Distance learning, while already popular prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, has become even more attractive as our ability to gather en masse and meet for face-to-face educational offerings has halted. Organizations that have historically offered in-person or live programming have transitioned to virtual models involving distance learning in order to continue to provide credentialing and continuing education for professionals seeking to maintain their professional designations or accreditations.
Firms, IIDA chapters, and organizations that typically offer in-person educational programming may find that moving their courses online can offer many benefits aside from overhead cost. Distance learning allows organizations to expand their geographic reach, often accommodating a much larger student base than would be possible in a classroom setting, and offering accessibility to more people. It is also a more cost-effective option that allows for more timely feedback, and a more personalized and targeted training experience through data capture of students. Both the attendee and the organization benefit from coursework that is more accessible, flexible, convenient, and may be accessed at any time from any place.
While historically distance learning involved snail mail correspondence courses, it has grown into a robust virtual experience taking advantage of the opportunity for interactive participation through webinars, virtual seminars, and other methodologies. Today, distance learning employs six primary methodologies for delivering virtual education. The two options most viable, and likely easiest for chapter rollout are video conferencing and synchronous and asynchronous distance education.
Synchronous and Asynchronous Distance Education
Synchronous indicates “at the same time” and similarly asynchronous indicates “not at the same time.” Synchronous distance education is usually less flexible as it facilitates live interaction between educators and participants and requires both to be available during the scheduled sessions. Asynchronous distance education provides participants with the freedom to work at their own pace by using pre-recorded materials that can be accessed at the convenience of each student. Participants can have more interaction with other students in this modality.
Video conferencing, or webinars, for educating participants requires software like Zoom, GoToMeeting, Google Meet, or Microsoft Teams to provide an interactive setting which enhances the experience for both participants and educators. Video conferencing or webinars can enhance one-on-one interaction with educators and paves a way for these instructors to plan their courses. Participants can also attend missed classes via archived webinars making this modality either synchronous or asynchronous.
Open Schedule Online Courses
This is an asynchronous learning method where participants are given online textbooks for use in conjunction with email and a classroom message board or forum. Participants have the greatest amount of freedom with open schedule online courses, but online course creators carry a much heavier burden in their development. Participants are usually provided deadlines, but may complete their work within those parameters. These are ideal for participants who like to work independently.
Hybrid Distance Education
Hybrid distance education is a combination of asynchronous and synchronous learning in which the participants adhere to a specific deadline to complete their work. Participants can be permitted to complete assignments at their own pace and submit those assignments via an online forum.
Computer Based Distance Education
This is a synchronous methodology where participants are required to meet in a classroom or computer lab at a specified time every week to complete their virtual lessons. Participants are not provided with an open schedule in this type of distance education, and must complete their sessions on-site.
Fixed Time Online Course
This is a synchronous modality where participants need to log-in to their learning site at a designated time. These courses require mandatory live chats in some cases, and are currently the most common type of distance education.
So, you’ve made the decision to move forward with a distance learning program for your chapter, firm, or organization Now what? We know many of your educational offerings were also revenue generators—this shouldn’t change. You should however adjust your pricing model because many large overhead expenses, like venue and catering, no longer need to be built into your budget. You might also consider presenting specific member-only sessions to demonstrate the value of membership. These could also be sold to non-members for additional revenue. Your sponsors are also still seeking ways to connect and network with your community. Sponsorship opportunities should be made available with virtual offerings as well. Again, you will want to adjust your pricing model for these.
We at IIDA Headquarters also want to know what education offerings you’re presenting. As there are no geographic boundaries with virtual learning, you can open your education offerings to the entire IIDA membership base through our events calendar and newsletters. We are here to support your efforts and can help promote your distance education programs. Information on your offerings can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
On April 9, IIDA hosted Design Online: The Education Community Responds to Change, the third episode in our Collective (D)esign webinar series of interactive community discussions. This conversation, hosted by IIDA Executive Vice President and CEO Cheryl S. Durst, Hon FIIDA, and moderated by Ryan Ben, IIDA’s student engagement and advancement manager, featured a panel of educators and students centering on the changing education and employment landscape.
