As yet another cohort of students prepare for the new academic year, most schools and universities are gearing up to welcome old and new students to online classrooms.

Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts in Qatar (VCUarts Qatar) has been pulling out all the stops to ensure that, for students who will make up the Class of 2024, the start of university life is just as exciting, fulfilling – and fun – as they envisioned it to be had it been on a brick and mortar campus.

Over their summer holidays, staff, students and faculty from across the university’s many departments joined forces to develop a series of mini video-tutorials to help new joiners make the most of their online learning experiences.

Naima mini video tutorials

The videos feature current students and recent graduates drawn from various academic programmes, as they share tips based on their own experiences, providing the incoming cohort with a realistic – and often humorous – picture of what to expect, and practical suggestions on how to benefit from online learning in an art and design setting.

VCUarts Qatar Dean Amir Berbić explained how the university saw online learning as yet another opportunity to exercise its creativity. He said that the pandemic-induced restrictions affected all educational institutions in the country and as art and design practitioners, the VCUarts Qatar community is well positioned to think critically and adapt to constraints.

Seeing and seeking opportunities for purpose-driven creativity is a trait that is second nature to our students, staff, and faculty. We saw online learning as one such opportunity.

Dean Berbić noted how the start of university life is a much-awaited milestone in the academic journey of any student. At VCUarts Qatar, he said that they were resolute that the new cohort should be able to experience the same thrill and excitement they would have felt had they been walking into the physical campus in Education City.

Having successfully faced the transition to online learning during the start of the pandemic, these videos – replete with information, guidance, and practical tips that address almost every facet of remote learning at VCUarts Qatar – are an offshoot of our determination to ensure that this temporary phase is engaging, fun and productive.

The videos – along with other innovative resources developed by VCUarts Qatar over the last few months to enhance the temporary transition into online learning – will augment the annual orientation programme that the university conducts each year for new students.

One such resource is TeachLab, a pop-up website developed by the staff and faculty of VCUarts Qatar. The site is a well-researched and vetted compilation of teaching resources related to most aspects of online/hybrid instruction including remote teaching resources, discipline-specific tools, student engagement, self-motivation and instructional technology. It also offers a discussion board where faculty can post queries, feedback and suggestions.

From an educational perspective, it wasn’t merely the challenges of online learning that were addressed – pandemic-wrought upheavals to traditional education inspired three VCUarts Qatar staff to propose research with forward-looking implications: the possibility of using virtual reality/artificial reality to teach undergraduate students resilience. Investigative work for the proposal, which received a grant from Hamad Bin Khalifa University’s Innovation Laboratory, is scheduled to commence in the fall semester.

Joining the Fight Against COVID-19

VCUarts Qatar covid19 artworkVCUarts Qatar’s efforts to adapt to COVID-19 induced restrictions extended beyond its own, and the wider Education City community. Since early March, the university has been closely involved in the country’s battle against the pandemic.

Staff, students and faculty from various departments including the university’s fabrication lab (FabLab) and Fashion Design, worked against the clock – often over public holidays and personal vacations – to design, manufacture and deliver adult face shields, infant face shields and volunteer vests for numerous frontline workers in Qatar.

Throughout history, art and design has often been used to portray human experiences and convey social messages. The pandemic was no different. Over the last few months, VCUarts Qatar students and alumni have been creatively using their skills and talents to reach out to the public – both in Qatar and across the globe.

Illustrations rendered by Hazem Asif, an alumnus from Pakistan, brought the media stories of frontline healthcare workers to life.

Closer to home, Sara Al Buainain, another VCUarts Qatar alumnus, created a series of artwork titled ‘Quarantine Diaries’ – a visual log of human experiences during quarantine. The collection  is on display at Al Markhiya Gallery.

Meanwhile, Habeeb Mohammed Abu-Futtaim and Ayaz Rauf, VCUarts Qatar Class of 2016 alumni, have expanded their dealer-alternative automobile business in Doha – AutoFix Auto Services & Trading – to offer mobile disinfecting services for cars and homes.

Lauren Morrell, a 2020 fashion design graduate, undertook the task of personally designing and sewing re-usable face masks made from scrap textiles, for those who prefer a more sustainable alternative to the disposable models.