Interior Design Adapts to Remote Teaching and Learning

McNeal Hall Atrium

When the decision was made to shift classes to remote learning, faculty, students, and staff undertook one of the biggest teaching and learning challenges to date.

As the semester wraps up, our interior design instructors share how they adapted their spring classes to remote learning, the challenges they faced in the process, and what they learned through the experience.

IDes 1602 Interior Design Studio II: Professor Stephanie Zollinger

IDES 1602 Interior Design Studio II is a hands-on interior design studio—nothing is computer generated. Therefore, when the stay-at-home mandate hit immediately after spring break, many of my students were without proper tools, supplies, and working surfaces. To help the students in need, I gathered and distributed (in the McNeal parking lot) portable drafting tables, paper, and supplies.

Working remotely has been an interesting experience. To communicate as a class, we have been using a combination of Zoom and VoiceThread. Zoom is a great platform for group discussions and quick lectures. On the other hand, VoiceThread, an online discussion space where visual media can be uploaded and presented as a “thread,” has been an especially useful critique tool. The program allows students to give each other feedback by leaving typed, audio, or video comments illustrated with a drawing tool.

I have witnessed surprising benefits from implementing VoiceThread in particular. First, the tool gets students talking about their work and the development of their ideas. Students embrace it as a means to contribute to conversations, initiate dialogue, provide feedback, and demonstrate their ability to engage in productive discourse. Second, VoiceThread allows students to privately and repeatedly review their feedback. Third, the accretive nature of the tool enables the extension of discussions, far beyond the limits of an afternoon, because participants can contribute to a project thread as long as it is active. The ability to revisit any past discussion is informative to both instructors and students, offering useful post-project reflection.

IDes 2604 Interior Design Studio IV: Professor Abimbola Asojo, Teaching Specialist Meghan Hendrickson, and Instructor Hoa Vo

In a service-learning project, we collaborated with Jamez Staples, the CEO of Renewable Energy Partners, to create a learning center for underrepresented youth on 1200 Plymouth Ave, North Minneapolis. Fortunately, the faculty and students, who were tasked with creating proposals for the space, visited the site before the COVID-19 pandemic in February. Students presented their concept and schematic ideas for the approximately 13,000-sq-ft. learning center to Staples via Zoom on Wednesday, April 8. He gave the students feedback on their proposals verbally and in the chat session of Zoom. The session was very informative because the students interacted with Staples via synchronous screen sharing and annotations. On May 4, students presented their final designs to Jamez Staples and Jamil Ford, President of Mobilize, Design Architecture over Zoom.

In the Zoom environment, map and geographic information software ArcGIS helped students tell the stories of their designs. In particular, ArcGIS has also helped students to demonstrate their understanding of the neighborhood, the building, and the context visually. Jamez Staples appreciated the students’ creative presentations and thoughtful solutions. In the future, Staples hopes that interior design students can collaborate with the School of Architecture to develop the interior of the Net Positive Building on the adjacent lot proposed by architecture graduate students.

IDes 3605 Studio V: Instructor Bill Hickey

IDES 3605 concentrates on the design of a single-family home. Like many studio-based classes, we transitioned to online interaction for critiques and feedback. We used a combination of Zoom meetings, both individual for student-instructor critiques and as a class, and Canvas dropbox for daily feedback. Students were able to upload their PDFs to the dropbox, which were then marked up in Bluebeam and returned to the student. Email, for questions and quick feedback, was also a valuable resource. We also more frequently shared links to precedent and comparable work as guides. Each student was able to choose the combination of feedback opportunities that best fit their immediate needs and particular circumstances.

One challenge was that this class traditionally has an emphasis on 3D exploration through physical model building. This includes everything from rip-and-tear models to final high-finish-level models at the semester’s summative presentation. We adjusted the expectation to include more emphasis on digital modeling and detail exploration, with the study of specific elements of the design via informal, at-home physical modeling work that is not expected to be part of the final presentation.

The class has kept up a pretty high level of work under the circumstances, despite the amount of disruption in many of our students’ personal lives they kept up and continued to work hard.

IDes 4608 Thesis Studio: Assistant Professor Genell Ebbini and Teaching Specialist Meghan Hendrickson

The final studio of this program was set up for students to work independently with feedback from professionals. We chose to continue to hold synchronous meetings with the students for more than three hours per week. Our bi-weekly communication with the students wasn’t greatly inhibited by this online format. Students were able to share their digital work with their instructors and anyone else who chose to listen to their individual critique via the Zoom share function.

One of the main challenges with this situation was that when our course changed to an online format, all the professionals recruited for this studio faced equally stressful transitions of their own. As a result, some could no longer commit while others were not comfortable communicating with technology. An additional challenge was the need for powerful computers and software. Our wonderful IT team enabled virtual access to the higher-powered computers on campus, which enabled students to use the software they were counting on to make their visual presentations.

Given how much graduating students’ lives have been impacted by the pandemic, our students are very conflicted about how and whether to celebrate with a senior show. Ultimately, we’ve decided to profile our graduating seniors digitally on the College of Design blog, which will be shared soon.

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