Panelists fielded questions from our audience covering everything from internships and altering educational programs to balancing an increased need for mental and physical health and contributing to community aid. This webinar was attended by close to 1,000 members of the international interior design community who submitted dozens of questions, many of which could not be addressed due to time constraints.
In an effort to expand the conversation, we’ve compiled answers to additional questions, alongside highlights from this discussion from panelists Tyler Hatton, Student IIDA, The Ohio State University campus center co-leader, Ohio/Kentucky Chapter; Rebekah Matheny, IIDA, assistant professor of interior design, Department of Design, The Ohio State University; Jon Otis, IIDA, founder and principal, Object Agency (OlA), professor, Pratt Institute; and Meghan Webster, AIA, principal and global education practice area leader, Gensler.
What can firms do right now to help engage students?
Jon Otis: Firms must try and consider how to engage graduates or interns and allow them to do something—paid or unpaid. Provide them an experience of some type so that they learn and grow and will be better prepared for eventual employment. Perhaps there is a new model,which refers to the past ‘atelier’ concept; or a new ‘virtual’ model of engagement.
Tyler Hatton: Take the time to view the senior showcase work from schools in your region, reach out to the students and ask questions if you are curious, or maybe offer opportunities for insight and critique. Many schools will probably switch to digital exhibitions as The Ohio State Department of Design has, but the students are not getting the professional connections and feedback as they normally would from the experience.
You can set up virtual coffee chats with students so they can build interview and communication skills, as well as build their firm and industry professional networks, to prepare for opportunities that may arise in the future.
How do we maintain community at our schools and campus centers?
Tyler Hatton: Through social media channels or other virtual platforms, offer a summer design competition after the semesters’ work is finished that would be either open to all students or be specific in nature to recent graduates. You can also host a virtual book club related to design or put on mini design skill challenges like hand sketching or rendering.
How do I find a job or internship?
Rebekah Matheny: I would first start by reaching out to your undergraduate advisor, they are often the main point person for companies interested in an internship. Our advisor posts all inquiries to our Slack channel. I would then email your professor mentor, who often have professional contacts that they can reach out to for a more targeted search. I also think your local manufacturer’s reps are a great resource, they know all the design firms and often have a pulse on who’s searching. Also check your IIDA chapter’s website, most sites have an internship or job search section.
What skills do I need as a graduating interior designer for this virtual world?
Rebekah Matheny: Communication is key! Both verbal and visual. As professionals, we often send presentation decks to clients before walking them through the information over a conference call. Making sure that you have clear graphic communication that uses a combination of the written word, drawings, diagrams, or tags explaining the conceptual ideas or design strategy is important. Think of this as storytelling and the more you can visually narrate in a clear sequence the easier it is to digest and comprehend. Through telecommuting, you will be able to connect with people all over the world who are in different time zones and speak different languages, so you should allow people to see and even translate the information prior to the verbal presentation over the call becomes more important.
Working to develop your visual storytelling and communication is a much-needed skill and can be demonstrated through your portfolio as well as your studio project presentations. With that, verbal communication is also critical. So practice your speaking ability as you want to come across as comfortable, confident, and knowledgeable. Presenting virtually is a bit different since you are unable to “read the room” as you typically would, make sure to leave time to pause to let people catch up and also check in with them to make sure they don’t have any questions throughout the conversation.
What educational experiences should I seek out to supplement my education?
Rebekah Matheny: Competitions—look at competitions, current or past, as these will help expand your portfolio and give you a chance to keep your mind and skills sharp. IIDA, IDEC, Steelcase, RDI, PAVE—there are many options to choose from. You can also use this time to work on your portfolio, either in creating it or expanding it. You can go back and add to or improve past projects. Or you can give yourself a weekly challenge, like doing one new rendering a week. This not only helps improve and expand your skills, but could become a feature in your portfolio. There are a lot of YouTube skill tutorial videos that you could use to help with this. You could also create your own project assignment, maybe fill the gap of an area you’ve not worked on. For example, maybe you’ve not done a restaurant or a hospitality project, but are interested in doing that professionally. You can create your own prompt and give yourself a time frame to complete it.
What educational experiences should I seek out to supplement my education?
