Bane and Boon of Virtual Teachingin Architecture

Dr. Ravindra Deshmukh

Dr Deshmukh is Professor in Design Chair at DY Patil University School of Architecture Ambi Pune India

 

Published in 2A Magazine Issue #46 – Summer 2021

Normally there is resistance to professional courses being taught online. But the present scenario of contagion spread compelled the ideology to become topsy-turvy. In the lockdown period both students and teachers resorted to experiencing the teaching-learning process remotely. The article takes review of the situation and enumerates demerits as well as merits of the system.

The present pandemic is not an isolated case of mass infections. There have been instances in the past about spread of life threatening infections such as Bubonic Plague (1720), Cholera (1852), SARS (2003), etc. But never was it of this widespread and of media coverage mainly due to technological advancement. Any post-disaster situation results into bad things and some good things as well. Mainly it affects people and property the most.
In the present case of pandemic spread, in addition to the large scale obliteration of human life, it affected world economies as never before.
Demerits of Online Teaching-Learning Process One of the major disadvantages of online learning is that student-teacher close interaction, as would happen in face-to-face interaction, is absent. Both are a distance away in location and possibly in time as well. Other demerits are:
1. Pixels and Waves: Personal feelings in student-teacher interaction are missed out. Classroom gestures and Interactions are not conveyed as effectively as in a physical world. Nandini Paul (2020), a reporter of Times of India is not happy with ‘shifting base to the digital sphere and undergone changes to be conveyed solely through pixels, codes and audio waves’. There is no chance to meet with the design faculty and confide in him/ her student’s views or query. Managing to meet the design teacher face to face to resolve the complex issues is not possible.
2. Socializing being overlooked: Man is a social animal. Being together is comfortable in many ways. Unknown to begin with students of the first years quickly form groups and settle with their newly formed friend circle.
This may extend beyond graduation and even for a lifetime. All this is lost in a virtual world. Then the quality of social relationships will not be very rewarding. So, social interaction is almost imperative for the development of the student.
3. Detriment of Technology: As technology progresses life becomes easier, so also evolves innovative teaching methods. The present spread of Covid-19 virus has worldwide effect resorting to remote working and has rendered people faceless in an era of switched off videos and muted calls indoors. “It is difficult to interact with people over a Zoom meeting of over 60 participants. Hence, I am mostly silent during my tutorials.” says student Arunima Marwaha, in the Times of India of 17 October 2020.

4. Gup-shup (casual chat) missed out: When it is remote working and over-the-net meetings people are connected with a reason. The discussion is centred on work and business. There is hardly any casual call to say ‘hi’. It is necessary to have a nonessential conversation with colleagues, fellow teachers and students at least once a week to put them at ease and that is the way to stay connected.
5. Detached Interactions: Expression, feelings and touch are all absent in faceless interaction. Zoom sessions are impersonal. So, after a while students and faculty become less interactive and their energy levels become low and, tend to lose interest. It is frustrating to not being able to read faces behind switched off video screens and verbal cues, if muted. Fewer interactions lead to the loss of existing connections with other students and faculty. It is necessary to meet faculty or visiting architect for consulting ‘face to face to resolve the trickier parts of a project’, observes Anjali Jhangiani (2020) in the Times of India.

