With courses complete and grades entered, June marked the virtual close of the 2020 spring semester. Like many other professors, I’m settling into summer after coaching and witnessing students emerge amidst a global pandemic. Considering how challenging this time has been for many of us, integrating and balancing our professional and personal lives, I imagine that students may have found this the most challenging time of their educational career.
When Covid hit I was instructing a studio of first year architectural design students and also managing a thesis program for graduate MAarch students, poised and eager to launch their careers. Together we embarked on an unprecedented journey. As we began to navigate through the new normal, students echoed their concerns. Uncertainty. Staying motivated. Folding in new virtual technologies while juggling an already demanding workload. All understandable. It made for an interesting ride, to say the least.
To round out the year, my first year students were asked to design a shelter on the Appalachian Trail. Their designs needed to be mindful of building codes and accessibility standards. My thesis students’ project was based on the theory and design of their own project, a 40,000 to 60,000-SF mixed use facility. I scrutinized and graded a number of combinations that included anything from breweries to science laboratories to transit hubs. Reflecting on the intent and quality of their final projects, I can say the majority of my students managed to keep it together and to generate commendable work.
After digesting all that transpired in these last few months, I sit here reflecting on successes and opportunities. Regardless of how we may feel about the pace of life and school re-openings, here are some takeaways and reminders about virtual architectural teaching and learning as we continue our journey into a new normal:
1. There’s always room for diversity in the classroom
I’ve always found it beneficial to invite leading designers and end users to our classroom to share their knowledge and unique insights. Despite some of the initial challenges for everyone to implement virtual technologies, I made virtual guest lecturers a priority and here’s why. Their range of backgrounds, values, and beliefs not only complemented my syllabus, but bolsters student creativity. In an increasingly fragmented society, a student’s exposure and ability to connect with a range of experiences and abilities is invaluable. Whether classes are in person in the classroom or online, we can encourage diversity in a multitude of ways. It improves critical thinking and encourages students to think differently. Their exploration and incorporation of differences not only enrich themselves, but their designs of our built environment.