Shaping the New World We Live In

With the announcement that the University of Florida would shift all classes online for the remainder of the spring semester due to COVID-19, our faculty and students had to make a quick transition from studio learning to a new method of schoolwork.

We put a call out to our faculty to hear, in their own words, how the transition has gone so far:

“The most difficult part of the transition is not spending time in the design studio or classroom with these wonderful students – and I mean that. There is always a lot of back and forth, a lot of feeding off of one another, and the energy of the design studio is something that is virtually impossible to replicate.

My Quest 1 course, Places and Spaces, has always been a bit of a hybrid – two interactive live lectures per week, but augmented with Canvas discussions, on line readings, and activities. Studio is always 9 contact hours live in the design studio, site visits and field trips, but augmented with project statements, readings, image libraries, etc. on Canvas. I’ve always kept more of an around-the-clock advising and critiquing methodology, so students can send me work and I can help them with it during off hours. So this online transition has not been terribly difficult.

We have daily studios now, 9 contact hours during scheduled class time, and twelve more in the evenings so that students can Zoom in with the conference call platform and at least be “in the same room” as each other while they are working, even if it is in the Cloud. We are using Miro as a virtual pin up and critique room as well, with each student “hanging” work on their own portion of a presentation wall. They can see each other working as they work, and from a phone app or laptop, if they have an idea, they can text me to Zoom in and share their Miro board and discuss the work.

What I am hearing from students in both classes is that they are having a difficult time balancing work in all of their classes, all online now. So, deadlines have to be scaled down to manageable daily or semi-daily micro goals, and have to be flexible since it seems everything is due all at the same time.

I miss my students, but at least we can see each other online. We’ve taken to wearing stupid hats, or using funny virtual backgrounds to keep everyone on their toes. It could be a lot worse, but I think we’re all eager to return next semester or next year.”

John Maze
Associate Professor
School of Architecture

“The major predicament arises for being fully online- how do you perform physical labs? BCN3281C Construction Methods Lab is the senior 2 construction survey course required for graduation. The course has already been transitioned to be integrated with online learning, including assignments, quizzes, lectures and resources. We meet for a face-to-face lecture to discuss the procedure for that week’s lab. Some labs could be conducted online, such as calculating layout measurements and developing a survey plan, but this class requires the physical use of equipment. And this isn’t everyday home improvement equipment that is normally accessible- we’re talking about $10,000 total stations and accessories that are under lock and key.

So how did we manage? Well the first success is how the course is designed. Since this is an outdoor lab, we already have rainy days built in, so there are alternative assignments. Most importantly, each lab builds off each other, so the students have experience using the various pieces of equipment from the beginning. By the time COVID-19 hit, the students already had experience using the total stations (which is the last piece of equipment to master). The main issue I ran into as a professor was meeting the Student Learning Objectives (SLOs), in which 2 out of the 4 were met by the time we needed to transition online. The last two are assessed by a Performance Exam 2 (demonstrate setting up the total station) and the Final Project (calculating a layout based on construction plans reading) which requires physical attendance. Fortunately, I was able to convert one of the previous labs that was conducted to meet SLO 3, but there was still a handful of students that needed to make it up. By this time, UF prohibited students from coming to campus, so we needed to come up with an alternative. It was determined that the students would need to demonstrate their knowledge of setting up the total station by using – home videos! Since they aren’t expected to have access to equipment, they would need to come up with a creative way to do so, such as using a camera tripod (in lieu of a total station) or even an animation.

Finally, the last SLO will be met by having them complete the final project as planned. Although they will not be able to physically lay out the final building, they will be required to submit a final plan on how to do so. The use of Zoom has been very helpful for each group to meet, as well as holding office hours.

Another issue this class had was not getting experience with emerging technology. At the end of the semester, I would normally give the students access to new technology, such as Robotic Total Stations, UAVs and laser scanners. Although they weren’t able to use these hands-on, our “Course Champion” PCL Construction gave an online guest lecture discussing how they use these technologies for their operations. This turned out to be a great educational experience for the students as they saw how labor-intensive tasks can be efficiently conducted in practice by using these technologies.

Although this semester didn’t go as planned, we have a much better model on how we can integrate a lab-based course with online education.”

Aaron Costin
Assistant Professor
M.E. Rinker, Sr. School of Construction Management

“When UF announced the transition to online, I wasn’t worried due to my experience teaching in our online master’s program. But, I soon realized that transitioning the campus students to online would not be the same as teaching in the online program.

On top of the pandemic worries, the students were stressed by the potential changes in campus community and routine. So, the students and I sought ways to keep both going, which my online experience gave me the confidence to do.

We still meet at our regular times via Zoom, and we continue in-class group work through the breakout rooms. In one class, we added a weekly Zoom social hour called Front Porch Fridays.

And we invited the URP Advisory Council members and their colleagues to present to our classes, as consolation for cancellation of their spring meeting. All our campus and online students were invited to the presentations, and the recordings have planted the seed for a new professional development series.

Another transition highlight is how the Community Engagement class pivoted their project from in-person to online and incorporated other pandemic concerns. The project’s goal was to build relationships between Porters neighborhood residents and businesses. The students thus created a flyer for residents to learn about nearby restaurants’ histories and offerings, including take-out options.

The shutdown prompted us to learn more about online engagement techniques, which is a trend regardless. Despite the challenges, the transition has created new opportunities for learning, service, and community-building, and I look forward to applying these lessons to enrich my future campus and online classes.”

Kathryn Frank
Associate Professor
Department of Urban and Regional Planning

These stories are just a few of the experiences our faculty have had during this unprecedented situation. Thank you to them, and all of our students, for tackling this stressful situation head on. We know it wasn’t easy but we’ll get through it together.

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