📣 LXD Weekly Updates
Understanding studio-based learning experiences in remote and hybrid contexts
⚡️ Process blog for a CMU School of Design (SoD) research study led by Prof. Stacie Rohrbach with support from research assistants Anna Boyle, Michelle Cedeno, Matt Geiger, and myself Amrita Khoshoo ⚡️
Week 1–2: Interviews + Synthesis
How can approaches for studio-based teaching and learning be designed to support effective instruction in remote and hybrid contexts?
This is the question we’re tackling during this study. CMU will be moving towards a hybrid learning model this fall, which means design classes will need to serve a potentially wider range of student and faculty needs. What are these needs? And what approaches can better serve them?
Our first step has been to talk to SoD faculty and students about remote work last semester. During our interviews, we’ve sought to understand:
- what went well + did not go well last semester
- key tools + approaches leveraged
- fears/concerns + hopes/aspirations for the semester ahead
The majority of my effort over the past two weeks has been dedicated to interviews. I’ve conducted 6 interviews with faculty and students across the SoD. I’m gearing up for one more tomorrow. Over 20–60 minutes, interviewees have shared a great deal of insight. The transition to remote work was abrupt and challenging, but students and faculty did their best to navigate through it together.
Throughout the week, I’ve also been adding noteworthy quotes, insights, themes, and suggestions to our digital whiteboard (Miro).
On a high-level, key discoveries include:
- What went well: increased flexibility afforded by remote learning, efforts to recreate the studio environment/social interactions lost, check-ins with professors and peers for emotional support, greater school/life balance
- What did not go well: Loss of studio community/informal interactions, unstructured classes, powered-off webcams, differing timezones, too many or too few communication channels, project limitations and lack of access to resources
- Tools used: collaborative design, communication, and information organization tools (Zoom breakout rooms, GSuite, Slack, Discord, Mural, Figma)
- Fears/Concerns: lower quality of work, inequity with work/relationships, faster burn out, loss of community
- Hopes/Aspirations: maintain high standards/quality while not being overwhelmed, keep design community alive, stay motivated
I’m grateful that participants have been open and willing to discuss their experiences last semester. It was a hard transition — navigating both remote work and the precariousness of the world. At the end of each interview, each participant wished us luck.
These past weeks, other highlights include:
- IRB training: Because this is a human subject research study, I went through Institutional Review Board training. This required a good chunk of time, but I gained a lot from it.
- Interview logistics: Scheduling virtual interviews took up a decent amount of time as well.
The team met this Sunday to discuss progress made so far.
Looking ahead, I have to do 1–2 more interviews. Along with Stacie + Matt, I will start mapping post-its to larger themes and learning gaps. And, I’ll look closely at a few tools/approaches that facilitate learning.
More to come next week…💥
Week 3: Interview Insights + Learning Gaps
This week, I led one last interview, then dove into mapping interview insights to learning gaps. To refresh my memory on learning gaps and learning theory, I read a few chapters from Julie Dirksen’s book Design for How People Learn and a few chapters from Susan Ambrose’s book How Learning Works.
Learning gaps describe the gap between a learner’s current state and their future, preferred state. Gaps include knowledge, skills, communication, motivation, and environment.
I then started mapping student interview insights to these gaps.
A number of insights mapped to environment gaps. This made sense. The abrupt transition to remote school meant sudden changes to student/faculty physical and digital environments. Remote work negatively affected access to resources and studio relationships/community but positively impacted school/work balance and flexibility.
In terms of our synthesis process, it took some time to hit a good cadence with sorting. There were a lot of post-its and I needed to let the learning gap concepts re-sink into my brain. When insight-to-learning gap wasn’t readily apparent, it also took some thinking through. I feel this is normal for design process.
Some suggestions for future synthesis improvement:
- Alignment: Because learning gaps can be a bit fuzzy, aligning on definitions before sorting might help frame synthesis. Also, it might help to start the sorting process with another teammate to build a shared mental model of how the board can be organized. Sorting is definitely iterative, but it may help the team identify improvements earlier on. Also, I feel my working style is one where I like to talk things out with teammates when things get fuzzy. It’s hard when we’re working across timezones and with crazy schedules!
