I teach an architecture class in a large urban university. Well, I used to teach in…While I am grateful that the university has made every attempt to make online learning from my perspective easy, I was curious about what my students think, and I wondered if and how they missed the physical campus. Recently, I stopped our virtual lecture a few minutes early and asked the students what they missed most about not being on campus.  Their answers were swift and insightful.

People, campus, class, people, campus, class…

Students miss the collaborative nature of group learning.

Their professor misses the serendipitous moment when a discussion about structural steel turns into a funny story about the differences – or similarities – between an architect and a structural engineer, or when, channeling Louis Kahn, we discuss the nature of brick, segueing into its predominance in our early city.

It’s been a bit difficult at times to get a conversation going on zoom, and it’s hard to know what everyone is doing and thinking, even though we require live participation. It’s difficult for me as the instructor to gauge students’ reactions – I have to scan each box, rather than glance over a whole group – I can’t assume they understand the topic or pivot quickly if I see them becoming bored.

Students miss the immersive quality the campus provides.

Their professor misses the ideas that spontaneously bounce around, and the way learners learn from other learners, floating, discussing, absorbing new ideas.

Higher ed isn’t just about a particular classroom, a department or a building – the entire campus brings so much to each student.  There’s always something going on within and around the campus: even simply walking alone across campus brings new experiences and new observations – growth – that the average house or neighborhood cannot provide. Being away from campus decreases participation in activities and experiences outside of students’ studies or majors, including curtailed jobs and co-ops.

Students miss the discipline of going to class.

Their professor misses the focus the classroom/studio provides.  Sure, the students are caught on their phones now and then, but that’s the key: they’re caught and re-directed.

There are challenges learning at home, including distractions from family or housemates, from jobs, as well as from increased family obligations and expectations. The pandemic has shut down the places to go to get away from those distractions. Students find it odd watching pre-recorded lectures – virtual classes without a professor and without interaction, but with 24-hour availability.  And yes, we know they complained mightily about 8:00 am biology lectures and fifteen minutes to get across campus – well, they miss all that now!

I’ve been impressed with what my students bring to our online class, their resourcefulness, and that they are willing to try anything – half hour sketching sessions exploring the essence of windows and roofs, short papers based on readings meant to take the place of observation in a city brimming with architecture with a capital A – it’s not easy teaching or learning architecture online.  I can only humbly hope that they are getting the best that virtual me can give them.

By: Joanne Pizzo, AIA
Education Market Segment Leader
L.R. Kimball