Five Ways The New School Is Reinventing Virtual Learning

On March 13, 2020, The New School joined universities nation-wide in making the shift to virtual learning. Across the globe, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused us to think differently about higher education, and, despite these challenges, we’ve remained at the forefront of providing students with the creative, interdisciplinary, and experiential pedagogy that makes The New School truly unique.

“The readjustment was an opportunity to dive deep into learning, and I felt like, though based on unfortunate events, we experienced great lessons.” — Ana Margineanu, Faculty, College of Performing Arts

While we look forward to the day we can safely conduct learning at our campus in the heart of New York City, in these uncharted times, we’ve been encouraged and inspired by our community’s ability to overcome. Staying true to the university’s founding values, our community has used innovative and creative thinking to come together as we adapt to the ‘new.’

RENDERING A NEW CONCEPT FOR DESIGN

The transition to virtual learning was seamless for Francesca Sammaritano, assistant professor of fashion and director of AAS Fashion Design Program, and Soojin Kang, instructor at Parsons. During the fall semester, their Design and Specialized studio classes implemented CLO 3D and the virtual software has proven crucial for both teaching and learning online.

“It’s a new and innovative technology that we’re using at Parsons,” Kang said about CLO 3D. “Students can see their designs in real time and see the variations. You can do virtual pattern making, virtual sewing, and virtual rendering, so it’s been a really exciting time for us.”

Unlike previous options of designing digitally, the 3D aspect of CLO along with the latest design algorithms and software makes it unlike anything Parsons students have worked with before.

“Before it was just Photoshop and Illustrator, more for surface design where students can do a 2D format, but now they can learn a new software where they can really see the garments in 3D and that’s the exciting part of it,” Kang added. “I wish I’d had it when I was a student, that’s what we all feel. It’s seamless and opens to more creativity; you can execute your ideas so much clearer.”

Lauren Yoojin Lee, BFA Fashion Design student, final presentation using CLO 3D

Both Kang and Sammaritano believe CLO 3D is the future of fashion and, along with its capability of meeting students and designers where they are, whether in person or online, it also provides a more sustainable way to design.

“CLO 3D saves on resources and time,” added Sammaritano. “You can do a lot more with a lot less waste.”

Along with Sammaritano and Kang’s studio classes, the CLO 3D programming is also being used in the AAS Fashion Design program, and, in the future, they hope to offer more opportunities for students to learn the software.

“I don’t need a dress form, a sewing machine, paper, or material to teach them,” Kang said. “All I need is the internet, a computer, and the software, and all they need is their sketchbook and the concept of what they want to create.”

Patrick Taylor, BFA Fashion Design student, final presentation using CLO 3D

ADAPTING TO A NEW STAGE

Despite spending the 2019–20 school year working on a play for the stage, when the COVID-19 Pandemic forced them online, Ana Margineanu’s Devised Work class had to reassess everything they knew about performing. No longer able to run with their original idea, the class came together virtually to create something new.

“The surprise was, to me, the amount of dedication that each one of the students put into it despite feeling down and feeling very sad for not having the original production staged,” said Margineanu, faculty for the College of Performing Arts. “[The show] could have so easily not happened, but basically from the moment [we went online], nobody missed a class, and everyone put in a tremendous amount of work. I was inspired by their commitment.”

Reach Out was streamed online on Saturday, May 2, 2020, and portrayed a collection of multimedia stories that focused on the struggles of human connection, especially at a time when communication is conducted largely online. Though it was inspired by the class’s original play, the story and characters changed dramatically to fit the new medium.

“I’m grateful for online learning experiences that don’t force you to take what you were doing [in person] and throw it online,” said Gebriella Hailemariam, a senior in the BFA Dramatic Arts program. “Instead of forcing us to create a project where we were just on Zoom performing the play we wrote, which I felt would have been even more discouraging, we had to sit down, reassess our situation and the tools we had, and recreate from that.”