6. Solitary education being depressive: Lonely learning can never be a fruitful experience. Active discussion, argumentation and presentation – basic skills reinforcing employability, cannot be acquired holistically in a virtual world.
Other co-curricular activities like working in students’ council, field trips, attending workshops are missed out, so also extra-curricular activities like taking part in cultural events and sports. “Need for social interaction is almost imperative for the development of the student”, says Anjali. Lack of complete emotional connectivity can be depressive and its toll is seen on home confined student as well as teacher.
7. Not experiencing the world outside: There are host of activities being lost on digital mode. Personal interactions and feelings apart, your world remains mostly your home. ‘Where instead of leaving the nest they have been forced to roost there a while longer’, says Andrews Hawkins (2020) an architect in his article ‘Moving to Vertical Design Studio’.
There are many activities one can take part while in a school or college like going on study trip, educational tour, experiencing places and cities.
8. Missed Campus Thrill for wholesome growth: At the campus, one gets to know colleagues and teachers much better (Fig.1). There are host of activities like yearly exhibition, gathering, cultural programs of other schools, interactions in students’ event like National Association of Students of Architecture, sports competitions; such a campus buzz is amiss. Friendship bond can become weaker and teacher-student interactions lose informal touch.
9. Vision Myopic at young age: In a college environment your gaze frequently changes. When felt fatigue of concentrating on a drawing from close distance, you naturally tend to look through a window on a scene far away, move away from the drawing board or put laptop to sleep and go for a cup of tea in canteen or simply chat with friends for a while. This is not possible in a solitary working on computer from home resulting in fixing your eyesight on laptop screen for most part of the day and it naturally takes a toll on the health.
10. Digital Fatigue: These days’ youngsters spend a lot of time watching movies, gaming on tabs or doing serious study on laptop. On an average 8 to 10 hours are spent on screen. This sets in tiredness. Every half an hour’s work doing close viewing of the screen necessitates shifting of vision to a distant object or looking through a window or taking a short walk outside before commencing the work again. Working for long and continuous hours in front of the computer result in “experiencing digital fatigue, with many complaining of exhaustion and loss of sleep” says Anjali. At times irritation, drying of eyes, sensitivity to light, headaches and blurred vision are other health related issues which can result from glued vision to the computer screen.
11. What you see is not complete: When on a video meeting, the frame defines you. Things can be different out of the frame. The full image of a friend or colleague is missing in a virtual session. So, if a faculty is seen wearing a nice shirt and a tie on the screen looking formal, it may not be true for what is not seen. Many times the background is a nice curtain but the rest of the room may be utterly messy. Another thing is the feelings seen through a controlled frame may be misguiding as one cannot read body language over the virtual interface as the entire person is not visible.
12. Uncertainly looms large: Students are not confident enough going online due to many factors including poor network connectivity, interruptions and call-drops.
Many faculty members, especially the seniors, are not very conversant with online teaching, whereas young faculties pick up this mode quickly and comfortably. There seems to be a divide between them that needs to be effectively bridged. Students mainly use smartphone all the time even for serious learning. There is at times, disturbances of connectivity and of being at home. In this regard, Shulman (2020) explains about Michael Toothman, who worked in higher education for 15 years, as saying, “some had poor experiences with online courses in the past and this drove their inherent dislike for online learning”.
Merits of Online Teaching-Learning Process However, there are certain advantages of the grim situation in which the World is at present. But it should be well understood by student as well as faculty to progress in life. Advantages of virtual learning are ‘protecting individual health and community safety’ and the study shows it received 100 per cent response by the students, whereas disadvantage and obstacle experienced by the students with 94 per cent response to ‘extensive time staring at digital screens’, reports Doan Thi Hue Dung, Department of English Hong Bang International University (Dung 2020). The other plus-points are:
1. Equal Share: In virtual platform a teacher is equally available to all students whereas in a physical classroom if ateacher is with one student, s/he cannot be with the entire class. At the most a small group of students can be around the teacher carefully listening to what the teacher expresses. Other students at their respective places away from the group miss out salient points of the discussion. On the other hand, on a digital meeting platform all students are on
monitor screen for a teacher to glance through them in equal manner and vice versa (Fig 2).
2. No Class Stratification: In a real classroom you have front benchers and back benchers. It is difficult to reach out to the last rows if students are many in numbers. In some lectures public address system is used for amplification of teacher’s voice, however the lecture becomes unidirectional as students cannot participate in discussion as usually there is no circulating wireless microphone, as would be on a special occasion. In virtual mode a teacher’s lecture in
audio and video format reaches all participants in equal measure.
3. Annotated Design Review: A student at his/her turn shares the screen and load presentation for discussion. Teachers can point out shortfalls in design and even share their ideas by annotating or drawing over with different colour pens for ease of understanding. These annotations can be erased and the student’s drawings are not affected. Similarly a student while presenting can use annotation for explaining entry, parking, axial quality of the design, access routes, etc. and all other students can watch, react and takeaway good points from it for self-improvement.
4. Personal Touch by Addressing the Student by Name: Gone those days when an architecture class would have only 20 to 30 students and teachers will know each one of them by their name. Now a day a class may have many students and at times if combined class sections, the strength would easily cross 80. It is quite difficult for a teacher to remember them by their names and therefore lose personal touch. In a web meeting, students are seen with their names, so it is easier for the teacher to raise a query with a student calling him/her by name. This creates a personal touch in conversation and students are more alert and feel accountable.
5. No Special Setup for ICT Learning: These days Information and Communications Technology (ICT) is a must facility at all higher education institutions. In a physical classroom, you have option for ‘chalk and talk’ and also showing a PowerPoint presentation on a projector screen. Many times setting up a projector is a cumbersome task and consumes extra time. Projecting an educational video is also a daunting job. Invariably, laptop or desktop is not connected to the installed speakers and more often than not a technician is called upon to set it right, losing a lot of valuable teaching time, resulting in losing audience interest. All these glitches are eliminated in online teaching in one go! Platforms like Zoom, Google Meet, Webex, GoToMeeting or FaceTime provide for screen share that takes care of whatever the teacher wants to project from the laptop screen – a ppt, an audio file or a video clip, including browsing on internet.
6. Place does not Matter: Audience and speaker can be located anywhere within or outside India provided you have good and stable internet connectivity. In case of a scheduled lecture class, a teacher can be delivering the lecture from home in Pune whereas a student can be located in Lucknow or at Bangaluru and remotely connected. Unlike physical presence lest you may lose lecture and your attendance as well, in online format you may have travelled for a
compelling reason and still can attend the lecture.
7. Learn at your Pace: There is an inbuilt provision to video record the lecture while online. Such lectures can be uploaded to a virtual classroom and given access to students if they wish to watch again. So, nothing can be missed out in the course of study of a subject. If not understood a concept, a formula or a proposition, one can watch the lecture or a part of it multiple times for better understanding.
8. No Missing Lectures: Even if a student for some reason could not attend an online session s/he can watch the session again, as it is recoded and saved for students to review again. If a teacher in a physical classroom environment is requested to repeat the earlier lecture again, s/he may not be too willing to have a full length lecture again and more so, it is not possible to repeat it verbatim, whereas the recorded version of online presentation is exact and a student
will not mis from what the others attended. So, online format of teaching is advantageous in “providing lectures and presentations in multiple formats that can either be viewed at their leisure or viewed live during our scheduled class time”, says Andrews.
9. Advantage for Slow Learners: In every batch there are fast learners and slow learners. It is necessary to give more attention to slow learners so that they understand and perform well. Such students may not quite comprehend the lecture first time. They need an opportunity to listen to a lecture again and may be a couple of times more, so that they understand it well. Online teaching is a great opportunity for them. They can revisit such lectures at their convenience and at their pace of understanding.
10. Inviting Experts Remotely: This is a huge advantage on many fronts. Practicing architects and eminent academicians have a series of appointments and their schedule is always full. In order to reach out they always wish to reduce commuting time. Virtual presentation is an excellent way to reach out to students and faculty for an effective industryeducation interaction. When the travel to a college or university is eliminated, the expert can give more time to
academic concerns.
11. Multiple Format Multiple Reach: A virtual lecture can be audio, video or doing doodling on graphical tablet for an easy-to-understand graphical representation. It can be recorded, saved, carried in a pen drive or uploaded on YouTube or a similar platform for a better reach. It can be shared with different classes in the same college or with students of other colleges as well.

