Doha was recently affected by days of bad weather as some parts of the city experienced unusual amounts of rainfall in a relatively short period of time.
A number of educational establishments closed temporarily in order to deal with the effects of the rainfall, and Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts in Qatar (VCUarts Qatar) was no different. But despite the temporary disruption, they successfully used the experience to its advantage by using several different technological platforms to allow classes to continue.
VCUarts Qatar’s faculty members collectively moved to remote teaching so as to ensure that students remain interrupted in their day-to-day learning. The remote technology seamlessly offered an instructional experience that was as close to what would have been experienced in the classroom. The faculty employed creative ways that enhanced the students’ experience beyond the regular confines of a classroom.
Creative Options, Innovations
Patty Paine, Interim Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at VCUarts Qatar, said the faculty used the building closure as an opportunity to do something innovative.
These innovations ranged from using alternative materials and creating shared, online, collaborative writing spaces, to participating in online peer feedback groups and relocating to stimulating off-site meeting places like the Fire Station and local museums.’
The school faculty also used different approaches – from e-classrooms and social messaging applications to online resources and video conferencing.
SLACK. Interior Design Assistant Professors Mohammad Suleiman and Hiathem A El Hammali, kept in contact and maintained instruction using Slack, a direct messaging platform similar to WhatsApp and Google Drive. The duo explained that they also utilised the university’s online subscription to lynda.com, to cover topics remotely and assign exercises. Slack was used to disseminate readings, project briefs and for direct instruction.
ZOOM. Similarly, in the Graphic Design Department, they used zoom.us, an online video conferencing site, to set up four 30-minute, small group conversations in batches of six to seven students about an assignment in progress. Each student had the opportunity to share on-screen, the current state of their assignment.
Staff members either worked from home or called meetings at various convenient locations around Doha.
According to Associate Professor in MFA Design Studies Diane Derr, they had their final class of the week at the Doha Fire Station’s Cafe #999. She said it did not resolve issues of running a studio class off campus, but it was a significant improvement over online sessions.
BLACKBOARD. Dr Holiday Powers conducted classes with students working together using ‘Blackboard’ for ongoing research assignments and allowed them to submit video presentations in lieu of original presentations. Since these classes engage with local museum and gallery resources, Dr Powers was able to move instruction to the Museum of Islamic Art, a strategy employed by others in the Art History department as well.
This kind of on-site instruction is popular with students, and is incorporated in most art history classes here. It’s a viable alternative to classroom instruction during emergencies such as the recent flooding.’
Reflecting on the overall situation, Executive Dean Donald Baker said that fortunately for them, they had begun contingency preparation a couple of years ago and most of their faculty members have a space on the internet where they keep course materials.
We want to learn from this experience and are organising meetings to ensure that we reflect on our experience with a view to doing even better should nature bring us to a halt again sometime in the future.’
For more information about VCUarts Qatar, visit their website at qatar.vcu.edu.