Field Notes on Pandemic Teaching: 1

This is the first installment of a narrative survey of educators around the globe on the challenges of the massive move to online teaching. Some challenges are practical and logistical; others are more conceptual, political, and even philosophical, involving the importance of campus community, the role of schools in providing for the wellbeing of students, and passionate convictions about the nature of learning and the transmission of knowledge. How will the current adaptations inflect our understandings of studio and seminar instruction, in which the tools might be digital but the teaching is individualized and immersive, grounded in time and place, and rooted in embodied encounters that allow for serendipitous discovery?

Clockwise (from upper left): Taubman College faculty meeting. [Matias del Campo] Simon Sadler videotaping an online lecture at the University of California, Davis. [Jessica Eve Ratner] Richard Campanella’s toolkit for a virtual field trip for Tulane students. [via Twitter] Ananya Roy on Twitter, March 2020.

Zoom University

To begin with, we should acknowledge that the prior, widespread digitization of academic knowledge and learning has enabled many of us to continue working online, and our institutions to continue functioning, even as others working more “analog” jobs — particularly in the service sector, but also in construction — are now unemployed. Those of us with access to high-speed internet service, with adequate hardware, and with login codes that permit the use of vast electronic resources available through university libraries, from JSTOR to ebook licenses to Hathi Trust, are among the most fortunate. Those “essential workers” who look after our campuses (and the internet) while we work from the relative comforts of home are less so, and those deemed inessential by the coming austerity least of all.

This is not the first time that U.S. colleges and universities have cancelled classes and sent students home; emergency interregna occurred periodically in the 19th century, particularly during cholera outbreaks. It is, however, the first time something like this has occurred at the scale it has, and under technological conditions that widely permit what has long been called distance learning. We should therefore ask: What opportunities does capital see here? Beware, for example, even indirect aid to for-profit online colleges and universities. Beware also, austere talk about efficiency, or economies of scale. But most of all, beware of being outflanked, of fighting the last war, by succumbing to the now-prevalent metaphor that this and other countries must now adopt a “war footing,” politically and economically. The current relief bill does not include student debt cancellation, despite the strenuous efforts of higher education advocates. Beware, then, calls to set aside such demands and the politics to which they belong in the name of wartime unity.

Let’s not pretend that the old ways were any less mediated than the proliferating screens of Zoom University.

In short, we must relocate our pedagogical concerns — such as how to teach architectural design (or for that matter, architectural history) remotely, online, on a small screen, across times zones and national borders — to a real world shaped by such conflicts. There are surely lessons to be learned from earlier debates about teaching architecture — in person, in a design studio — with computers. The career of many a “starchitect” was made not only by the pixelated aura of digital stardust, but also by the nostalgic aura of pencil-and-paper patriarchy, wherein the master leans ponderously over the pupil’s desk, and scribbles lines no less stylized than an Autocad vector. Media matter enormously here. But please let’s not pretend that the old ways were any less mediated than the proliferating screens of Zoom University. It’s the nature of the mediations — who wins and who loses, who profits at whose expense, and yes, what types of knowledge and creativity fall in and out of the equation — on which we should focus. If nothing else, we should use this unprecedented pedagogical experiment to understand better what it is that we think we already know.

Reinhold Martin

Reflections on being an urbanist educator in the time of COVID-19, in three movements

Quality of life in the city, which is dense by definition, depends on clear thresholds between the public and private places that define urbanity. These thresholds are so clear they have names: gate, stoop, porch, vestibule, lobby, bay window…. But that suite of relationships collapses online. The thresholds have vanished. We sit in our private spaces, looking through a glowing rectangle at the private spaces of others, at rooms we would never be invited into, hearing sounds from off-stage — barking dogs, clanking dishes — we shouldn’t hear. Private and public spaces — our private and public selves—are inside out while still inside, like a Klein bottle.

