In my "Future of Media featuring Future or Radio/Radio of the future" course (previous blog post here), we had a mid-term critique session 10 days ago. Our students presented their stuff and two external guest critics gave them feedback. Our two guest critics were architects and the whole impetuous to do a mid-term critique thingy originally came from those architects (designers) - and we have done it for a couple of years in the course by now. The KTH School of Architecture use it a lot in their own project courses, and as far as I understand, all architecture schools do.
The topic of this blog post isn't the mid-term critique though, but what I learned before and during the event by talking to Architect Charlie (AC), and my subsequent reflections about the differences between our respective students and our respective educational programs and philosophies. Thought AC's actions and comments, I understand that our expectations differ in these ways:
- Architecture students have large swats of scheduled-but-unstructured time, i.e. they are supposed to spend many hours together in a studio, working on a project. We (Media Technology) are instead happy if our students show up for class.
- Our students put a premium on being effective. Sometimes that means going to a lecture and sometimes they decide they don't learn that much at that math lecture and will instead watch a lecture covering "the same" topic on the Internet, or read the course literature by themselves, or work on math problems in a group. Sometimes they choose not to go to a lecture because they don't have to, and because they prefer to use their time in other ways (including for leisure purposes, or for attending another course, for salaried work etc.). Sometimes I acknowledge and agree with their choices, but many times I disagree with their priorities (their studies have a lower priority than I think it should).
- AC don't want her students taking too many courses in parallel. I don't know how School of Architecture "control" or "regulate" that. They want the course load to be "reasonable" so that students can spend large swats of scheduled-but-unstructured time together in a studio, working on a project. Our students have problems coming together. They have so many different choices, and both their inter-personal and intra-personal schedules overlap, i.e. a student can take different courses that collide schedule-wise and students in a project groups take different courses and have different schedules, making it difficult for them to all come together in time and space. That's the disadvantage of giving our students much (too much?) freedom to choose their course freely.
- AC made some snide remarks during the mid-term critique about students showing up an hour late. Some of our students had collisions with other scheduled courses. To the architects, nothing should ever be scheduled at the same time as a mid-term critique session. To our students, this is just one course among many and one scheduled event among many. There was a mismatch between AC's expectations (and mine to be honest) and some project groups' (relative lack of) preparations for this event. Note-to-self: how can the importance of this event be emphasized in next year's course?
- AC thinks the teacher should meet project groups at least once per week in a project course. That is a lot easier if students are expected to all be in the same place (a studio) during large swats of scheduled-but-unstructured time. AC can then just stroll down there and have an informal chat with her students just about whenever. Me, I have to schedule all meetings in advance (and oftentimes a group member or two can't come to the meeting anyway).
- As apart from AC, I can't informally check in on my students - they might not even be in school but can instead work on a project asynchronously and distributed (having divided up parts of the job between them). Not regularly working together face-to-face means that a large part of what it means to work in group is lost. Since we put a premium on the quality of ideas and concepts in Future of Media, our students are (or put themselves) at a disadvantage here. From what I've written here, it follows that the average quality of our students' projects must be lower in terms of the creative content. I believe our students spend little time thinking and discussing ideas and concepts in the beginning of a project, and that they instead opt for "locking down" an idea (too) early and then dividing and distributing the workload.
- It is easy to get our Media Technology students to perform - if and when the task is well specified. But it's much more difficult to get our students them to spend time, to discuss, to think deeply (together) and to work though problems, issues, ideas together.
- A good start (at least for project courses and design projects) would be to give our students access to great spaces where they can hang out and work on projects together. We don't have that. We (or our neighboring research group) have a space that is OK ("Torget") and I have realized I should ask for permission to direct our students there. The endemic schedule SNAFU is more difficult to tackle, but a group with six members can do great work together even if two members are absent.
- The next step would be for us Media Technology teachers to make an effort to actually pass by regularly and chat with students/project groups and offer informal critique and advice. I don't really do that today, but I should change this habit if the project groups become easier to find (physically, in space and time). I have informal conversations with my colleagues in the corridor and in our kitchen when I'm not too busy. I should have informal or semi-formal project-related conversations when I see "my" project groups working together.
To summarize: First we need more spaces where students and teachers can meet informally. Second both students (project groups) and teachers need to have the habit to talk even/also without scheduled, formal meetings.
I have more to say about lessons learned from AC/School of Architecture but that will have to be the topic of another blog post.