Navigating the digital learning experience

The shift to online learning has proved both rewarding and challenging at times. We caught up with second year Master of Architecture student Gaby to find out about her experiences so far.

Zoom class image

It's a very difficult year with Covid-19 impacting lives profoundly – are you still studying throughout the pandemic?

I’m studying the Bower Studio and Architecture as Spectacle, as well as working from home for the Fab Lab.

The Bower Studio normally involves students travelling to a remote community to physically work alongside locals to design, build or improve community amenities and infrastructure. How has the pandemic impacted this experience?

Definitely starting out we were all a bit glum at the prospect of having a very different Bower Studio experience than expected but it’s really just taken a different turn which isn’t necessarily worse, just different.

I have been very grateful for how quickly the tutors have converted Bower Studio, a subject usually anchored in practical collaboration, to a new format that has kept us engaged in this new digitally reliant landscape.

Bower Studio has definitely taken a different shape to past semesters. But there have been some silver linings in that instead of physically going to the Kalkaringi Community in NT we have been able to consult with them online in an ongoing way.

How has the Bower Studio online learning experience worked out so far?

We have had multiple meetings with members of the Kalkaringi community. Usually students return from the three-week community trip and they only have three or four weeks to develop a design, which can be a little rushed.

In our case, since the whole trip component is not possible at the moment, we have had much longer to develop our designs.

Our designs are a bit more comprehensive in terms of research and the back and forth with the community whereas sometimes previous students were a bit pushed for time coming straight out of the practical work.

We are still liaising with the community and the briefs we have are all real projects. They’re not concepts that the tutors have made up just to give us something to do, they are all fully funded projects that the Gurindji Aboriginal Corporation and Kalkaringi community are intending to build. It helps us to know that we have some agency and motivation and that we are not just producing work that will go nowhere.

Gaby's project drawing

How have you been liaising with the Kalkaringi community and your classmates?

We mostly use Zoom. Occasionally there have been some technical difficulties but the people we have spoken to from the community have been so patient. They have set up video calling so we get to meet them online, and they’re really happy to answer all our questions and emails.

The tutors have been really helpful too in advising of the most appropriate ways to contact the community, and how we can gain more knowledge of the community that we may have otherwise learnt through physically being there.

What are the design briefs for Bower Studio this semester?

This semester’s Bower Studio has three main design briefs, a community health centre, a culture centre and a social club. Each of us in the studio has been assigned to one of the briefs, and each brief has a specific community contact who we mainly communicate with.

We try to contact each representative within our design brief group, so we’ll cluster all our questions for one brief together, so we aren’t doubling up and all contacting them separately. I’m working on the social club, which is an existing facility which we are upgrading.

Gaby's project excerpt

What types of programmes are you using to work on your Bower Studio designs?

It depends. We are quite open for each of us to use whatever we are well-versed in already. The focus is on presenting designs that are accessible for the community. They need to be able to read the design straight away.

They don’t want to see highly technical drawings and details that other studios might encourage; they want it to be a presentation that you can look at and easily read without having an architectural background.

We are all using different CAD programmes and then I’ll use InDesign or Photoshop to get a collage-type feel for my visuals.

We also try to infuse the design with specifics from the community, so incorporating details like people that are recognisable within the community or working in other little quirks of the community like a particular dog that might always sleep under a particular tree and things like that.

Are there any plans to visit the community in person when it’s safe to do so?

Everyone is keen to go, it’s just not yet certain whether or not it would be part of a studio unit or separately.

The community has already told us that we are welcome to visit. They have a big event every year in August called the Freedom Day Festival, but this has been cancelled for 2020 due to Covid-19. They have invited us to attend the festival next year because it’s when the community comes alive and has lots of interstate visitors. It’s definitely something that we all hope we will do at some point because we all feel connected to the community despite having not physically been there, even if we end up visiting just in our own time.

Project model

How have you found online learning for your other subject this semester?

I was originally set to do an elective that was a bit more hands-on technology-based, so I actually swapped it to a more theory-based subject called Architecture as Spectacle with Amanda Achmadi.

I figured theory-based subjects would be a bit easier to do in an online environment.

It’s been really good so far. Our tutorials are centred around readings and every week we have an open discussion about what stood out in the readings for each of us. At the beginning of the semester we’d all get assigned a specific question and we’d all have to answer it in the online tutorial but after several weeks it turned into more of an organic discussion which has flowed really well.

Do you have any advice for coping with studying online during the pandemic?

Keeping to a routine and making yourself a timetable is really helpful, so you don’t just get to 3pm and feel like you haven’t done anything.

Also, I would recommend reaching out to your classmates. It’s easy to work in a bit of a vacuum, and what I do really miss is being around other people’s work and having that rub off on you without even realising. Now, it takes more initiative for you to reach out to a classmate and suggest that you crit each other’s work but it’s definitely worth it.

Images: work produced in Bower Studio 2020 by Gaby Miegeville-Little  

Interested in studying the Master of Architecture?
Find out more