Possible to learn design in an online setting?

I feel like I had “more” challenges than the rest of us who went through the pandemic last two years.  

The “more” part has to do with the longer duration (7 years) and also the personal nature of the challenges. It started in 2015 November with my dad’s accident. 

Since the accident and the subsequent following years of his care, there were many challenges, both personal and professional ones. Focusing on taking care of my dad as my number one priority, I had to let go of several professional responsibilities, such as teaching

Photo by Anthony Shkraba on Pexels.com

It was difficult to do it all; caring for dad while running my architecture practice and then keeping other professional responsibilities.  

While juggling many responsibilities, and producing mediocre results in all of those efforts, I realized I could not do it all.   

With that, I stopped teaching back in 2015.  

Since then, I have been missing the teaching experience…or I should say I have been missing the connection with the people: students, colleagues. Most of all, I missed the discussions I had about the topic, Design.

This year, I decided to go back to teaching and I received an opportunity at the OCAD University in Toronto.  

With the new opportunity, new sets of anxieties also crept in; not only the teaching but with the new format-online teaching!

Years ago, it would have been laughable if someone suggested online design studio courses,….how can you teach design studio classes in an online setting?

It has been only a few weeks since I started teaching, and I am slowly getting used to (aka getting comfortable contacting IT support teams at all hours) the online format of teaching.  

Here are my evolving perspectives on why online learning is here to stay. 

Self Motivation is the key

Self-motivation has been the cornerstone of any progress we made individually or collectively. 

Landing on the moon, having personal computers, and now even paying for my morning coffee with my iPhone would be good examples of that progress.  

The significance of self-motivation is even more critical when it comes to one’s learning, especially in today’s fast and ever-changing world.  

Having the freedom to learn (also to teach in my case) without the restriction of dictating everyone to be in the same physical classroom presents new challenges. 

Image from Medium

Missing students’ reactions, or even worse, not seeing them at all (video and audio turned off), and also my slow typing skills to students’ constant popping text messages are some of those challenges.

During my first class, there were many questions for both of us; I suspected there would be more to come as ALL of going through the online learning/teaching settings.  

How do you judge students’ reactions? or even the level of their participation when I am only seeing their initials on the video setting?  

However, I’m starting to think these may be the wrong questions to ask.

The better ones could be why all of us decided to show up (or be seen in the online setting) for the class even if their video/audio settings were turned off.  

I admit that I would have less control as a teacher in online setting compared to my old days teaching. Being able to wake up a sleeping student in the middle of the class would be a distant memory…maybe, that is a good thing.

Letting students recognize the importance of self-motivation in their education journey is the ultimate skillsets for all teachers to emphasize. I am starting to think the online setting just might do the trick.  

Possible to teach Design in online setting?

Design is visual communication.

Drawings, paintings and even making 3D architectural models require not only the creators but also the viewers( a.k.a. rest of us) to be able to see, feel, comment, praise, and also to criticize.

We had always” seen” these creations in the physical settings (classrooms, galleries etc) with others together, at the same time.

Now with the online setting, the emphasis of “seeing together” with others had moved to individual settings. 

All of us come together in a little box on the computer screen to see and comment with the new format of communications: chat room on the side, raising hand sign at the bottom, blurring the background image button, etc

During the pandemic, we were all introduced to video communications through different platforms. In my architecture practice, I am getting used to having online meetings and recognizing that there are some benefits(?) of the new format; being punctual for the meeting, efficient during the meeting, and most importantly, prompt ending time. (since we have other zoom meetings to attend afterward!)

The Pandemic forced us to make many changes; the biggest one would be communication. 

In the design field, we are slowly opening up to new ways of communicating our ideas. 

However, the fundamentals of design and how we approach our design ideas have not changed. We still think and create the same ways…just the communication of those thinking and creation has changed.

Online learning is here to stay

Like the popular concept, WFH (Work From Home), learning from home would evolve over time and ultimately be the norm. 

It is not because students have to get used to new ways of learning but the younger generation of students with more online learning experience would expect it to be the norm.  

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

Recently I heard from my niece who is in seventh grade telling me that she prefers online learning for several reasons; she can focus more, likes the clear format of each class, and of course not having to get up early to go to morning classes are the definite bonus she doesn’t want to lose.

I could not believe it. 

I asked if she does not miss seeing her friends. Without missing a beat( or losing the focus on her phone) she calmly tells me that she sees her friends…online!

In fact, she sees more friends now than before and that includes one of her oldest friends who lives in Australia. She tells me she has more time to focus on things and people… she also states “older people” need to be open-minded about the new ways of doing things!

I have a hunch when she says the words, “older people”, she means her aunt!

Final Thought

The debate about online education no longer seems relevant, especially in the minds of the most important audience; students.  

It is possible that the debate only exists in “older” people’s minds as my niece pointed out.

With any changes, we generally feel apprehensive/critical especially in the beginning, however, we all know that the initial “ accommodation” phase slowly morphing into something we get used to or we even prefer at some point. (remember the early days of having to wear masks!)

As an “older” person, maybe I can start looking at those new changes with somewhat depressing but nevertheless with an enlightened perspective; no need to struggle with today’s new changes since there would be newer ones coming tomorrow.  

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