12. Being on time is a beautiful thing: In a physical classroom a studio oriented discussion invariably overshoot time limit and it is normal with many faculties. On a virtual meet, one cannot afford to overshoot the time slot as the next class can be by someone waiting and logged in from a different location. “If we are expected to log in at a scheduled time, we are also not expected to stay beyond our normal work hours”, says Anjali. Also, one cannot have a relaxed attitude as in a physical classroom in which one may spend more time with one student and less with the other. A teacher has to put him/herself on time limit with the students to ensure that the teacher manages to interact with each one within interactive computer hours of that week. Regarding a shift in teaching-learning process from classroom environment to online mode Govindarajan and Srivastava (2020) appropriately queries: ‘Do students need the entire education as residential experience or can it be a blended mid-way, what improvements are required in IT infrastructure to make it more suitable for online education and in what way can the faculty and students facilitate changes in mind-sets and behaviours’.
“Virtual education is widely appreciated for its flexibility, cost effectiveness, and convenient access”, says Dung. So, it is like a coin having two sides to look at. As there are negatives, so there are positive aspects of faceless interaction.
Virtual teaching expects wholesome preparation by a faculty so as to deliver the best during designated period of online meet and also, readiness of the student who is expected to revise what was taught earlier, keep handy the points to be discussed or clarified and a pen and a notebook set by the side of the screen for jotting down important points during an online session. So, the onus is on both – the teacher and the taught for an effective faceless interaction and of course the school management as well to change gears from physical campus to faceless interaction. “Bringing a virtual campus to life and making it functional requires a minimum of administrative support, strategic planning, technical solutions, teacher and student motivation, educational vision and online contents” mentions Prahallada (2020).

References
Dung Doan Thi H 2020, “The Advantages and disadvantages of Virtual Learning”, IOSR Journal of Research & Method
in Education (IOSR-JRME) e-ISSN: 2320–1959.p- ISSN: 2320–1940 Volume 10, Issue 3 Ser. V (May – June 2020), PP 45-48;
available at: *The Advantages and Disadvantages of Virtual Learning (iosrjournals.org)
Govindarajan V and Srivastava A, 2020, “What the Shift to Virtual Learning Could Mean for teh Future of Higher
Education”, Harvard Business Publishing – Education; Browsed on 26 May 2021; Available at:
What the Shift to Virtual Learning Could Mean for the Future of Higher Ed | Harvard Business Publishing Education
» Hawkins, Andrews 2020, “Moving to a Virtual Design Studio?” browsed on Oct 02, 2020; available at:
https://www.lifeofanarchitect.com/moving-to-virtual-design-studio/ 02 April 2020
» Jhangiani, Anjali 2020, “People Working from Home Struggle with Screen Fatigue”, the Times of India Oct 17, p 16.
» Paul, Nandini 2020, “Faceless Interaction Impacts Social Dynamics in the Times of Covid-19”, the Times of India, Oct 7, p 5.
» Prahallada N 2012, “Challenges of Virtual Learning”, Deccan Herald; Browsed on 26 May 2021; available at:
Challenges of virtual learning | Deccan Herald
» Shulman R 2020, “What does Virtual Learning Mean for the Future of Higher Education?” Browsed on 26 May 2021; available
at:
What Does Virtual Learning Mean For The Future Of Higher Education? (forbes.com)