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Notre Dame faculty, students discuss challenges, adjustments to remote learning

| Thursday, March 26, 2020

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the tri-campus community will be engaging in distance learning for the rest of the semester.

Online classes for Notre Dame officially began Monday. While all disciplines face challenges in adjusting to remote learning, courses with hands-on components face great difficulties in adjusting to online classes.

Dean of the School of Architecture Michael Lykoudis said that while professors are choosing whether to record lectures for or hold Zoom classes, the design classes prove more of a challenge.

Architecture students will receive a full suite of design materials so they can complete their projects from home, which third-year architecture student Leighton Douglass said in an email was “the best thing” the school has provided and will be extremely helpful for staying on track with the curriculum.

In terms of architecture studio classes, students hand-drawing their projects will be able to send their projects to professors by scanning or photographing the work and sending it to the faculty member. Digital projects will also be sent to professors for remote feedback. 

“In both cases, students will be able to show this to faculty virtually and what they’re working on, the faculty, as they usually do, simply comment on the projects and tell them how to modify it and how to change it,” Lykoudis said.

The College of Engineering is also adjusting courses, specifically lab classes, so they can be completed online, assistant dean for advising and academic affairs in the College of Engineering Michael Ryan said in an email. While lecture classes will be administered using a mix of pre-recorded lectures and live Zoom sessions, lab classes will be altered as well.

“Most lab courses will be completed by the instructors recording the experiment and collecting the data which will be distributed to the class,” Ryan said. “The students will be required to watch the lab experiment, analyze the data, conduct analysis and then submit lab reports on their analysis and conclusions.”

Studio art courses have also had to adjust to remote classes. Chairperson for the studio art department Richard Gray said professors have modified their courses to be compatible with online learning.

“All studio art and design faculty have recently developed solutions to translate their courses to online learning. They have modified their projects, and in some cases come up with completely new projects.”

These solutions include completing projects with do-it-yourself materials for sculpture and ceramics classes available at home and submitting drawings and photographs remotely, as well as both synchronous and recorded lectures, Gray said. Critiques may be completed over Sakai forums in some cases.

Senior theses

Many seniors have been working on theses or capstone projects which require an in-person component. Ryan, Gray and Lykoudis said remote learning will not affect the completion of senior theses.

“Every instructor has identified a path forward for each senior design course/theses to be completed — thereby completing degree requirements and [allowing] graduation in May,” Ryan said.

While studio art theses would usually be displayed in the Snite Museum of Art, faculty are working on an online solution to honor the work of senior art majors.

“With the museum closed, we are developing an online gallery website to feature all senior thesis work,” Gray said. “That website build is underway and being coordinated by faculty and office staff. We hope [to] launch the site in late April to celebrate their projects and their graduation.”

Because most of the research for senior architecture theses has been completed, Lykoudis said seniors should be able to finish their projects using online critiques similar to other studio classes.

I imagine there’s a condensing of efforts that has to happen, and I’m not saying the two would never be affected, but they should be able to finish this like everyone else,” he said.

Materials for hands-on classes

Junior chemical engineering major Bev Watson said she was able to return to Notre Dame prior to campus closing down, but she has also received materials from some professors that she was not able to get in person. 

“[For] one of our classes, the professor is also sending us a small device that we use for some of our different coding stuff,” she said. “And since I was able to pack everything up, I have all of my materials, but I know that’s been a struggle for some people.”

Sophomore Samantha Monahan said though one of her art classes can be completed through Adobe, the other requires many materials — including paints, paper and other tools. 

“I was lucky enough to bring a limited amount of these materials home with me prior to campus closing, but nothing could replicate the availability that one has to these required materials while working in a studio,” she said in an email.

Gray said art professors have come up with solutions for the lack of physical materials.

“Some faculty are getting very creative by specifying [DIY] materials found at home,” Gray said. “Others have created materials lists for the students to purchase those art supplies online. The department is reimbursing students for the cost of materials they purchase to complete the course.”

Douglass, who was in Rome last semester and the first part of spring semester, said she left many of her supplies for architecture in Italy as the students only 36 hours to pack and leave the country.

“The School was great about scanning our projects that they found and sending them to us for our reference when it comes to continuing the projects,” she said. “What we really need are our large drafting boards, something most of us do not have access to because they are a couple hundred dollars each. Instead of using these, our studio professors came up with a different set of required drawings for us to complete our projects since we can no longer hand-draft our projects.”

‘Detracting from Notre Dame education:’ Challenges of distance learning

Though he expects to complete his classes successfully, junior computer engineering student Jake Huber said remote learning was not what he originally envisioned from his time at Notre Dame. 

“I certainly think it’s sort of detracting from the Notre Dame education because I’m not quite sure I’m getting much of the Notre Dame education online since there are recordings for lectures and stuff like that,” he said. “I think in terms of classes, … I’ll finish the classes and still move on. In terms of how much I’ve learned and how effectively I’ve learned, I think it’ll be a little bit detracted from [that].”

Huber said he usually attends office hours for help with homework several times a week, but online classes have changed this routine.

“I think one of the things that’s kind of affected me a little bit is there’s less undergraduate TAs available now since we’re all online,” he said. “A lot of the questions and help is all with the professor, which is just a little bit different, I guess. But for the most part, it seemed like they have tried to do a pretty good job of being available.”

Watson said in-person collaboration with peers and colleagues is important to the college experience, and she will miss that during this time of online classes.

“I definitely think it’ll be harder to master the material,” she said. “Part of the reason you go to university is that you’re also surrounded by a lot of people driven towards the same goal as you at that time. It’s kind of hard to be motivated in that same way when you’re at home. I think it’s going to be difficult to master this material that is crucial to some of the culminating classes that we’ll take senior year. But I think all the professors are putting in a lot of effort to try to help it be as seamless as possible. So hopefully, that pays off in the long run, and there’s not a huge discrepancy.”

Douglass said in-person studio classes are important for architecture students because of the hand-drawn projects they work on, which proves difficult when trying to communicate remotely.

We don’t talk to them for the entire four hours, of course, but it is extremely beneficial to always have a professor around to ask any questions that may pop up,” she said. “A lot of the questions we have, too, are on paper and require us to point and draw things to explain, which is extremely difficult to do with a computer. The School of Architecture has come up with different ways to deal with this.”

Monahan said in-person critique is a crucial part of any studio art class or project.

“While there are a plethora of options for ways in which students can send projects into a faculty member remotely, it is impossible to replicate the view the faculty member would get if they were face-to-face with a student’s work,” she said. “Each faculty member that I’ve come into contact with so far has made themselves more than available to provide feedback to students; nonetheless, the feedback that students could receive from faculty if their work was being viewed in person is in an entirely different stratosphere.” 

Faculty members said they have been impressed by the work of their colleagues as they adjust to remote learning during this time.

“We face an unprecedented time and have been asked to do unprecedented work,” Gray said. “That said, I have been incredibly impressed with the innovative solutions and speed with which our faculty have adapted their studio-based maker courses to online instruction. It’s clearly not [ideal], but it does present some interesting possibilities.”

Lykoudis said that though the situation has presented a challenge for the School of Architecture, faculty have risen to the occasion.

“We’re trying to make it as smooth as possible for our students and for our faculty to teach,” he said. “Everyone is trying to catch the many balls in the air, and I’m very proud of our IT department for creating this suite for our students to work remotely and also get our faculty to teach virtually, remotely as well.”

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About Claire Rafford

Claire is a senior from Tempe, Arizona majoring in English and minoring in Journalism, Ethics and Democracy and Business-Economics. She peaked when her team won the Battle of the Books state championship in 2011.

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