Students browse the stacks in the Rand Hall Mui Ho Fine Arts Library. As Cornellians prepare to transition to online classes, some Architecture, Art and Planning students are worried how their studio time and materials will translate to virtual learning.

Boris Tsang / Sun Photography Editor

Students browse the stacks in the Rand Hall Mui Ho Fine Arts Library. As Cornellians prepare to transition to online classes, some Architecture, Art and Planning students are worried how their studio time and materials will translate to virtual learning.

March 27, 2020

AAP Students Express Concern Over Transition to Online Classes

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While College of Architecture, Art and Planning students take courses that traditionally rely on the availability of studio spaces and materials, students and faculty now have to reimagine what these classes would look like online.

Many of the college’s 520 undergraduate students regularly use art and architecture fabrication shops, photography labs, studios, print media facilities and library materials to complete their assignments.

Since President Martha E. Pollack announced that all classes would be virtual for the remainder of the semester due to the coronavirus pandemic, AAP students expressed concerns over the availability and accessibility of materials and facilities.

Jonathan Plass ’22, an architecture student, said many of his courses rely on his ability to use workspaces in Milstein Hall and Rand Hall, which house much of the equipment used by architecture students. He said moving classes online is not “impossible,” but was worried because one of his courses heavily depends on gathering discarded materials and reusing them.

“Doing only digital drawing as opposed to actual construction does change the course tremendously,” Plass said. Many architecture classes also depend on the creation of physical models.

Dylan Brenner ’21, a fine arts student, echoed Plass, saying she worried about being unable to access the college’s printmaking facilities. Brenner said “no single class will be able to carry on even somewhat normally.”

However, Brenner said she thinks “this would be a great time to make artwork,” adding that “we are living through a crazy time in history that absolutely needs to be recorded by artists.”

Olivia Chaudhury ’20, an urban and regional studies major, said she is concerned about the   now-limited access to research materials for her courses.

For one of her courses, “American Architecture and Urban Development,” Chaudhury had requested reading room time for over 180 individual items in the Rare Manuscript Archives. Now, she isn’t sure how she will access those items, noting that requesting scans of the pieces would cost her upwards of $200.

Before virtual instruction begins on April 6 AAP faculty are working to translate their course materials and practices into online formats.

Prof. Maria Park, fine arts, was hopeful about the transition.

“It may not be exact at first, but it will certainly be experimental and interesting,” Park said, “perhaps the narrowing of parameters will force us to think even more creatively.”

For AAP students back from the New York City and Rome programs, online learning for both of those programs is already underway. Prof. Andrea Simitch, Chair of the Department of Architecture, noted that faculty of those programs have been receiving positive feedback.

Simitch emphasized that projects and coursework will be adjusted to accommodate student’s circumstances and the materials available to them.

“We are always encouraging [students] to explore using objects that they have,” Simitch said. “Everyone is in a very different context.”

Simitch said the department aims to conduct senior architecture project critiques through a digital platform, which would allow more colleagues from institutions including Harvard University, Princeton University, Columbia University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to engage with student work.

“I think our students are very, very well supported and they feel that they’re supported. If there’s any issues they have, we’re on it immediately to help them resolve it,” Simitch said.

Students in AAP generally agreed with Simitch, but spoke about the unique challenges they were faced with due to online classes.

“It’s so important to be in [the] studio working next to your fellow classmates and artists to ask questions, get feedback and overall surround yourself with other creative minds,” said Lane Letourneau ’21, a fine arts major.

Despite these challenges, Plass said that he felt professors were well equipped to move online and said that he is looking at this as a learning opportunity.

“I’m looking at this as a time to learn in a new way and not fight the computer,” Plass said. “I don’t want to try and replicate the physical world, but [to] step into the digital realm and see what potentials it has to offer.”

Abram Collette ’22 was similarly optimistic about online learning.

“At AAP we are thrown into seemingly impossible challenges on a day to day basis,” Collete said. “It’s our job to come up with innovative, creative solutions.”