A Speculative Future in Design Education Realized


As I prepare for the fall 2020 semester, I quickly realize, like many design educators, that I need to determine what a “hybrid” format for my classes will look like. I need to design the structure and format of my class, and not just the curriculum that exists in that system. I need to define “hybrid.”

I ask my students directly, because for the first time, I consider that it will be easier to design a class that accommodates 28 students, 28 learning styles, 28 possible living and working scenarios than it would be to design a class for an infinite array of possible students and scenarios, and it seemed impossible to try a generalize the needs of the “average” student in this time under the circumstances of COVID-19.

I ask them how they feel about returning to the classroom this fall and receive a mix of responses. I feel relieved, not because I have clarity in direction, but because now the communication channels have been opened and I have some guidance on their needs for this academic year. I began the task of reconsidering how a new class structure and revised academic experience might accommodate them, and what initially seemed like a daunting task, started to feel like a real opportunity.

As I thought through this, it occurred to me that I actually had a lot of autonomy in this matter to create my own definition of “hybrid,” so long as it fit our NASAD standards. In fact, across most institutions, it seemed like the new mantra for returning to campus this fall was (1) we are returning to campus, (2) teach in a way that you feel comfortable, and (3) be flexible and adaptable in our changing climate and circumstances. Which basically means, be ready for anything and everything. The realization that this situation offered an opportunity to bend and shift the institutional structures and academic learning models that have previously prevailed in design education, occurred to me. It also occurred to me that this is an experiment.

So now I design. I design a new classroom and learning environment that explores different ways of interacting and exchanging ideas, expands on materials and resources for learning, offers alternative methods for distributing, consuming, and creating knowledge, and generally tests new teaching models in academia.

I design a “hybrid” class.


In this presentation, I will share with you my plan for teaching this fall and how I intend to “pay attention” to the design and outcomes of my hybrid course as an alternative structural system for learning.

Share with you how I define hybrid in my classes and why.

Share with you my revised “fluid” classroom structure and format that provides flexibility in student’s learning spaces, resources, and tools.

Share with you my revised curriculum for two graphic design courses (a sophomore studio and senior studio course).

Share with you how I plan to “pay attention” to the experiment at play, and capture the process and outcomes of these experiences. My research method for assessing pre and post analysis.

Share with you opportunities that I see for change such as fluid boundaries between digital and physical learning, a renewed sense of interaction and community, increased understanding and application of technology, and alternative modes to learning becoming a new norm.

Forecast what changes may open doors and what may create barriers.

Suggest a call to action for you to “pay attention” to your hybrid course design decisions and record and reflect on the process and outcomes of this experience as well.


My approach in teaching has drastically shifted this semester from a more traditional face to face model of instruction to a hybrid format that is primarily online with an optional face-to-face component. I reached this conclusion after reassessing what I thought needed to be the highest priority in my classes, considering the global pandemic, as well as surveying my student body for input.

As they all had varying degrees of needs in terms of accessibility, tools, and resources, and they also have varying concerns about returning to the classroom (and/or working online), I decided that my main priority was to try and be as equitable as possible by creating a flexible and fluid classroom space, and adopt alternative, or unconventional working methodologies for students who wished to (or had to) find different means and avenues for working. Students needed to feel safe, be able to pursue their studies in a way that they felt comfortable, and have some agency in the process.

One primary goal for this semester was to try and create a revised synchronous learning space that functioned fluidly by connecting the digital and physical learning spaces. I imagined the fluid classroom as a sort of mixed reality learning space, where students could participate in whatever way they felt comfortable (or were able). This meant providing an opportunity for students to either participate in-person in the classroom or in-person online.

Another primary goal for this semester was to try and create a revised assessment strategy, which began as moving my curriculum online and quickly evolved into completely redesigning my coursework. The challenge of designing a hybrid course that was equitable to all my students forced me to reconsider everything—from assignments to processes of working, to the materials we build with, to the way in which we interact and share knowledge.

In this presentation, I will share with you how I have chosen to define hybrid for my courses and expand on my revised curriculum for two graphic design studio courses. I will share with you how I plan to “pay attention” to the experiment at play, and capture the process and outcomes of these experiences through research methods such as pre and post surveys, classroom observations, and student testimonials. I will discuss new opportunities as well as inevitable concerns of rising barriers such as access to tools and facilities. Finally, I will offer a call to action to you to “pay attention” to your hybrid course design decisions and record and reflect on these processes and outcomes as well.

++ So now, what began as designing a hybrid course, has shifted into something more meaningful. I find myself speculating on a future of design education that attempts to be more inclusive, more accessible, and more equitable for students with any number of differentiating scenarios and various backgrounds and experiences. I see where current academic models have failed, and wonder if this is an opportunity to do better. Could this be a catalyst for true systemic change in academia?