AUTHOR

Pranay Mangrati

DATE

26/02/2021

TAGS

Design Education

Breaking Stereotypes: Learning Design During A Pandemic

AUTHOR

Pranay Mangrati

DATE

26/02/2021

TAGS

Design Education

With the onslaught of the pandemic, the urban design education community adapted quickly to a reality of co-working without being physically present next to each other. Teaching, learning, sharing, and discussing without literally breathing down one’s neck seemed impossible just a few months ago. Never did I imagine that one day while working in a brick and mortar institute I would be teaching design to students who may be living just a couple of blocks away or in a different city altogether.  I pride myself on the fact that we teach design which requires face-to-face interactions with students in a real studio environment where we get to feel the “live” pulse and energy of students. This way of teaching and mentoring has its advantages – – faculty can measure a student’s struggles and learnings as a part of the design process. It also enables us to understand when it is apt to push a student harder or when it is essential to handhold and guide someone. 

Undoubtedly, the pandemic forced us to look and rethink beyond what we conceived as normal. While our critical thinking skills helped us look at this setback as an opportunity, yet during the lockdown our personal space bubbles became more visible, our physical distances more apparent and our greetings less personal. Our classrooms are now on our laptops and while we talk to students online. A challenge that every educator faces, is to ensure the participation of all students in these sessions. How actively indulged are your students in these online sessions? Are they joining the classes just for attendance or are they able to engage proactively in the proceedings? For teachers, it is always a challenge to keep students engrossed actively for a certain duration of time even when they are physically present in the classroom. It is infinitely more difficult for teachers to keep students engaged in a virtual classroom. 

The pandemic made me realize that we need to rethink what we teach and how we deliver it. That would surely help us understand how engaged(or disengaged) the students are with the sessions. The projects that we conceived like “Food & Identity” or “Just Dough It” attempted to make learning fun, easily accessible, and practically relatable to students while learning from the comfort of their homes with limited resources at their disposal. The success of these projects proved that what we attempted online was not only entertaining but also positively engaging for students, as well as being refreshing for the faculty too. After all, faculty need to be motivated, and what can be more inspiring than seeing students participate actively?  

Another important challenge that needed to be addressed was the environment in which a design student learns and develops critical thinking skills while working in isolation. A crucial aspect of design learning is to indulge in dynamic discussions with peers and faculty. The aim is to create a favourable atmosphere for co-sharing, co-learning, assessing risks, making calculations through reviews and feedback to basically co-exist, learn, build and rebuild together. 

While this worked fine in a real-time studio session, it seemed demanding to replicate the same experience online. Various web-based platforms that could help us engage better with students were explored and tested within a matter of a few days. Teachers became students overnight in the process to learn and work out a system that would work effortlessly for the whole experience of learning interactively online. The idea was to keep it simple and not complicate matters with too many complex platforms for an otherwise tech-savvy generation. Once identified we were able to efficiently iron out any wrinkles  and managed to put a smooth system in place. These efforts paid off and have led to an online space where both students and faculty feel comfortable. These online spaces seamlessly carry our large group presentations, briefings, smaller discussion groups, etc. It is possible for faculty and students to interact with each of these individual sub-groups without breaking the link at any time with the larger section. As faculty, this online software helped us gauge every student’s participation at a more micro level. Enabling us to keep the students interested and motivated.

A lot of us suffered this year with countless lives lost, existence almost came to a standstill and economies crumbled. Today we are still trying to crawl out from under this pandemic. As designers first and teachers later I guess it’s only natural to be solution-oriented while taking learnings forward from experiences gathered. From re-looking at content taught to our students, to re-imagining ways to deliver them so that students receive the kind of education that they aspire for. . From understanding what can be delivered online, to what needs to be demonstrated or presented face to face. From exploring means to make models and prototypes not only in a lab space but also with limited resources at home. From utilizing our physical spaces more intelligently to working economically and sustainably with available resources, etc. I am sure there have been a lot of learnings and realizations especially in the education sector that will equip us richly and will lead us to a world that balances digital medium with real-time experiences for our students. 

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