The struggles her class faced are the same struggles the industry as a whole is experiencing as theater companies around the world have turned to streaming their plays online. Having the opportunity to learn and overcome as they collaborated on and created a virtual play may not have been what her students had planned, but in the end, it provided them with lessons that will expand beyond the classroom.

“We cannot grow in a space of comfort,” said Margineanu. “It’s a challenge to accept the hardship and work with it, but when one chooses to keep going, despite the challenges, that’s when one truly grows. I feel the students grew in much deeper ways than I could have imagined at the beginning of the year.”

LEARNING WITHOUT BOUNDARIES

Long before the COVID-19 pandemic forced universities to go fully virtual, the Transnational Border Lab, co-taught by associate professor of global studies Alexandra Delano, associate professor of politics Anne McNevin, and Jill Anderson of Otros Dreams en Acción (ODA), was using online learning as a way to create change through social justice. The course, which focuses on the questions surrounding mobility and scholar activism, is a collaboration between students at The New School and ODA, in Mexico City. Since the beginning of the semester, students with ODA, an organization dedicated to mutual support and political action for those who have faced deportation, were participating in the class virtually.

“We were not only already using [virtual learning], but we were immersing ourselves in questions, in the limits and possibilities of the class and what it implied in terms of pedagogy,” said Delano, who also serves as chair and departmental faculty advisor for the global studies program. “So in terms of a transition, we’d already established a way of communicating online.”

When the pandemic forced her New York City students to also take the class online, the experience became more intimate. The issues they’d been discussing in class for the first half of the semester felt suddenly more important than ever.

“People that have been deported in this course are acknowledging the reality that many people have already used digital platforms to stay connected with loved ones, to be part of births, funerals, and parties,” said Maggie Loredo, founding co-director of ODA. “Often, we don’t get to that [deeper] understanding of what other people are going through. This space has allowed for deep reflection, critical thinking. It’s been a space where we are able to just sit down and think about what scholar activism really means.”

Before COVID-19, the class planned on spending spring break in Mexico City while students from ODA planned on visiting New York at the end of the semester. While these learning trips were unable to happen, operating fully virtually opened the doors for new final projects and new opportunities.

“People that have been deported in this course are acknowledging the reality that many people have already used digital platforms to stay connected with loved ones, to be part of births, funerals, and parties.” — Maggie Loredo, founding co-director of ODA

“Because of the pandemic, our final assignments changed, but we’re grateful to have options in which we can approach the final work of this class,” said Yuliya Ilizarov, a student in the M.S. Organizational Change Management program. “It’s been an incredible experience and has shown me the power of being able to collaborate in a way that’s really critical, intense, and thoughtful. I don’t know if that would have been possible if we weren’t pushed to work in this way.”

In addition to a collaborative final paper, the class has worked together to publish Connect-Arte, a virtual platform forging translocal connections. The zine received more than 35 submissions and hosted an online workshop where those who submitted could dive deeper into the work.

“Our class was born out of this scholar activist work, and through our project we’re able to engage a broader public in that work,” added Ilizarov. “We’re able to connect with people around these issues in a deeper way because of what they’re experiencing right now.”

Students from The New School join forces with Otros Dreams en Acción through the Transnational Border Lab

REIMAGINING A NEW FUTURE FOR FASHION

When Timo Rissanen’s Specialized Studio 2 class shifted to online learning, he knew it’d be a challenge. Not only were his students dispersed across the globe, but their access to resources was suddenly limited. What Rissanen, associate professor of fashion design and sustainability, didn’t know was that despite the changes in learning platforms, the lessons his class would take away from the semester would provide them with a new-found vision and passion for their craft.

“Some students felt that what they had worked on in the first half of the semester was no longer relevant enough for them to continue working on it given the circumstances in the world,” Rissanen explained before mentioning his student Niharika Adwani, BFA Fashion Design, who returned home to India. “Her parents work in a garment factory, and she asked if she could pivot from the collection she’s designing to designing PPE that her parent’s factory could manufacture. So we focused on designing protective clothing that was as inexpensive as possible so that it was as accessible to as many people as possible.”

