Virtual Studios (3): Practical Tools to Use when Implementing Virtual Studio Principles

Let’s talk about the right tool for the job: What are the specific software/platforms to use when implementing a virtual studio? Photo by Russ Hendricks

The 2019 Innovating Pedagogy Report called virtual studios one of the “top ten” pedagogical innovations that might take off in 2019.  The first two posts in this series first introduced studios and studio pedagogy and next examined high-level practices using the internet to transition the studio more from a standard studio to a virtual studio. This, the third post in the virtual studio series, will discuss specific software/platforms to use when implementing a virtual studio. Once more, even if you do not teach in a studio-based discipline, these software/platforms options offer ways to reconceptualize your teaching practice and may also result in you and your students connecting in new, innovative ways. I will once again use the Replication-Collaboration Continuum as a means to present each software item. The Replication-Collaboration Continuum can be seen in Figure 1. The Continuum maps out a high-level framework of potential practices to use the internet to decentralize your studio or classroom. These practices can help scaffold a shift from the physical to the more virtual.

Figure 1. The Replication Collaboration Continuum

Shifting Structures

At the left is shifting structures. These are practices using the internet for its replication potential replicating the “structure” of the studio itself online.

Some benefits of shifting structures include:

  • Eases the burden of shortened course sessions
  • Creates a library of course resources
  • Provides time freedom for students who must balance multiple life responsibilities

Shifting structures, or moving some teaching elements into an online environment, can open up valuable time to be fully present in face-to-face sessions instead of frantically trying to fit in more learning content.

Practical Ways to Shift Structures

First, you might shift structures by making a website for the class and posting weekly instructional content such as readings, tutorial videos, etc. This flipped classroom approach can enable face to face class times to be much more interactive. Though making a website might seem intimidating, many free platforms are template based and can allow anyone to create a website without prior coding knowledge.

Free and easy website creation tools include:

Another way to shift structures is to implement online collaborative feedback tools. These tools enable students to upload visual work to a digital whiteboard and then have others comment and critique. Comments and critique can happen either in real time or throughout a week. For studio disciplines such as art and design, these online tools are lovely options to use to conduct critique. For other subjects, these tools also work when you want to get students discussing projects in a visually interactive manner.

Free and easy collaborative feedback tools include:

Shifting Roles

In the middle of the continuum is shifting roles. These are practices using the internet for its ability to decentralize hierarchy. In shifting roles, each participant claims the agency and the ability to find resources and teach one another.

Some benefits of shifting roles include:

  • Building greater confidence and agency in students
  • Opening up pathways for more diverse ideas in the classroom
  • Giving students practice help-seeking effectively

Shifting roles is a great way to shift hierarchy and allow students to better “learn how to learn” as they find the skills and resources they need to advance their unique vision. By encouraging a team mindset and creating channels for communication you can build student confidence.

Practical Ways to Shift Roles

First, you might shift roles by creating a Slack Team for your course. You can learn more about Slack by visiting: https://slack.com

In this team, consciously create channels where students can post questions and encourage students to answer one another rather than always looking to you. Also, encourage students to create and curate channels of their own sharing their interests, inspiration, and skill set with others.

Next, you might want to create a course blog that everyone can contribute to and share their work. Using a platform like WordPress and running the SPLOT theme (https://splot.ca/about/) can enable multiple authors to add to a site. Again, as all are welcome and equal to participate this is a great way to build a collegial community and a team mindset.

Finally, you could encourage students to create their process WordPress blogs. Through creating posts, writing comments and overall intentionally engaging with others, students can practice creating and curating a professional identity.

Shifting Perspectives

At the right end is shifting perspectives. These are practices that use the internet as a means to open up space for connection and collaboration, integrating students into the larger world of professional practice.

Some benefits of shifting perspectives include:

  • Helping students navigate working cross-discipline or cross culture
  • Helping students see themselves as connected professionals
  • Helping students build empathy with those who are different than them

Though opening up your class in a role shifting manner can be a bit (or a lot!) chaotic, it will allow students to learn what it means to become a member of a digitally-connected professional community which is an identity they will most likely assume in their first post-college design job.

Practical Ways to Shift Perspectives

First, you might shift perspectives by creating a class hashtag and encourage students to share and dialogue about their process/projects on Instagram (https://www.instagram.com) or other social media platform. Sharing work and process on the open web can bring up valuable discussions about the place of audience, discourse online, and appropriation. Besides, you never know what professionals from your field might find the hashtag and begin a dialogue with students!

Next, you might Invite in outside experts to make guest appearances or even join your classroom community regularly via video conference software like Zoom or Skype. Both platforms are free and feature robust audio, video, and screen share capability. Also, both platforms can accommodate many participants.

Finally, you might consider using a combination of video conference software and any one of the platforms mentioned above to work cross-discipline with another department in your school or even another class across the country or around the world on a collaborative project. Again, this connectivity can provide valuable insight into the daily life and outlook of other students in a context that may be far different than your home institution.

The name “virtual studio” and the disembodied imagery it conjures can be intimidating. However, by taking a few practical steps built upon shifts outlined in the Replication Collaboration Continuum, perhaps it is not as far out as initially imagined.

In closing, whether you are an art and design education familiar with studio pedagogy or not, what software/platforms have you found to be helpful when decentralizing or “going virtual” with your courses? As we can learn just as much from our mistakes as our successes, what platforms didn’t work for you and do you have any guesses as to why? Please let us know in the comments below and looking forward to the discussion.

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