- Categories: Category names/theme call-outs near sorted clusters might help with orientation, efficiency, and communication. The high quantity of post-its became a little disorienting at times. Because I was working on this early AM and late PM, I found myself having to reread post-its each time I visited the board. I also think cluster names might help teammates working in parallel understand one another’s thought process about connections. I feel this becomes even more important when we’re working separately. Not that this was an issue in the slightest, just a thought. I’ve taken a stab at starting synthesis II, and have been leaving very shorthand titles for clusters. I’ve found this to be more efficient in helping me sort and draw higher-level connections.
I also had a chance to catch up with Stacie and Matt on Friday. We discussed our mapping progress, aligned on learning gaps, and embraced the ambiguity of the process.
Also, Stacie shared some great insight about the times we’re living in now. We’re seeing new paradigm shifts in learning. This is really exciting to witness! Thanks to the legacy of the Industrial Revolution, education has been a systematic, one-size-fits-all for the masses process. But, something new is emerging. Is it a shift to distributed, personalized, flexible learning? If so, how do we teach and learn?
Are we seeing the need for practices developed for individuals as opposed to group conformity? How can we design for a distributed education system, while also building community? How do we shift towards more human-based approaches to learning and assessments? What does this mean for accessibility and inclusion?
How might we thoughtfully design for this new, emerging normal?
This is a question I’ve been thinking about for the last two weeks. Remote work comes with both its pros and cons. One big challenge I see, however, is with community building. So much of how we learn in the School of Design is social, and often these moments come spontaneously and outside of class. I’ll definitely be thinking about this more in the weeks ahead.
Also, our discussions make me want to do an MLP-map (Multi-Level Perspective Map) for education and learning. It would be fascinating to see the historical forces that have shaped how we learn today and how we might learn in the future.
In terms of next steps, I plan to work on the next round of synthesis. I’ll keep an eye out for what emerges in terms of new learning approaches and strategies. If time allows, I’ll take a look at auditing a few learning tools.
More to come next week…✌️
Week 4: Mapping, pt. 2!
This week, we took a second pass at synthesis. I mainly focused on reworking student environmental, motivational, communication, and skill gap clusters.
I’ve visited the board a few times this week tweaking post-its and revising theme descriptions. My main motivation has been to increase the resolution of thought behind each cluster. I hope the connections I’m drawing and patterns I’m seeing make sense. I definitely believe that synthesis is meant to be a challenging process. It’s moving through a mass amount of unstructured inputs, zooming in to find patterns, zooming out to find more patterns, and reworking those patterns. It’ll be good to hear feedback around things I can improve about the clusters.
*A quick summary
Student environmental gaps
- Flexibility: Students noted that instructors adjusted class structures to address environmental gaps and new learning needs. Remote workspaces were more comfortable and convenient. As the boundary between work/life blurred, it became hard to truly disconnect.
- Smaller discussions: There was a strong need for more frequent, longer, and smaller group discussions. Because students no longer had the social environment afforded by studio, many preferred having in-class discussions to talk to one another.
- Loss of community: Along these lines, it was hard to replicate the informality of studio online. Informal moments outside of class often inform learning and projects. Students and teachers came up with creative ways to recreate studio through longer ‘work session’ zoom calls and informal catch-ups at the beginning of classes.
- Lack of resources: Students lacked access to necessary resources (materials, facilities) for physical making projects.
Student motivational gaps
- Sense of belonging: Students felt a lack of belonging in the new remote settings. It was harder to build and feel a part of student culture. Students also questioned the effects of this new learning environment on incoming students. How will new students build relationships and feel a part of the design community? This loss of community also negatively affected group projects. Ideas and motivation often come from being with others in studio — casual conversations often inform projects. Also, some students struggled with online learning.
- Quality: Many students fear that remote work might mean lower standards and quality of work. Also, many question the financial implications of remote school. Finally, the new setting might limit the quality of choices for undergraduates.
- Class structure’s not meeting needs: Some class structures did not meet student learning needs. Some students lacked the motivation to watch recorded lectures and questioned classes that did not adapt to the new environment fast enough.
- Too much screen time: The shift to digital classes, work, and meetings meant a lot of time spent staring at a computer screen. Students reported feeling drained and exhausted.
- Relationships/check-ins: Emotional check-ins and efforts to keep students a part of new class structure conversations were helpful.