One of my thesis students said recently that this virus is the “enemy of urban design.” Her thesis is a gathering place, a combination bath and library for mind and body. She is designing it for that tangled mess we call the human community, like Italo Calvino’s city of Ersilia, connected by strings of different colors to signify “a relationship of blood, of trade, authority, agency.” These strings represent the “relationships that sustain the city’s life,” and the citizens of Ersilia are constantly abandoning and rebuilding them. One of the intriguing aspects of our strange new world is that we have been forced to find new ways to connect those strings, because we deeply need them. When it’s time to leave the in, and venture out into the city again, we can put those strings back into place, more substantial and with better knots.

Perhaps I’m being naïve or specious, but I worry less about the revival of social space; just the pull of sharing live sports and music with others is strong enough to bring us back together. I worry most about political space, suffused as it is with congenital conditions of coercion, control, and surveillance. The measures taken to limit access, to control movement, to profile and sort the us from the them, after 9/11, resulted in tangible permanent changes to public space in every American city. Security measures are powerful drivers of change. I fear both the expansion of control from above, in the name of public health and security, and the pervasive anxiety from below that dissuades us from assembly, from exercising our spatial rights. I don’t want to look at my photos from the Women’s March in 2017 in Washington and think — can you believe we used to do that?

Susan Piedmont-Palladino

The COVID-19 epidemic has highlighted for me the importance of feminist praxis and politics. As I learn more about the personal spaces and domestic situations of my students and colleagues, I’m reminded that now more than ever, the personal is truly political. And while I wish to delve deeper into these matters, I’m struggling to find the time and energy just to write these sentences — so I’ll simply say that the large university in which I’m employed as a tenure-track faculty member is now expecting me to fulfill my contractual obligations for research, teaching, and service as if nothing has changed. And while I might be granted some understanding from the committee that evaluates my performance, I am anxiously wondering about their methods.

How will the closure of my two-year-old’s daycare be factored into the review of my admittedly modest service obligations? How will my partner’s employment status be considered in the slowing pace of my research agenda? Will my students be disadvantaged by hearing my lecture delivered in a whisper because I don’t want to wake the sick child now sleeping in our studio apartment? And how do I evaluate the work coming from a student whose personal space is layered with uncontrollable distractions, evident every time they unmute to participate in a discussion? These and other questions will be answered in time; and once we emerge from the crisis period, we need new policies that will acknowledge the fundamental connections between personal and political. Once again, as in earlier eras, feminist praxis will help us sort through these questions, and with widespread application, potentially foster a more nurturing and inclusive intellectual environment.

Brent Sturlaugson

During lockdown, many people have been talking about the Black Death, the plague. Our local bookshop (now closed) reported selling out of Daniel Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year and Boccaccio’s The Decameron. I keep returning, however, to an epidemic I know far better and which feels closer: cholera. In London, it took repeated and devastating outbreaks of cholera in the early decades of the 19th century to goad politicians into authorizing the construction of Joseph Bazalgette’s main drainage system for London. Yet accounts of this celebrated system tend to downplay the extent to which it was born out of crisis and fear, preferring instead to laud the “foresight” of Victorian engineers and social reformers. It is obviously more palatable to attribute the rise of modern urban infrastructure to human ingenuity, a rational drive to progress, rather than to a fear-fueled, experimental leap into the unknown.

London sewerage system under construction, ca. 1860.
London’s drainage system under construction, ca. 1860. [Wikimedia]

In reality, both accounts are correct: cholera provided the impetus to realize plans and schemes which had been bubbling up for some time but, without the epidemic, would not have garnered the political or financial support to be achieved on a large scale. Cholera made the visionary necessary. And, whatever the spur to action, the main drainage system was a tremendous achievement, a gamble that spectacularly paid off: it succeeded in stopping outbreaks of cholera in central London (though it worked for reasons that Bazalgette, who believed that disease passed through the air, did not anticipate). Moreover, the model of waterborne sanitation was widely adopted internationally — providing clean water and an effective mode of dealing with human waste — and has been a significant factor in underwriting our ability to live in cities in close proximity and in ever growing numbers ever since.

