Corona Damaged: From the response of Kyoto University of Arts (Design Division, Product Design Major)
Due to the impact of COVID-19, Kyoto City University of Arts has decided to hold the first semester of 2020 classes remotely. The following is an introduction to the practical classes at the Department of Product Design under these circumstances.
Since the year before last, the Product Design major has changed the curriculum of its practical classes to set their own goals and control the curriculum proactively. Specifically, we have shifted from the traditional approach of building up from basics to specialties to “elective assignments” where students can freely choose their assignments for each half year. Students in the second to the fourth year of the program will participate in the elective terms. Still, instead of being divided into classes according to grade, they will be divided according to their respective assignments, and students from different assignments will work on the terms together. This creates relationships and exchanges that transcend grade levels, where students are aware of each other, improve each other, and compensate for differences in experience and knowledge, and where they can cross both horizontally and vertically. This is an advantage that cannot be obtained in classes that are divided by grade level. In addition, classmates in the same grade are working on different assignments at the same time. Through the opportunity of mid-term and final critiques, they may be able to build a relationship in which they are aware of each other and enhance each other in a way that is not simply competitive because they are working on different assignments.
Practical Lessons During the Coronavirus Disaster
Due to the ban on attending school in person at Kyoto City University of Arts, the first semester of classes was held remotely from May 12, 2020, using Google’s Classroom and Meet to begin distance learning for each assignment. Before the start of classes, explanatory videos by each instructor were created and distributed as reference materials for students to select each elective assignment, and students selected them. After that, with the lifting of the state of emergency, face-to-face classes became possible from the latter half of June, subject to adequate infection prevention measures.
We were fortunate that each major was not large, and the number of students was small due to the assignment selection system. Hence, depending on the task, we took sufficient measures to conduct face-to-face classes at the university like a normal day. However, we continued to provide individual support for students who wanted to participate remotely and distance lessons for tasks that can be performed remotely. We also had to think of ways to use ICT tools to avoid gathering for critiques, which usually involve a large number of students. For example, for the final critique of the first semester, we chose to prepare an appropriately sized classroom for each of the four assignments and have the students display their work there and then wait. According to the timetable, the teachers went around to each classroom, listened to the students’ presentations, and gave their comments. These are live streamed for students to watch in each classroom. Although the teachers had conducted some tests beforehand, the results showed flaws and limitations that would not have occurred in a face-to-face review. These included network glitches due to multiple accesses and floor movement, image quality problems, and difficulty hearing voices due to masks.
Merits and Demerits Revealed from the Questionnaire Done by Teachers
After the class was conducted, the elective class teachers were asked to fill out a review questionnaire. Among them are
- After grasping the production environment at the student’s home, I carefully instructed the students on how to make what they are trying to make.
- Due to the nature of online calls, it is easy to have one-on-one conversation (the student presenting his/her production progress and faculty members). However, other students are disengaged, so I tried to increase participation by encouraging them to talk and make comments actively.
While each person’s ingenuity was seen, the limitations of the practical class due to the nature of making objects became clear.
- The scale and details of the model could not be conveyed at all.
- The details and texture of the shape could not be conveyed remotely.
- It is impossible to ensure the same quality as face-to-face lessons.
- Since students cannot share the space with each other, they cannot fully interact with each other, and the effect of interaction cannot be generated.
The feedback pointing out these limitations reminds us that the majors have been emphasizing education and interaction based on physicality and presence.
However, distance learning does not have only negative aspects. The clear advantages are that each person can work on research and production without worrying about how others look at him/her. It is also easy to exchange information on research and ideation in the early stages of production. In addition, it is possible to effectively improve one’s skills by preparing and working on formatted basic assignments. Since disposable time has increased due to the increase in lecture-based courses that no longer require a specific time commitment, it has become necessary for each student to manage their own production time. As a result, it opened new possibilities for design education.
However, it is essential to note that the characteristics of the assignment, such as “suitable for remote” and “not suitable for remote,” need to be determined and adjusted. If remote is the main focus, it will be challenging to have students work on assignments that cannot be completed remotely due to the production environment, such as those that require woodworking. In this regard, in the first semester of this school year, we constructed a class format that mixed remote and face-to-face classes after determining which types were suitable for remote students and which were not. Thanks in part to this, the students’ learning satisfaction was generally favorable.
The pandemic has shaken the world and society, and universities and students have been greatly affected by it. However, there are some things that we should not lose sight of. In fact, the significance of studying design in a university setting lies in the fact that, while keeping in mind the social and commercial context, we dare to distance ourselves from them, to explore the possibilities and joys of designing, and to acquire the experience, knowledge and relationships necessary to do so. This was the common thought of the teachers who taught the class in the first semester.
In times of unprecedented upheaval, when both society and individuals are fundamentally shaken, it is important for us to develop the habit of looking at the situation from a different perspective and to relativize it, and this is where design thinking can play a role. As a faculty member, the turbulent first semester has renewed our desire to nurture students who can create excellent designs from a broad perspective, not only for the pandemic at hand but for any future situation that may arise.
Delivery of explanatory videos by each instructor for selecting elective assignments