaching pleasures: Working with students on their design projects is a treat. But I also love supervising dissertations. I enjoy supervising because it is when teaching becomes the most student-directed. Some of their projects are real "live" commissions, others are made through film, and yet others are books. In the end, they all have to be assessed and distilled down into a printed dissertation.

Outside interests: The usual stuff - cinema, exhibitions, football, restaurants, keeping moderately fit. I spend a lot of free time escorting my two sons to sport and leisure activities.

Career highlights: For seven years running I was lucky enough to tutor a prize-winning dissertation in the international student competition run by the Royal Institute of British Architects. I received a special award in December 2000 and the inaugural Riba Dissertation Tutor Prize in 2001. I have also taught in design-studio teams in which I have tutored a number of prize-winning projects, including the top award in a major international student competition run from Holland.

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