In Autumn 2022, several Visual Communication (VisCom) subjects made a bold decision. They were going hybrid. This first story comes from DAB’s School of Design in 87631 VC Design Studio: The Politics of Image and Text led by Sarah Jane Jones. The subject offers lecture, studio and workshop experiences to 217 students. I spoke to Sarah about the highs and lows of this experience.

But first, to understand how hybridity could work in this type of subject, we need to understand something about the Design Studio context.

What is a Design Studio?

In a visual communication design studio, students work on design projects guided by studio leaders who are industry professionals and academics.

They use their class time to work on assessment briefs, collaborate on group tasks, learn about production techniques, and receive critical feedback from studio leaders and each other in interactive feedback sessions. This means actively participating in class critiques with other students. They imagine, draw, read, make, write, talk, present, share, test, and reflexively engage with the practices, processes and artefacts that are produced over time in the studio.

These design studios reflect industry-based studio culture and professional practice. Core skill sets are taught and students are encouraged to experiment, research, document and share work.

Sarah Jane Jones

Why hybrid?

During Autumn 2022 roughly 30 students remained overseas, so from the start there was a plan to make lectures available in three formats: on-campus, online, and recorded. Lectures were initially the only class offered in hybrid mode and were initially targeted only at overseas students. Local students were not offered the option to attend online. There were a couple of reasons for this. Firstly, the teaching team had a plan for prioritising presence of overseas students. This was not logistically feasible to offer local students on an inconsistent or ad hoc basis. Secondly, there were valuable aspects of the on-campus experience that they didn’t want local students to forego. They could still access lecture recordings.

I think interestingly, because these students are so used to having been online, there was a large expectation that there would be a hybrid option provided through the semester.

Sarah Jane Jones

When there was a surge in COVID cases amongst staff and students, flexible classes were made available on-demand. This option was also offered during train strikes and flooding.

The latter resulted in hybrid delivery being offered for tutorials and workshops as well. Studios were only offered hybrid for these emergency occasions. The remainder of the time there was a permanent fully online tutorial for overseas students and another for students who could not make it to campus.

What worked well?

Lectures were fully supported by DAB Production Support so audio and video quality was never an issue. We couldn’t have done it without them. Guest lecturers were able to still deliver their lectures when they were unable to attend on-campus.

Three workshops were also made available as hybrid but these were not recorded. These are essentially practical sessions which don’t really work on replay. After the main part of the workshop was over, the online students were taken to another room to talk with their tutor rather than stay in the studio where the noise was prohibitive.

Student attendance on-campus remained high because they saw online as the emergency option. Questions were relayed during lectures to reach online students. There was also funding for an additional staff member to be available for online students. So hybrid didn’t impact attendance on-campus, it was largely a 50-50 split for the entire session.

What didn’t work well?

Studio sessions are very loud and practical so hybrid was simply not feasible. There was too much background noise. It’s also cognitive overload for studio leaders. We only did this once during the flooding and train strikes and then we were like… wow, never again.

Sarah Jane Jones

Reflections and advice for others

Because this is a very practical subject, there needed to be dedicated online options for practicing skills that students could practice at home. Eg. Mark making techniques.

Don’t overload first-year students with choice. Make it clear who can attend online and who must attend on-campus and show them the value of that. Be flexible to allow things to change. For practical classes, it’s best to separate online and on-campus students rather than try to do hybrid synchronous.

Give students ownership of their studies by encouraging spaces outside of the official study areas. Students and studio leads started their own Discord and Instagram spaces to share work and promote the course.

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