Because it feels so early to predict what will happen in the coming years, I am doing what most historians do, which is try to find some insight and guidance from the past. There is so much debate right now: will COVID-19 alter our existing social organization? Or will this be just a blip — a strange interruption rather than a rupture — and will life resume as before? Without wishing to exactly equate our present circumstances to the past ones (COVID = cholera), it seems reasonable to hedge our bets and say that what may feel like a violent and dramatic rupture is actually something that has been building for some time. And, even if the resulting change is not as completely controlled as we would wish, it can still be radical in its effects, accelerating and embedding new infrastructures.

It seems certain that this crisis, global and cross-border, will only further advance the case for sharing knowledge internationally.

Scanning the contemporary scene and thinking about what “infrastructure” might emerge next, I keep returning to the open access movement. Prior to the pandemic, the move towards making all funded research open access (through the so-called Plan-S) was undeniably gaining momentum. It seems certain that this crisis, global and cross-border, will only further advance the case for sharing knowledge internationally. (This seemed likely to happen already, but was also encountering determined pockets of resistance — not least publishers, who were being challenged to rethink their financial models; such resistance will now be far harder to justify.) In the post-corona world, scientific and technical knowledge must no longer be hidden behind paywalls but will need to be shared in order to build the global coalitions required to fight pandemics. A truly open access, globalized research culture would be an immensely radical outcome, overcoming some of the vast inequities that currently exist in terms of accessing information, and laying the groundwork for a more interconnected and democratic model of knowledge exchange in all fields.

There is already a great deal that does exist online (though much remains subscription-only), but we have only just begun to realize the pedagogical possibilities this opens up. Yet at a moment when the greatest questions that we face in architecture, around climate change or social justice, obviously require joined-up and transversal thinking, the potential of pooling collective knowledge and making digital resources accessible seems key. One initiative which has recently been launched at the Bartlett is the collectively authored, open-access Race and Space curriculum, which seems to me a model for a post-corona world. The curriculum is offered as a kind of gift, making available key texts and films that can elucidate critical race studies and its relevance to built environment studies. It does not envisage being used by any one audience. It is a “flexible resource” designed for “self-directed study”; users are exhorted to use it as they wish and derive enjoyment as well as knowledge. The curriculum, at once challenging and democratic, points to the kind of cross-disciplinary polyvocal learning that academics committed to knowledge sharing and transformative pedagogies can promote. Is it too much to hope that, out of this terrible crisis, more such flexible and giving research curricula may be born?

Barbara Penner

How to grow a potato

Zoom space and gig work: there is no “outside” of work-space now. “Meeting” has reverted to an earlier sense, peeled away from “business”; or maybe it’s the other way, in true dialectical fashion, and talking to friends, dates, therapists, co-conspirators, students, colleagues, practically anybody, sitting meditation or watching demonstrations of permaculture, now look like “business.” Everyone’s worried their class will get zoombombed or that some horrible virus will infect their digital space; at the same time, we are all now acutely aware of the haven that the physical classroom, the physical campus, and the peculiarly abstract care of the pedagogical scene had provided for many of our students now that they — both students and physically co-present exchange — are gone. No more field trips, immersion programs, physical labs; instead a weirdly problematic autonomy within the much larger fields sketched out by platforms, delivery systems, infrastructures, and the distribution of labor across actual human bodies and landmasses. There’s an institutional fantasy that “content” can be separated or extracted from the human delivery system that is a teacher/worker and monetized; that the corona-disruption might actually be good for business if not for people. But there are powerful currents pushing this same “content” online via networks of mutual aid and open source, in ways designed to break up the nutrient-depleted hardpack of “learning management” and “knowledge-production” systems: the free university.