Student communication gaps
- Smaller discussions: Smaller, more personalized meetings were helpful.
- Unclear class structure: Students struggled with classes that lacked a clear structure. This included classes with unclear expectations or classes that went overtime.
- Clear communication Professors that included students in on conversations, were available and had a consistent (but a limited) number of channels/cadence for communications were things that went well.
Student skill gaps
- Tech proficiency: All digital classes mean class tools require technical know-how.
- Annotated critiques: Annotated class critiques helped students skills needed.
- Learnings were still had: Despite the transition to remote, students still feel they gained skills and learned.
To sanity-check our synthesis efforts, Matt and I met up. We talked through parts of our clusters and gave each other feedback. It was great to hear more about Matt’s synthesis approach and perspective!
New or effective learning approaches
During synthesis, I also kept an eye out for effective and/or new learning approaches. Here’s a first take:
- Async lectures/sync discussion: Listening to lectures asynchronously (podcasts, video recordings) and coming together for more synchronous discussions about lecture content.
- Discussion formats: Smaller, frequent, longer group discussions — especially in remote settings. It’s harder to navigate large group discussions on zoom, given zoom communication norms. Discussions that adopted versions of the “1–2–4–All” method worked well.
- Flexible learning approaches: Remote work opens up possibles for different types of learners to engage with their classes and peers. Instructors adopted or new technology afforded new class methods that allowed different types of learners to contribute. During lectures, students who prefer to stay quiet can contribute to class discussions in zoom chat. Chat just needed to be proactively monitored. Also, class critiques that used google docs helped all students contribute their perspective.
- Settling in: Similar to in-person, Students value time to settle into class. Instructor check-ins or breakout rooms for quick peer catchups helps students get into the right headspace and maintain a sense of community.
- Webcams: it helps with engagement and participation.
- Keeping pace: Show/tell helps students gauge where they are and how they might be keeping pace.
This made me think about the shift we’re experiencing now: a movement towards more individual, distributed, personalized, and flexible learning.
I’m thinking about How Might We’s related to:
- social learning inside and outside the classroom
- build community and informal interactions outside the classroom
- designing for flexible learning through different communication modalities inside the classroom
- effective hybrid asyc/sync learning for classrooms
- effective facilitation approaches for instructors inside the classroom
I’ll be thinking more about this in the coming week.
Finally, I also took a look at a few tools and added my thoughts to our Tools + Approaches google doc.
That’s all for this week….🥂
Week 5+6: Bridging learning gaps, Tool Guides
👋🏽 I haven’t been able to focus on this project as much as I have during the past weeks. These last two weeks, I spent some time adding new bridges to our Bridging Learning Gaps doc. I started by adding suggested or used approaches/methods I heard during interviews to different sub-themes within the learning gaps.
During the week, I also had a chance to catch up with Stacie and with Anna about next steps.
On Sunday we had a group meeting to review progress so far and chart out a path forward. Next steps include communicating out our process + key findings from this study.
During week 6, I did some searching for tool quick start guides and tutorials written by companies to add to our existing google sheet. I also read through the Learning Gasp sheet and contributed a few ideas to the bridging gaps sections.
A few ideas that stuck in my brain after reading through learning gaps:
- With hybrid learning, it’ll be fundamental to keep a consistent and open line of communication open for students. This makes me think about the cycle of action and reflection. As we navigate this learning environment, it might be good to a have cycle of class/work engagement + feedback from students. Gathering feedback about how the class went or how students are felling seems important. It might be good to have anonymous, lightweight surveys at the end of each class or week/month that will help faculty gauge content understanding, concerns, or stressors. They can then determine what gaps are still present, and find good ways to address them.
- With the above said, preparing and planning also seem important. This might mean providing a class-by-class agenda to give students an idea of what to expect and a chance to voice any concerns/comments.
- Async/sync class consumption is a great way to help with different environments and motivations. Some students have distractions/increased responsibilities/workspace limitations where more class flexibility will be appreciated.
- Adopting a remote-first mindest from the start. Which means using tools that are geared towards remote collaboration and work.
- Establishing a centralized place for resources and course info that is consistently updated.
- Streamlining communication to a handful of tools that are updated at a consistent cadence depending on the type of communication the tool affords.