How can design schools going online-only to avoid COVID replace that in-studio instructional feel? There are no widely-accepted answers yet, but the Harvard Graduate School of Design, which begins its online-only courses next week, is experimenting with ways to provide remote hands-on learning as well as take advantage of students being out in the world rather than in a classroom.
For the first initiative: "In order to move students away from screens and give them an opportunity to use tactile objects in their studies," the school writes, "the GSD's Fabrication Lab has designed, fabricated, and shipped readymade toolkits for a series of core-curriculum courses so students can get designing from day one."
"For example, students enrolled in the first-term core studio in landscape architecture were shipped kits that include laser-cut parts with which to assemble models, large-scale plots and prints for mapping, and an elm tree leaf plucked from Harvard Yard."
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"For Martin Bechtold's Structural Design II class, he has asked students to use glue and dry spaghetti to create models, noting that the material is democratic, accessible, and students can easily source spaghetti themselves. The spaghetti's weakness reinforces the need for precision in work."
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I think the spaghetti's a good choice, though it is funny to consider some of the students there must've clocked macaroni experience in Kindergarten as well. Pasta is a multitalented gift from Italy.
As far as being out in the world, the GSD is pushing remote site visits. "Design students typically rely on site visits and engagement with the local community for their graduate projects, followed by weeks of research back at the school," they explain. "This process has now been inverted: students will begin by researching their sites of investigation and then use videographer-produced video tours of given sites and connect virtually with local experts throughout the term."
"For example: in Rahul Mehrotra's course 'Extreme Urbanism,' focused on a stretch of rural Afghanistan, GSD students will partner with NGOs and stakeholders working on the ground, as well as students at Kabul University and other local organizations, to gain as comprehensive an understanding of the site as possible while remote."
"Interim Urban Planning and Design chair Alex Krieger is filming and producing his traditional walking tour of Boston for an Urban Planning and Design core studio."
Topping it all off, of course, will be the de rigueur Zoom reviews and collaborative critiques, some of them with "up to 400 viewers from around the world." And you thought your design school crits were nerve-wracking.
Speaking of your design schools, for those of you in them: What steps are they taking to buttress their online courses with hands-on stuff?