Recipe: The live online desk crit

Architecture and design programs across the globe are responding to the COVID-19 pandemic by rapidly moving learning and teaching online. Although there’s ample precedent for online theoretical learning, fewer examples of virtual and remote studios exist, specifically related to the online desk crit.

The live online crits described here are conducted via webinar / web conferencing. They are comparable to the desk crit and for formative rather than summative assessment (Morkel, 2017; Poulsen & Morkel, 2016). Participants can join live (synchronously), using audio, webcam, screen-sharing, and text-chatting.

The use of the webinar platform for final portfolio reviews or design jury warrants a separate discussion. Have a look at the tools available for this on the Resources page (under Communicating).

Serve to:
Architecture and Design tutors who value the desk crit and wanting to move it online

Time:
Prep: As much time as needed
Activity: 2 hr for around 6-8 students

Cost:
Low

Difficulty:
Moderate
Connection: Good
Bandwidth: Intermediate-high

Ingredients

Three important ingredients for setting up a live online desk crit are:

  1. Intent: Consider the expected outcomes of the session in relation to the project brief. Think about how the selected webinar platform may support these outcomes, and what the next steps are.
  2. Context: Keep the discipline, subject area, and level of study in mind. Employ the online crit as part of a larger learning system, including formal and informal, synchronous and asynchronous learning and teaching tools and strategies.
  3. Empathy: Think about who the students and staff are, their respective contexts, available resources, including internet access, bandwidth and available data, and their skills and challenges. Involve students as co-designers to establish online crit protocols.

Notes on ingredients

  • Focus on the pedagogy rather than the technology
  • Regularly reflect and revise; consider student and staff feedback to make improvements as needed

Method

Preparation

  1. Introduce students and staff to the use of the software by setting up practice runs.
  2. The webinar software might be able to run on computer, mobile, tablet/ iPad, but functionality should be tested on the various expected devices.
  3. Organise and schedule sessions into 2-hour slots, each with around 6 – 8 students and one or two tutors, and any number of observing students or staff.
  4. When scheduling sessions, consider and accommodate different participant time zones.
  5. Get students to upload their work prepared for the crit, to the LMS in pdf format, a day or two prior to the session, for the tutor/s to preview. Alternatively, students should update work in the relevant online workspaces where it can be accessed and shared. Examples of workspaces are Concept board, Bluescape, Mural, Padlet, or Trello.
  6. Set up back channels on WhatsApp or another suitable social media platform, with student representatives and staff.
  7. If possible, engage two tutors in each session, for back-up as needed. One tutor can take the lead with the verbal and graphic engagement and the other can manage the text chat window, and deal with student queries.
  8. Appoint a time-keeper (a student or tutor) to ensure that students get equal opportunity to share and discuss their work allowing approx. 20 – 30 minutes per student or as much time is needed.
  9. Ensure your device is connected to a mains power supply (do not rely solely on battery power). Also, make sure to have a backup for the Wi-Fi.
  10. Encourage students and staff to find quiet spaces where they can connect online without interruptions.
  11. Find a good headset with an integrated mic and test the sound, mute and volume settings on the mic and computer.
  12. Remember to mute all other devices, apps and programmes you may have running which has notification tones. Close any unnecessary window tabs so that they’re not visible when screen-sharing.
  13. Consider privacy settings to avoid unwanted guests joining – refer to recent instances of Zoombombing.
  14. Decide on a focus or agenda for the crit session, related to the project brief and programme, to guide the conversation.
  15. If possible, keep a copy of the submitted student work open on another screen or device for orientation and cross-referencing, whilst the crit is in progress.

Running the online crit

  1. Join the session at least 20 minutes prior to the start time. Connect the audio and then mute your mic, and type a short welcoming message in the text chat window, for those who arrive early.
  2. Set up the necessary permissions i.e. moderator, panellist, presenter and participant, to allow staff to control the session (e.g. muting and screen share) and to limit the risk of students accidentally disrupting or ending the session.
  3. Appoint a tutor as a presenter, for screen-sharing and to navigate the students’ displayed work. Alternatively, students can take turns to share their screens displaying their own work. In this case, the presenting student should temporarily be given presenter status. The work can be in pdf format or live in the cloud, in a repository or in a digital workspace like Concept board, Bluescape, Mural, Padlet, or Trello.
  4. Student work can contain different media, 2D and 3D visualisations, freehand sketches, photos of physical models, digital models, static images, video, mind maps and text.
  5. If allowed by your institution, and if so, with the required permissions, sessions can be recorded by the lead tutor or individually by students for later viewing.
  6. Limit the use of webcams. Instead, students and tutors use audio, speaking to the visuals on the screen, using cursor pointing and on-screen markings. Assign different colour pens to recognise different participants’ markings.
  7. Make use of the text chat to engage non-presenting participants, to remind students of the crit sequence, to share additional links in support of the crit conversation, and to respond to student questions and comments.
  8. If possible, allow for some social interaction before or after sessions or during breaks. Invite students to assign a resident online DJ to provide music, or encourage students to co-create an artwork on the whiteboard during break-times.
  9. Foster a spirit of generosity and adaptability to accept when things go wrong.
  10. Have at least one back-up plan ready in case something goes wrong.
  11. Mute staff and students’ mics (or ask them to do so) when they’re not talking. Remember to unmute your mic before you start talking.
  12. Prompt students to articulate their understanding and actions, to reflect on their decisions, and to explore and test alternatives.
  13. Actively model designerly behaviour and use on-screen markings to demonstrate the design process.
  14. Pay attention to social presence in times of social distance – don’t forget the human aspect. Be professional, clear and firm, but also use humour, and be kind.

Notes and tips:
Don’t use the webinar:
– for long presentations and briefings that could well be pre-recorded;
– for monologues instead of conversations; or
– to replicate the face to face experience.

Other flavours:
The webinar can also be used for non-design project feedback and discussions, informal conversations, and summative assessment e.g. design jury/ portfolio reviews.

References

Published by Jolanda Morkel

Jolanda Morkel is a registered architect and senior lecturer in the Department of Architectural Technology and Interior Design at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) in Cape Town, South Africa. She championed the ground-breaking online CPUT BTech programme in Architectural Technology offered in collaboration with Open Architecture, as one of the South African Institute of Architects’ (SAIA) flagship transformation projects, and the first of its kind in Africa. Based on its success, new online Advanced Diplomas in Architectural Technology and Interior Design are being implemented at the CPUT from 2020. Jolanda regularly publishes, presents at conferences and facilitates workshops on studio-based learning, flexible, blended and online learning, technology-mediated and work-integrated learning experiences, learning design and design-thinking in Higher Education. Her doctoral research focuses on the student-tutor interaction in the live online critique.

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