Judith Rodenbeck

Beyond our now distributed and digitized classrooms, the disease pandemic of COVID-19 is forcing a rethink of the economic pandemic of global capitalism, productivism, and inequity — a rethink that may well pivot us all towards a better existence. There should certainly be no “going back” to the “normal” that got us into this mess, to begin with. Instead, we must be mindful of the stark ecological benefits of our current social curtailment and assume that whatever emerges at the end of this process is likely to infiltrate and inform how we teach and learn more sustainably in future. There is also the possibility that our profession will become more ethical and by implication more effective as a consequence of this, too. Whether this manifests typologically or proto-professionally remains to be seen, however; things may get worse for our extended workforce before they get better, and we may be called upon to think about how we respond to these issues responsibly albeit remotely in the months ahead.

There should certainly be no ‘going back’ to the ‘normal’ that got us into this mess.

If MOOCs have taught us anything, it’s that online learning environments are not democratic spaces by default. These platforms may allocate each user equal inches of screen space, but simultaneously surrender a window into our otherwise private domestic interiors, revealing often staggering economic differentials between students, while also rendering them vulnerable to racist and other discriminatory attacks. Subsequently, we should be cautious about offering glibly optimistic assurances to our students and faculty regarding the benefits presented by this period of enforced co-authorship of a pandemic-ogogy. Our objective should not be to emerge as experts in digital teaching mediums, but instead, to advance our skills in the kind of critical compassion needed to work collectively and collegially in the face of uncertainty, constraint, vulnerability, and isolation, too.

— Harriet Harriss

Everything seems incredibly fluid at this point, so I’ll offer some evolving thoughts, as both chair of my department and current president of the Society of Architectural Historians.

First, from the perspective of an art history department, the most pressing issue is what’s being called “course continuity,” that is, delivering all course content that was planned at the beginning of the semester when the coronavirus was a seemingly distant news item. This has meant a precipitous transition to online teaching for everyone regardless of their comfort with digital tools, which is proving to be a challenge not only for older faculty but for many students as well who, however comfortable they are with social media, are unused to 100% virtual environments. Faculty are racing both to deliver content in digital form and also to facilitate discussions and develop or adapt tools for assessment in the virtual environment. While many faculty have explored digital tools, very few have had to rely on them exclusively. Many are at the same time trying to assess the various options, such as voiceover power points, Zoom meetings, Panopto, etc. That’s the most pressing challenge for faculty.

From my point of view, as chair, the most pressing concern has been to maintain a sense of community, mutual support, continued intellectual exchange. Many students have already expressed their own concern — that the new conditions have halted them in their tracks, sometimes due to family situations and sometimes out of sheer shock. Another looming issue involves the cascading effects resulting from, to take only one example, the potential deferral of summer dissertation research travel for a year, which could set students back significantly. Will the university extend their funding, and, if so, how will that affect funding for next year’s class? Or, to take another example, if resources are directed to support current graduate students, then what will happen to support for future students, or for new hiring? A hiring freeze would be devastating for my department since several faculty members will be retiring, leaving gaping holes in our ability to teach even required courses.

The most pressing concern has been to maintain a sense of community and mutual support and continued intellectual exchange.

Faculty are also concerned about preparing courses for online delivery — technically, a work for hire — and then having the university reuse those courses, hiring only graders or teaching assistants or adjunct faculty rather than committing to tenure-track faculty. One colleague told me that he is delivering all his content synchronically and refusing to record anything in order to preempt such a situation. Other faculty are worried that expanded pass/fail options, which sound like a flexible policy, will favor more privileged students with greater resources, and that in the future faculty might look askance at those who opted for pass/fail. Personally, I don’t see that as a problem, but we really are in unknown territory at this point.

From the perspective of SAH, canceling the annual conference, as we decided to do several weeks ago, will be a very serious financial hardship. Due to a combination of lost deposits and foregone revenue, we face a significant potential budget shortfall, not to mention a substantial obligation to the conference hotel that we are trying to mitigate. At the same time, and with remarkable bravery, SAH officers and staff are determined to see this as an opportunity and are experimenting with approaches the Society had not dared to try before, even as we all watch the conference we had been planning for the last two years just vanish.