It’s these shifts in thinking and creating that Rissanen is interested in teaching, and, as the world faces uncharted times, he believes it’s these shifts that will be necessary as his students reimagine the future of fashion.

“Students were coming back to class and saying, ‘What is the point of fashion,’ ‘What is the point of me becoming a fashion designer?’” Rissanen said. “And yet, when intentionally designed to be so, fashion can be an incredibly positive force in the world… One of the things I love about Parsons is we literally have the whole world here, you have a lot of different perspectives from around the world in one classroom and that makes [learning] incredibly rich.”

One way Rissanen challenged his class to think outside the box during remote learning was to have them use only the materials they had on hand, regardless where they were — whether in a hotel in Shanghai or their parents’ home in Wisconsin.

“We agreed as a class to not order [materials] online,” he explained. “We collectively agreed we’d try to work with what we had, and there was something really lovely about refraining from buying stuff online. There was something really valuable for the students to learn in that way as well in being resourceful.”

Through learning in a new way and overcoming new challenges, Rissanen said though he wasn’t physically in the classroom with his students, he finished the spring semester feeling more connected with his class than ever before.

“Even though we hadn’t seen each other in person for two months, the sense of community on Zoom was just palpable,” Rissanen said about his final class of the year. “It was so alive in front of me that I started crying.”

BFA Fashion Design student Niharika Adwani’s final project based on designing and potentially mass producing COVID-19 protective equipment

MAINTAINING COMMUNITY THROUGH DISTANCE

Writing may be a solitary act, but at The New School’s Creative Writing Program, it’s often the sense of community within the program that attracts writers from around the world. One way the program maintains that community is through its longstanding weekly tea gathering. Hosted by Luis Jaramillo, director of the Creative Writing Program and assistant professor of writing, before the outbreak of COVID-19, the weekly teas were frequented by students, faculty, and alumni. Now, though the format may be different as the program has shifted to online learning, the sense of community remains.

“When I was applying, I went to tea and it was one of the things that really drew me into the program,” said Heran Abate, MFA Creative Writing student. “I really felt a sense that everybody wanted to be there, and that has become even more important now. Tea provides that sense of community. There’s no pressure, no deadlines, people talk about how they’re handling quarantine, what they’re going through. We’re just hanging out and having a good time.”

Students said they’ve gotten to know each other in a more intimate way as, through the virtual teas, they’re able to join faculty in their kitchens as they bake cookies or meet each others’ pets. Through Zoom’s breakout rooms, they’re able to hold conversations with faculty, students, and alumni that, otherwise, they may never have had the chance to get to know.

“Tea in general is kind of just taking time to really be present,” said Whitney Ayres Kenerly, a 2020 graduate of the the MFA Creative Writing program. “Tea is very sensual in a way — you have the warmth, the smell, the steam. You have to be patient and wait for it to cool down, it’s not something that can be rushed, so even virtually, having that full hour where there’s not an agenda, there aren’t talking points, you just get to be together.”

Along with the weekly teas, the Creative Writing community has come together in various other ways as well. In addition to the program’s workshops, seminars, and weekly events, it has utilized virtual platforms to host student readings, one-on-one advising, and daily writing sessions.

“We’ve really enjoyed utilizing the chat feature on Zoom, that’s actually been an addition [to the student readings] because while people are reading, other students will pick out a sentence or word and say ‘That was great!’ or ‘I loved this!’ It’s not in a distractive way, but it’s been a really beautiful, supportive way,” said Ayres Kenerly. “I did a reading recently, and it was so cool to go back into the chat when I was finished reading to see what people said. You don’t really get that in an in-person reading.”

A university in New York City for scholarly activists, fearless artists, and convention-defying designers established in 1919. #100YearsNew

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