So as the nation falls into a full-on experiment in quarantine and social distancing, everyone is having their typical life cycles interrupted. My life is no different; I am going through the process of converting my current two design studios at Texas A&M University into solely online/digital/virtual instruction. Therefore I have been pondering on this little conundrum for about 10 days … and I have not come to a full conclusion on how to accomplish this as of yet. While I know that this process is possible, the challenge for me (and my colleagues) is the timeline of this process. Learning that all classes will need to be ‘virtual’ just a mere 7-10 days before we are to resume instruction is definitely the largest obstacle here. But there are certainly many more…
I had a faculty meeting on Monday of this week to discuss aspects of moving forward as a college and a department. This was the social distancing setup for the meeting. I just had to share this photo. It has a certain eerie quality to it while also a bit of humor.
How to provide instruction?
So the first order of operation is how to provide instruction to the students. This does not prove to be too difficult with my third-year students. They are knowledgeable enough in the studio and design process that instruction can be provided in many basic ways. So I will be providing lectures and presentations in multiple formats that can either be viewed at their leisure or viewed live during our scheduled class time. Again at this stage, and the way my current third-year studio works, the majority of the time is focused on a work and feedback loop. While I do provide some lecture and theory content, it is approximately about 30% of the overall scope of the studio. Since we are only 5 weeks from completion, then there is not a huge amount left in this part of providing instruction for them.
But my first-year students are not in the same boat. They are probably not even in the same body of water! So I am struggling with the best methods to provide the greater need of instruction for these students who are only in their second semester of college and of design. This is more intense in the overall discussion, explanations, and interactions than the older studios. I spend much of my time extolling my thoughts on architecture, fielding questions, and just overall providing an example of how to work through the design process. So here the need for social interaction is almost imperative for the development of the student. How can I accomplish this? Is it even possible? We will lose the ability to create, review and analyze physical models for the rest of the semester. I will definitely miss that and I think the students will as well even if they do not know it. They will miss the learning and exploration only possible via the use of physical models. There is just something about it that is superior to the digital environment, especially when it comes to learning about design.
How to provide feedback?
After the issue of instruction has been addressed now it is time for the ability to provide feedback and guidance. I am approaching this much like I would the work of a consultant who works with my firm. They provide a work product and I review and provide comments. I am planning a weekly deadline to help propagate this activity. This should (emphasis) be an easier process. I plan to have students provide progress on their projects via digital means and then I intend to essentially ‘red-line’ them as I am accustomed. The all-important verbal aspect of this will be completed in various manners as I experiment to find the best method. Zoom, Skype, Facetime, Google, Miro, and others will be among my list of trials. So I hope to determine this within a few weeks. I hope this one will be a simple enough process, but again there are definitely going to be some complications I have no doubt. Again I feel that this will be a more difficult task with the first-year students. I will have to put myself on time limits with the students to ensure that I manage to interact with each one within the week. But there is no ability to go back and catch someone else if there is extra time. Or possibly stop to explain a concept to the entire class after a few students in a row have asked the same question. As you can see, I have identified many issues here. I guess it’s easier to be critical.
Can this result in quality?
This is one of my biggest concerns. I am hoping that it will but the face to face interaction of discussing, drawing, and visualizing is a very large part of the design studio. It is part of the studio culture. I know that the more my studios interact with me, and with one another, the final outcomes usually are better. How can you create this in a totally virtual environment? I plan to experiment with this in a few ways by encouraging peer reviews and hopefully other forced interactions. How can I aid in cultivating a virtual studio culture and manage to be successful? Even in my office I still manage to meet consultants face to face to resolve the trickier parts of a project. There always seems to be no substitute. Right?
So as the studios of earlier in the semester sit in silence and emptiness, I begin the task of creating a virtual studio and hope that I can be successful. Even though I feel I am a savvy individual when it comes to technology, this situation still presents some issues for me. Regardless of the outcome, I am honestly a bit excited to make this work. I hope that it will allow me to create some content for my classes in the future and also just refine my teaching skills. Here’s hoping all of that comes true!
Until next time,