We are now in the thick of planning for a virtual conference. While many technical details have yet to be worked out, we will be able to hold paper sessions, roundtable meetings, and introductory and keynote addresses, along with business and board meetings. We are also exploring making the conference available for an additional month so that people can “attend” simultaneous sessions, something obviously not possible in the physical conference. We have also lowered the registration fee, hoping to broaden attendance well beyond the 600 to 700 SAH members who usually travel to the conference. We’ve had some indication through social media that more graduate students are likely to participate, along with people from affiliated fields, such as librarians and archivists who specialize in, say, landscape studies, planning, and so on. Forced to dive into digital formats, we are also looking at distributing events throughout the year, rather than concentrating them during the conference. It’s not clear what form this will take but the idea has many of us guardedly hopeful that canceling our conference — the first time since World War II — will not be an unmitigated catastrophe for the Society and its many programs. We are hoping that, with this new format forced upon us, we can have a successful exchange of ideas with an unusually diverse range of attendees. Who knows, it may turn out to be a preamble to a more resilient, more responsive and relevant, and more accessible version of SAH.

Sandy Isenstadt

We are building on what we had already built together …

This semester I am teaching a large lecture course for undergrads and a small, intense seminar on racial landscapes and geographies of hope. The lecture course has been relatively smooth to deliver online — for the time being. Still, I miss the in-contact, co-presence of myself and these students, an energy we can only hope to hold onto as we work through the rest of the semester. The seminar is tougher to convert to an online platform, largely because the cadence and expanse of our exchange enabled us to draw together as we worked through the material. Still, we are using Zoom and Slack to communicate, and through these combined platforms, plus some emailing, we are creating something connected to (but not the same as) what we had already built together.

We all need now to be more fully human for each other.

That our move to online platforms has been relatively seamless is due, I sense, to two critical things. The first is the incredible tenacity and dedication of this group of students at UC Berkeley that I am lucky to work with. They have shown up, they are doing extraordinary work, they are sharing and supporting one another. Their individual and collective presence is breathtaking to me and it is hard to fully express my gratitude to them. Yet, I deeply believe we can only do this together because we had already established mutual rhythms of trust, exploration, curiosity, and passion — and this is the second critical element supporting us right now. We already had built up a foundation over weeks of tough material. We are not dealing with light material when we tackle the ramifications of racialized landscapes for the planning and design disciplines, and there are times we have had to take a break from our discussions — even before this pandemic — to ask each other, what makes you joyful. We had already built this before we were required to communicate from our separate living spaces — before my kids made occasional appearances in the background, asking random math questions or appearing costumed as a bear and a wolf. To some degree, teaching amidst my children’s chatter has been a challenge, but one with its own sweetness and comfort. I think my students accept such interruptions because we all need now to be more fully human for each other.

I miss my students. I sense they are hurting.

I miss my students. I sense they are hurting. I see that they are stressed and the distance makes it harder to know what I can do to help or how I can help them find a respite amidst all the anxiety that is outside their door and sometimes inside their space. We can extend deadlines and adjust assignments, reduce our expectations of the outputs of scholarly work, all of which we should be doing — but none of this exactly helps us find new ways to be there for each other as human beings and none replaces the energy we build and the support we give each other within the classroom. I am casting no future based on this new normal — not only because it is too early to tell, but because I simply refuse to believe that our university culture of being together and building critical knowledge can be eclipsed by what we need to turn to for now. My refusal might be naïve, might be driven by a deep sense of hope amidst the scramble to figure out how to record a Zoom lecture — how to communicate meaningfully in this digital space — but I do believe that the work we do inside our college building, the down-the-hall-ness of my incredible colleagues and the tenacity of our students, must take place again. We are doing this work now — only so that we can come together again.

