Establishing a Global Classroom With Roots in East Falls

Through an international lens, industrial design professor develops innovative approach to virtual learning.

With an unprecedented fall semester looming, industrial-design professor Lyn Godley already knew that virtual learning can’t entirely replicate studio experience for students. With that in mind, she started brainstorming ways to offer a unique approach for sophomores enrolled in her industrial design studio.

“Students love the studio experience, but it’s just not the same online,” says Godley, of the University’s Kanbar College of Design, Engineering and Commerce. “How about we take the tools that online education offers us and give students an experience they never would have had otherwise—something that will set them and their portfolios apart?”

Answering that question after conversations with academic peers explains how “SEE: Our Cities,” a global, urban-space, observation-and-intervention project, came to be.

SEE: Our CIties
The professors involved in an innovative virtual-education offering talk about their plans on a Zoom call.

To that end, the program has teamed up with 16 partners from universities on five continents, a number which could reach six if a school from South Africa signs on (leaving Antarctica as the global outlier). Godley says the resulting effort “has the potential to be a substantial addition to the students’ academic experience in ways that on-site classes may not traditionally offer.”

“When we teach these courses and write up the curriculum, it was traditionally to be used once a year, for a group of eight to 15 students,” she says. “I just love the idea that we could be sharing resources and teaching to reach many more students with other universities. We’ll be touching upon what ties us all together as a global design community.”

Students from each academic institution will visit public spaces pre-selected by their instructors and document observations of human activity in the space. (Locally speaking, Dilworth Park and LOVE Park were mentioned as possible locations for students to closely study.) That will enable them to not only identify opportunities for design intervention, but develop concepts for design solutions.

SEE: Our Cities
Professor Shruti Joshi of the Dr. Bhanuben Nanavati College of Architecture for Women in Pune, India says this very old post office in a major node of the city offers "a very interesting area of study for the project."

Students of various disciplines from the schools will also virtually attend live or pre-recorded classes from partner schools, a workload made possible by scheduling them at different times between the start of the semester and November.

“Open classrooms in which participating faculty and students can sit in on project sessions at other universities will broaden the scope of the project,” says Godley, who notes that methodologies, schedules, education-level and curriculum needs will vary among the participants. “This gives our professors a global audience, which is incredible.”

They will then create a final video presentation of their project, walking peers through their thought processes and proposed solutions. The top three from each school will be included in a round-up video which will be shared publicly.

“We’re all moving towards getting across the finish line, with each dancing a little differently,” says Erika Doering, Godley’s co-lead from the Parsons School of Design at the New School in New York City. “This is about the total choreography.”

Online teaching offers the exposure opportunity for curricular participation outside of a school’s geographic area, partnering with institutions nationally and internationally.
–Lyn Godley

This will be just one project in the semester-long course, Godley says, but she sees it potentially becoming a springboard for future collaborations.

“Online teaching offers the exposure opportunity for curricular participation outside of a school’s geographic area, partnering with institutions nationally and internationally,” she says. “I couldn’t be more grateful to Dean Mike Leonard and Program Director Tod Corlett, whose leadership fosters a department that embraces new initiatives that drive change.”

Shruti Joshi, a professor and one of the founding members of the Dr. Bhanuben Nanavati College of Architecture for Women (BNCA) in Pune, India, says she’s excited about the project which adds a new wrinkle to global learning at a time when her students study remotely as well.

“This is a global classroom taught online, and it couldn’t have come at a better moment for us,” she says, noting that the approach helps them get around the logistical challenges involving travel. “Learning to adapt to new platforms, with students remotely placed in their hometowns, will help survive and grow in a post-COVID scenario despite the challenges. This is an important step that gives us a change to strengthen our ties to other universities in a meaningful way.”

SEE: Our Cities
Up to 16 schools on six continents will be part of the "SEE: Our Cities" project.

Dr. Bhakti More—professor in the School of Design and Architecture at the Manipal Academy of Higher Education (MAHE) in Dubai, India—concurs with Joshi’s assessment. Dr. More says students there in their final year of the bachelor of architecture program are eager to participate.

“This virtual platform has given a unique opportunity to design and architecture students to collaborate, share and exchange their concepts on cities urban spaces. Culture, sense of place, identity for each urban space will vary as per contexts and geographical boundaries,” Dr. More says. “I think that’s going to be very exciting to see these variations and regional approaches to every city. With many universities participating from various countries, this global studio will be a memorable experience. Faculty sharing the lectures will further enrich the studio.”

In addition to Jefferson, Parsons, BNCA and MAHE, the schools committed to participating include Drexel University; Ariel University (Israel); Chinese University of Mining and Technology and Tsinghua University (China); Swinburne University of Technology (Australia); Koln International School of Design (Germany); Grays School – Robert Gordon University of Art (Scotland); ITMO University (Russia); and Duoc (Chile). The trio of schools still pending are Sheffield Hallam University (United Kingdom); UIC Barcelona (Spain); and University of Johannesburg (South Africa).

This idea could be promoted as a new methodology of teaching.
–Lyn Godley

Students involved are studying various fields, including design (product, industrial and interdisciplinary), architecture, art, sociology and urban spaces. 

As she prepares for the semester to start, Godley ponders what this initiative could mean for the future.

“This is a good experiment. Education was already moving in a direction of thinking about a more universal approach to teaching and what the classroom of the future could look like,” says Godley, whose class will start the project on Sept. 9. “With the students’ videos at the end of the project being posted online, this idea could be promoted as a new methodology of teaching.”

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