Online teaching and learning for practice-based disciplines

Last August I wrote about the blended learning challenges I’d embrance in the new Design Communication subject at JCU.

When I started working at JCU I was given the Design Communication subject with students both in Townsville and Cairns, both groups enrolled at the same time and part of the same subject, while I am based in Cairns only. It soon became clear to me that, with the resources JCU makes available – it has invested a lot in online technologies, from Blackboard platforms with Collaborate tools, to Mediasite capability, videoconference equipment, document cameras and so forth – blended learning was the way to go. I then applied for the BLING grant I mentioned before, and part of this grant was to support a benchmark research of existing architecture-related and other studio-based subjects delivered using blended learning.

Even with all this infrastructure available I was (and in part still am) uneasy about delivering a very instrumental and practical subject without being face-to-face with students. In the meantime, I came across a letter from ABEA (Associação Brasileira de Ensino de Arquitetura/Brazilian Association of Architecture and Urbanism Teaching and Learning) – also supported by CAU (Conselho de Arquitetura e Urbanismo do Brasil/Brazilian Council of Architecture and Urbanism) – which is a manifest against the delivery of Architecture degrees through distance learning.  It is true that in Brazil there isn’t the differentiation between Architectural Studies and Architectural Design degrees, as Counsellor Luiz Contier wrote. All is delivered in the same bachelor which is called Bachelor of Architecure and Urbanism and is the unique degree for Architecture Design, Architecture Studies, Interior Architecture, Building Science, Landscape Architecture, Urban and Regional Planning, and Urban Design. This model means every architect and urbanist is a designer and need the studio-based subjects.

Here in Australia several universities teach architecture subjects through the use of blended learning. Although I haven’t heard about Architecture degrees being 100% delivered online around here, I have come across some architecture and urban design studios that use technology for teaching and are not delivered face-to-face. Brazil, however, certainly has challenges ahead. First there is the need for a large investment in technology-based infrastructure to make virtual interaction possible and reliable between students, lecturers and tutors. Second, there is the need to open up for the possibilities of our time, and innovate in the way we deliver studio-based subjects. Third, of course universities will prefer to save money with staff and open up for geographically diverse students, and although this is so far much more evident in private universities than public ones, this is probably a trend of the future, and may be smarter to adapt than to fight against it.

Here in Australia the infrastructure is impecable. I am going to deliver design communication in blended learning mode to start with – some concentrated blocks of face-to-face classes, plus online tutorials (using the above mentioned document cameras, collaborate platform, and so forth). I will also use Doceri through the iPad Pro and an Apple pencil I’ve acquired through the BLING grant. Doceri will make possible to connect the iPad to the computer through wi-fi, so students in the other campus can see the drawings being produced in real time as I explain the concepts, as if the screen was a white board.

I agree with the ABEA manifest in that architecture can indeed put human lives at risk if not properly taught. However, in countries such as New Zealand and Australia, professional degrees like these require not only that students complete a professional placement/internship as undergraduates, but also that they have two years of practical real-life experience before getting the full professional registration. Perhaps this is something that, in times of technology-based teaching and learning, will have to be reviewed in my native country of Brazil.

Because of all these discussions and possibilities, what was meant to be a benchmark research became a research project in which the Design Communication subject is a pilot. The intention is to demonstrate alternative ways of delivering this subject using 21st Century available resources. Although we are all (including me) resistant to depart from the comfort zone of teaching the way we learned, which is also a way of teaching that has been adopted for many many decades, we must acknowledge the need to adapt to our time.

Design Communication started today and I will write about its structure in a follow up post.

Have you had any experience with practice-based subjects/courses using online delivery? I would love to hear about it.

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