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What’s Next? Design Education in a (more) Virtual World

What lessons can we draw from pandemic teaching?

Design Critique, Virtual Design Critique


Written by: Dr. Michael Lahey

Michael Lahey is an Associate Professor and Coordinator of Interactive Design at Kennesaw State University. He teaches classes on interaction design, ethnography, and professional development. He writes mostly about the changing nature of contemporary design and you can learn more about him at https://www.michael-lahey.com.

The global Covid-19 pandemic obviously changed a lot of things about teaching for many teachers. Some teachers, myself included, found themselves scrambling to adapt to teaching online for the very first time. I am the Coordinator of an interaction design program that largely teaches classes face-to-face. At the beginning of the pandemic, I was asking myself questions like, “How to I translate the in-class experience to online environments?” But now, as the school where I teach has mandated a return to face-to-face teaching, I am asking different questions like:

“How do I weave what I learned during this year of online teaching back into the in-class experience?”

Over the course of this year, I’ve learned the value of recording lectures—students can pause, rewind, and rewatch—and using online tools such as Creative Critique, Discord, and Miro. These tools act as a type of virtual commons, where students can chat and see each others’ work in a space unbound by time restrictions. The question for me now is—what will I continue to use when I am back in the classroom?

Following Peter Scupelli and Judy Brooks, I want to experiment with bringing a flipped classroom into my design teaching practices.

A flipped classroom generally means shifting new content (i.e., lecturing, reading, videos) online with face-to-face class sessions focusing on discussion, exercises, or studio time. Scupelli and Brooks found that students’ grades improved after implementing the flipped class structure and that in-class sessions could be used to elaborate on challenging design issues (2018, 1336).


With a flipped, face-to-face design class in mind, I still see the value of all these digital tools as a way to facilitate work outside the classroom. For instance, my online classes this past year were asynchronous (i.e., students worked at their own pace) and I used Creative Critique to facilitate design critiques. Students uploaded their work to Creative Critique, were placed into “critique pods,” and then used the tools Creative Critique offers to critique others in their “pod.” And I still see a place for this type of tool in face-to-face classes. For instance, Creative Critique can be used to facilitate or begin critiques before class happens. Having critiques loaded on Creative Critique before class starts helps “prime the pump,” so to speak, on in-class discussion. It also allows the class to spend the precious little time we have together on the most meaningful portions of the critiques.


Another value of sustaining the use of digital tools meant to foster virtual engagement in design education is the fact that, even after the pandemic is over, more jobs will have a larger virtual component to them. As Derek Thompson notes in The Atlantic, many workers who went into the office before the pandemic will not be going back (2020, 1). Working from home or working in the office fewer days of the week will most likely be a new norm. We need to prepare design students for these types of scenarios. So, while I may be going back to face-to-face, many of the tools and techniques I used during the pandemic will be coming with me.

References

Scupelli, Peter & Judy Brooks. 2018. “What Features of a Flipped Course Improve Design Student Learning Experiences?” In Next Wave: The 21st dmi: Academic Design Management Conference Proceedings, 1317 - 1337. Boston: Design Management Institute.

Thompson, Derek. 2020. “The Workforce Is About to Change Dramatically.” The Atlantic. Accessed April 11, 2010. https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/08/just-small-shift-remote-work-could-change-everything/614980.