A successful semester of online architectural education

07 Jul 2020

With the completion of the last final review, this semester’s online education of the Department of Architecture and Design at XJTLU has finally come to an end.

Kexin Qian, a Year 3 student, wrote a “thank you” letter to her tutor Zayad Motlib after completing the final review of ARC204 Small Urban Buildings.

In her letter, she wrote: “I am really grateful that you looked into every detail of my project and pushed me to become better. I think the online teaching of the Department is really successful, and I know that all the teachers have put a lot of efforts into it. I have also learnt a lot from other guest reviewers. All these experiences are so valuable that I may recall them after several years.”

Although the result is satisfying, the learning process of this module for Kexin has not been easy, especially in the very first month of this semester.

According to Kexin, in on-site classes, they used to carry out numerous field trips to develop a deeper understanding of the site. But in this semester, they could only rely on online resources. Besides, as the students could not use the equipment at the Design Fab Lab, they had to find new ways to make models.

Luckily, she found ways to make up for these shortcomings. At first, she was ‘forced’ to collect information online, but to her surprise, she sought out a large number of online resources which she has never seen before.

“The resources of Chinese local records from Wanfang Database provided by the university library is really useful for my cultural and historical research. I solved the model making problem by using paperboard from express boxes and manually-cut paper slips instead, which unexpectedly fit the concept of my streamlined shell model, and the final result was no less impressive than the foam model made by the traditional hot wire cutting machine,” she said.

With the progress of the semester, Kexin gradually adapted to the online learning mode. She started to learn how to visualize her project progress and communicate her ideas to the tutor effectively. During this process, she began to understand the unique advantages of online education.

"Online education enables us to exchange design ideas by sharing our screens, and we have something like small-scaled reviews every week. We need to represent our design ideas fully through screen, which is actually closer to the formal report in our future study and work compared to demonstrating the 3D model directly," she said.

In this semester, students needed to organize their study progress systematically twice a week. Kexin believes that although this seemed like extra work, it helped her to record the development process of the project clearly, and sort out how her design ideas changed, so as to summarize and reflect on the problems at different stages. She hopes that she can maintain this mode of working for her future design studies.

In addition to teaching, online education has also brought positive results to the final review of the Department of Architecture and Design. On the one hand, the form of online review allows professors and professional architects from outside the university to participate in the review process. On the other hand, students are able to view their peers’ works in a much more detailed way, which cannot be achieved by the usual poster wall in on-site reviews.

Zayad Motlib, module leader of ARC204, was also satisfied at the learning outcome of this semester.

“My challenge was to assure the students that we will maintain the same level of engagement, feedback, and productivity expected in a normal studio. From the first sessions, I was surprised how quickly the students were responding and adapting to the new form of teaching. By the end of the studio, the high quality of projects that were produced was a huge surprise for everyone; including the students themselves. I think this experience opened the door towards a new form of online teaching that can successfully be adopted in architectural education,” he said.

Translated by Yao Cheng, edited by Yi Qian and Claudia Westermann

Photos provided by Kexin Qian

07 Jul 2020