Rebekah Matheny: Seek out continuing education as well. Many manufacturers are offering CEU’s, which is a great way to extend your education beyond the classroom, learning the same information as many professionals. I know the IIDA Ohio/Kentucky Chapter is also doing a series of benefactor CEU’s, this is a great way to get connected to your local professions and manufacturers while also extending your education.
I also recommend reading, this situation affords you the opportunity to read books that you might not otherwise have the time for. For example, if you want to expand your understanding of sustainability you might like Cradle to Cradle by McDonough and Braungart, Biomimicry by Benyus, The Upcycle: Beyond Sustainability—Designing for Abundance also by McDonough, or Fashion and Sustainability by Fletcher and Grose. You could also look and see what classes are offered at your university this summer.
What resources are available to students and educators from associations, firms, vendors, manufacturers, etc.?
Meghan Webster: Rebekah’s point that the global situation has amplified the disparity across the socio-economic and cultural backgrounds of students was spot-on and seemed to resonate deeply with the audience. The Learning from Home component of our Education Engagement Index Survey that we’ve developed is based on this research around diverse learning styles and contexts, underscoring that if we design for all learners (instead of a mythical average), we design for everyone in between.
The conversation posed some salient questions around what we can apply to future design for learning and working environments based on this abrupt transition to the virtual world. In the wake of the global pandemic, we released this piece that examined this topic as we’re currently experiencing it, and this piece poses a similar question as we look at the much longer term. The immediate situation is forcing us to learn tools and new forms of behavior quickly, and the more we all can gain literacy in this arena, the faster we will be ready for what comes next.
What is the best advice for new graduates looking for employment with incredible uncertainty?
Rebekah Matheny: First, know that this is temporary, this too shall pass, and we will bounce back. Secondly, know that every experience contributes towards your career development and your personal development. You may have an ideal career path that you had charted out, and right now you may have to take a detour, take a position in an area of practice that wasn’t your first choice, but that experience can be a great stepping stone, add to your skill and knowledge set, and it will lead you back to where you wanted to head. Or maybe it will reveal something new about yourself and set you on a new, and possibly better trajectory. As designers, experiences are cumulative, and every experience is valuable—even if it’s not a “designer” experience — after all, we are designers for and with people.
So let’s say you find a temporary job at a grocery store since that’s in high demand during this pandemic. This will allow you to understand what it’s like to be a worker in that environment, and could lead you to be a more empathetic retail designer in the future. It’s all about how you look at the experiences you are gaining.
Should students still look for fall internships, or wait until the pandemic clears?
Rebekah Matheny: It never hurts to inquire, so I would certainly be reaching out to firms that you are interested in. It’s a great opportunity to establish a connection and to keep the line of communication going. You can express your concern for how the pandemic is impacting the industry and the world, and use this as an opportunity to ask specific questions about how it is impacting their work, their area of practice, and how designers are tackling this issue.
How do you deal with the multiple hand drawn iterations of ideas when learning online?
Jon Otis: My graduate design studio has been more challenging, and no matter what we resolve, it is unlikely to change my belief that working on paper—marking-up, designing, sketching, pin-ups and seeing design at a larger scale off-screen—is better. Then of course there are maquettes, models, materials, textiles and those tactile elements that exponentially enhance the design learning process. That is a vitally missing part of what we do.
Do you think universities will be open starting in the fall?
Rebekah Matheny: I am hopeful that they will! But with all things, I like to hope for the best but plan for the contingency. I, and I’m sure many professors, will be using the summer to develop a plan for teaching on-ground and on-line. It’s a possibility that we may start the semester and then have to shift to virtual later if a second wave of the pandemic hits before there is a vaccine. No matter what, I will be evaluating what worked, what didn’t, and what could be improved from this past experience and looking for ways to bring the best of the experience into my on-ground instruction and seeing innovative ways to bring on-ground experiences into the virtual world.
What do I do about anxiety?
