For many classes and majors, the transition to online was relatively smooth. Some classes were already set up with lots of online resources even before the University closed.
But how do you transition a major online that's intrinsically based in the real world?
This is the question Auburn’s College of Architecture, Design and Construction was forced to answer both quickly and efficiently for its majors, especially architecture. Luckily, architecture had a slight head start on the process, according to Christian Dagg, head of architecture.
“We have a couple of students who were in Rome … so I would say for us, the advantage is that we [had] been talking about this as a faculty for three weeks now from the moment that [the Office of International Programs] said that we had to bring all our students home from Italy,” Dagg said. “So we’d been anticipating it now for three weeks, so we’d been planning for it.”
Dagg also mentioned that in the last few years, the architecture profession as a whole has been shifting to more and more of an online medium anyways, so while this rapid change is unwelcome, it is not entirely impertinent, according to Dagg.
“One of the good pieces of news for us is that the profession has been moving to a fairly online method of working anyways, and so we’ve been following suit for a couple of years now,” Dagg said. “Students can still do drawings, they can make a PDF from their computer, they can send it to their faculty … so in some cases, those things have actually stayed almost exactly the way that they were previously.”
When it comes to architecture classes, about half of them are very similar to general education classes, according to Dagg. In the transition to online, these classes have taken to replacing final projects involving modeling with papers or reports.
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The places where the format is different, however, is in the architecture studio, according to Dagg. Studio is where a professor assigns a hypothetical project that involves drawing plans, section elevations and site plans of those proposals. So far, the transition has had its ups and downs.
“In some cases it has been working out really well, while in some cases, it has been challenging,” Dagg said. “Some of our international students who were in Rome returned to their home country, so we’re working with some students who are nine hours off in terms of time difference.”
For studio, architecture students have their own personal desk and working area in Dudley Hall, and many students house lots of their supplies in Dudley. Due to the quick transition to online classes, many students’ supplies are still in Dudley – supplies they need to continue their classwork from home.
“We’ve been trying to space students out in terms of their ability to retrieve their materials [from Dudley Hall],” Dagg said. “What I’m telling every student is that they’re not allowed to work in Dudley Hall, but they’re certainly allowed to come get their materials.”
Dagg said he’s planning on allowing students to come in 10-minute increments to retrieve their supplies from Dudley Hall, and that so far, students have come in in an orderly fashion and have collected their belongings.
For students like Rebecca Kravec, senior in architecture, the adjustment has been hard, but successful.
“For the more hands on classes, it's getting a bit challenging, but I feel like we’re adjusting pretty well overall,” Kravec said.
The online transition can be frustrating for some professors, according to Kravec, especially those who aren’t as proficient with technology as others.
“Honestly, most of the professors are so bad with technology already that they’re pretty frustrated at having to figure things out,” Kravec said with a laugh. “But I feel like Zoom is pretty good, it's easy to use, and you can screen share.”
This ability to screen share has been very useful for studio work, according to Kravec. For students, being able to review each other's work is a critical step in any project or modelling project, and it's a step Kravec feels is missing with the transition to online classes.
“Some aspects we’re losing are the ability to print out and pin up [projects] and have group critiques and get student feedback by getting to see your peer’s work,” Kravec said. “I think a lot of us gain from that … and we’re losing that aspect of it. Now, we’re just locked in our rooms, and we’re only seeing our work.”
As of right now, professors are using studio hours to meet with students one on one to help answer questions about projects being worked on using Zoom, but according to Kravec, the system is much more clunky than how it was back at Auburn.
“In studio, it’s a lot easier to just step out into the hallway for five minutes, look at what someone else is doing, get some feedback and then hop back to your desk,” Kravec said.
These feelings are also shared by members of the architecture faculty, like professor David Hinson, who teaches both a lecture class and a studio.
“We always say a big chunk of the learning that happens in studio happens from what you observe your classmates doing, and the synergy that comes from everybody working in the same space, working on the same problems and everybody getting to see how their fellow students' work is evolving,” Hinson said.
This type of learning is now much more difficult to replicate on the online format, at least to the same effect as it was back at Auburn, according to Hinson.
While studio was greatly affected by the closure of the University and the subsequent change to online, some of architecture's other programs, like the study abroad program in Rome, have been shut outright. Another one of these programs forced to be suspended, at least physically, is the College of Architecture, Design and Construction's Rural Studio.
“We’re in contact with the groups that we’re working with out there, and they all understand what’s happening,” Dagg said. As soon as we can give everybody the OK that it’s safe to return to job sites and meetings with clients, we will continue that work as soon as we can.”
Even though a large portion of Rural Studio is the physical building of the projects, not all of the work takes place at the job site, according to Dagg. There’s a lot of work behind the scenes about understanding construction methods, techniques and how to organize a community-based practice, and this work is continuing.
“Students are still reading and writing and working on ideas about how they might generate a future practice that involves this type of work,” Dagg said. “So students are still doing that work.”
Since the work is still continuing, students will still receive the same credit for a semester of Rural Studio as if the change never happened. This is good news for students, especially those who are in the middle of completing their thesis at the studio.
The situation at Rural Studio is just one more in a list of lost experiences for students at Auburn, according to Hinson.
“The restrictions associated with this coronavirus have left experiences that people were looking forward to on the table across the whole spectrum of college life, from athletics to graduation ceremonies,” Hinson said. “The Rural Studio students are one more in a list of things that everybody was looking forward to that have been compromised by the virus."
According to Hinson, the opportunity to finish the projects students have been working on are another thing that has fallen victim to the coronavirus. However, it’s against the ethic of Rural Studio to leave clients with half-finished projects, Hinson said, so many of these projects will be completed at a later date.
For Hinson, one of the most impressive things for him has been the collective response in architecture in facing the problems that lie ahead.
“I think everybody is throwing themselves into the effort and doing the best they can,” Hinson said. “The students have been wonderful, patient and tolerant with us as we learn how to do this.”
The University's support has been instrumental in terms of making themselves available to everyone during the process of transitioning to online, Hinson adds.
“There’s a lot of heroes here, but I think that the way that that team has thrown themselves into the problem of taking the entire University's course list and putting it into an online format on an incredibly short notice; I couldn’t have done what I’ve done without their help,” Hinson said.
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