— Anna Livia Brand

USC Architectural Design Studio, Monday March 30, 2020

I show up to studio at 2 pm as usual.
I’m wearing my sweatpants and slippers.
Three of my students are late. They said they couldn’t find the room.
I notice a few new items: books, a fridge, an electronic keyboard, plants, and even a bed. We finally have studio culture!
It’s unusually quiet in studio — no background noise, and I don’t hear the instructor next door anymore.
I ask the students to present their projects.
Everyone has their drawings ready — no printing problem, no pin up issues. We start without a delay.
The students can all see the drawings and hear each other well. Even CJ who normally sits all the way in the back.
I mark up their drawings and can even sketch on their Rhino 3D models. Why do my sketches look so terrible?
Ava is having a snack. Calder asks if he can have some. Everyone laughs.
No one has fallen asleep yet. No one is looking at their phone. Some are wearing headphones — it used to be banned during studio.
I made myself lunch in the middle of the first presentation. I ate it during the second. It was fettuccine pesto.
My TA Jeff is moving in his seat uncomfortably. He tells us it’s his dog bothering him.
Ariadne’s brother shows up in the middle of class. He takes a drink from the fridge and leaves.
I tell the students to take a five-minute break. I come back back after three. They don’t know I’m in the room. They are chatting, and I’m listening.
We review a few more drawings.
I can’t tell if the students are looking at the drawings, staring at me, or looking at something on their screens. It’s quite annoying.
I mention a few precedents. Students are giving me a blank look. I pull up the projects and show them. That was seamless!
I tell the students they won’t be making physical models this semester. I think I’m more disappointed than they are.
The last student is presenting. A parallel conversation starts on the side. Someone laughs out loud but her face only expresses a smile.
We finish the review.
“Are there any questions?,” I ask. A student asks how we are going to have a final review at the end of the semester.
“It will be the same as before,” I say, “you present your work and get feedback.”
I also tell them I managed to get a few guest critics from overseas to join our review — I don’t even need funding for that!
They seem excited, I think, but I can’t really tell. They are all mute.
I end the meeting. Everyone disappears instantly.

Iman Ansari

You will have noticed the proliferating tips for coping now populating your social media feeds: self-care in the time of COVID-19. Take the opportunity to be productive in your research! No, take the time to slow down and reflect! Compose a daily schedule! Meditate! Take an “iso” walk! Read a novel! Hold your distance at 1.5 meters when in the flesh! Work when you can, in case you have not already lost your job.

You will by now have become familiar with Zoom, and perhaps your head is buzzing with the cognitive dissonance aroused in excessive hours of close-up calls held at a mediated distance. People are wearing funny hats and messing with their virtual backdrops on video calls and in webinars. Everyone is expressing themselves, trying to communicate, trying to get on, despite the ego-spherical self-containment that has been globally imposed. Screen mediated birthday parties and funerals have become the new norm. We are all in it, apart, together. We now care for each other by maintaining our careful distance. You know the drill: sneeze into the crook of your elbow, throw away your Kleenex promptly, sing happy birthday when you wash your hands, stay away from your elders and the vulnerable.

Playground off limits, Edinburgh Gardens, Melbourne.
Playground off limits, Edinburgh Gardens, Melbourne. [Hélène Frichot]

In our contemporary information society, the issue of mediated communication, synchronous and asynchronous, has quickly overtaken all else. Admittedly this requires placing to the side the inevitability of concatenating social crises, especially since the domestic sphere to which we have all retreated is not always a locale of comfort and intimacy, but too often a zone of conflict and neglect. And time has been performing strange tricks with the speedy plunge into this viral milieu. What day is it today? How many weeks has it been now? Questions like these rouse sensations of holiday time, or maybe prison time, or in any case, a feeling for states of exceptional time. Daily activities reduced to a bare minimum, a repeated repertoire. If you are prepared to be experimental, this may produce unexpected vacuoles of joy (slowing down and appreciating the minutiae of what’s going on around you), or else despair (feeling like you are caught in a refrain, going around again and again). You can count yourself lucky if you have a dog to walk.

In early March, when the worldwide death toll was around 3,000, I sat around a collegial committee table in an institution of higher education and heard the pronouncement that there was no way a design studio could be taught online. It was impossible. Yet now a large part of my job has been to collaborate on composing instructions that offer guidance for making this move. Making the impossible possible. Here too there is something of an instructional emphasis, a self-help guide following a step-by-step progress, warning of pitfalls and possibilities. International internet chatter has been increasing, and a number of links are already available suggesting means of trouble-shooting that most challenging space, the pedagogical space of the design review, also known as the “crit,” and, when an emphasis is being placed on its formality (and the hint of a sentence to be passed down), a design jury.

It could be that the redesigned space of the design review opens opportunities for dialogue and the art of listening.

If we manage to pull together in a collegial way, and perhaps even reflect on some of our residual bad habits — poor gender balance in review line-ups; discursive rambling, in jokes and references, obtuse language; grand-standing critics arguing amongst themselves instead of entering into dialogue with students; and so on — it could be that the redesigned space of the design review opens opportunities for dialogue and the art of listening. Albeit, at a distance. Still, it’s very hard to shift ingrained habits. A reorientation of expectations must be achieved, an acknowledgement of the unstable places — away from home, or otherwise isolated in what should be an intimate home-space — that students may be suffering in. Then there is the difficult question of equitable access to hardware and software and required equipment. Surely, something like the high-resolution image and its capacity to arouse affect should be reconsidered as a required output? For the most part it won’t be possible to print models in university workshops. Interviewing stakeholders, residents, passers-by on the street for the purposes of design research: this is no longer viable.

Tuning into lectures while turning postures. Drawing by University of Melbourner Master of Architecture student Kushagra Jhurani.
Tuning into lectures while turning postures. Drawing by University of Melbourne Master of Architecture student Kushagra Jhurani.

Site visits may not be feasible, certainly not for a class-sized group. Interactions and encounters, small and large, demand to be reframed, and modes of communication reconsidered. The advice is to return to the universal pedagogical language of ILOs, or Intended learning Outcomes, and TLAs, or Teaching and Learning Activities, and the constructive alignment between these, and the taxonomies that lay out learning according to scales progressing from mere regurgitation, rote, and recital all the way through to analysis and synthesis and radical experimentation. Too often in design, the desired outcome is the project: self-contained, neatly circumscribed, visually augmented in high resolution. But if we can stomach the universalist assumptions embedded in pedagogy-speak, then the challenge is to really think about how this crisis might help re-focus our shared ambitions. Rather than a perfect outcome, perhaps a messy process will become more valuable? Maybe more is to be gained in the evidence left behind following a concerted struggle?

What I feel haunted by amidst all this furious online activity is the risk of an excess of communication, of circulating information, of control and our attendant exhaustion. Already one of the key questions has become: will things return to “normal”? Once the pandemic recedes, will we have simply honed our communication skills and rendered our docile bodies ever more pliable to surveillance and control? Or can we instead exit this crisis having reinvented the world, with a focus on responding to climate crises, enduring inequity, and the vulnerable of the earth? What, after all, are the values, cares and concerns, and associated practices that should we be sharing with our students? So, yes, in making these myriad and preemptive changes, moving with unprecedented celerity toward creating virtual campuses across the world, how can we rethink what is really at stake in our socially complex constructed environments?

Hélène Frichot

There is a useful clarification that I am very thankful our department has made: we are engaged in emergency remote teaching (as described in this article) and not online learning. The massive “macgyvered” experiment we are all trying to navigate is really about how well we can weather a crisis; it is not a test of how online education works. That said, I’m sure there’s a great deal we will learn by doing emergency remote teaching that will test and validate our shared commitment to immersive, personalized, studio-based education, which has been under assault for years by the corporatization of universities. My hope is that we all take very good notes of what works and what clearly doesn’t in this large-scale design experiment, so that if or when we are asked to go online in a more sustained manner, we’ll have a grounded rationale for why in-person teaching matters.

Brett Milligan

Reinhold Martin, Susan Piedmont-Palladino, Brent Sturlaugson, Barbara Penner, Harriet Harriss, Judith Rodenbeck, Sandy Isenstadt, Anna Livia Brand, Iman Ansari, Hélène Frichot, Brett Milligan, “Field Notes on Pandemic Teaching: 1,” Places Journal, April 2020. Accessed 01 Jun 2023.

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