Rebekah Matheny: Mental health is an important issue we are all facing right now. This situation is causing a lot of new stressors we didn’t face before. The stress from the pandemic itself is compounded for many students by the stress of displacement, new working environments, loss of income, removal from their support system of peers and professors, etc. I would begin by looking into what resources your university offers. They may have online tools to help manage stress and anxiety, hotlines that you can call, and/or virtual workshops to help guide students through this. Personally, I would establish a routine that balances your workload with your mental health. This might mean carving out time for yoga or on-line workout classes, taking a nature walk, meditation and breathing exercises, or even just ensuring you get up from your desk every hour or two to stretch and briefly get a change of scenery. Working these actions into your day will also help with the mental and physical toll that being at your desk and in front of your computer all day causes. Having these moments at a dedicated time each day will help you have a rhythm, give you something to look forward to, and also make your mental and physical health a priority.
In response to our rapidly changing world, IIDA brings you a design-focused dialogue on the effects of a global crisis. Watch the third webinar in the series today.
IIDA Executive Vice President and CEO Cheryl S. Durst, Hon FIIDA, and Ryan Ben, IIDA’s student engagement and advancement manager hosted a panel of educators and students for this important community discussion focused on design education and career planning during a time of transition. The conversation focused on how have personal priorities shifted, how are educators and professionals identifying the best ways to support students and soon-to-be graduates, and how are students adjusting to the drastically changing educational and employment landscape.
Hear panelists discuss ways to continue personal and professional development as we shelter in place; what internships will look like; how to maintain community; and how to ask for help or offer it.
This webinar is registered for 1 IDCEC HSW CEU. To learn how to earn your CEU credit, visit IIDA.org for more information.
Key takeaways include:
Taking care of your mental, emotional, and physical health can be your top priority—you’ll be better prepared to care for others and design.
Lean into community. Show up to virtual events, programs, webinars, and virtual socializing and continue to develop and maintain meaningful relationships.
Leverage virtual tools and programs in the classroom so they can be used at any time. You may have to re-think your curriculum as an educator, and use a variety of apps to communicate and share new ideas in an inclusive way.
Meet students where they are at to connect them with the information that they need. Firms and professionals should continue to work with students and educators, offering opportunities for enrichment and mentoring.
Professionals and students alike can continue to learn and develop their careers by studying for the NCIDQ and WELL exams.
Now is the time for service—think beyond design, connect the dots to the current need, and explore ways you can best contribute.
Onisha Walker, Assoc. IIDA, shares her experiences as both a mentee and a mentor with the IIDA Student Mentoring program.
I participated in the IIDA Student Mentoring Program as both a mentor and a mentee. I was a mentee during my undergraduate and graduate student years, and I’ve been a mentor for the past two years. Being a mentee in the program really helped to inform my education, and I saw it as a valuable part of my overall curriculum. I mentored under a few designers as an undergraduate and with an industry rep during my graduate program. It was an opportunity to get out of the classroom and get experience interacting with real-world professionals and being involved in their day-to-day.
I feel that both designers and design professionals across many different roles can benefit from mentorship. Networking is a huge part of our industry, and mentoring is an easy way to meet up-and-coming designers—and potentially, the people you’re going to work with someday. It can be just as important to connect with students as it is with principals at major design firms.
“It’s very important for me to be a mentor because design students need to see designers of color with varying backgrounds in the industry—representation is important!”
As a mentor, I love learning about the new classes that design students are taking, and what their goals are for when they graduate. It’s a great way to start a dialogue about the realities of life after college, and the “what now” scenarios that almost everyone goes through at some point. I also believe it’s important for me to be a mentor because design students need to see designers of color with varying backgrounds in the industry—representation is important!
I have worked in multiple sectors in New York and North Carolina at A&D firms, and I am now at a furniture dealer and have completed graduate school on top of all of that, which is not something you hear very often when learning about the industry. When I was a student, I did not know of or see any designers that looked like me or took that path that I wanted to take. I decided to use all of my experiences to encourage students as much as I can to make their own path, especially because this industry thrives on new, fresh, and innovative perspectives and ideas.
On a typical day of mentorship, I like to start the day by introducing my students to my colleagues and helping to make them feel welcome. I then usually sit down them down for an informal chat to get to know the students and give them a chance to ask me questions related to design, my job, or anything else they are curious about.
Then I will bring them in on a project that I am working on and talk them through my process. At this point, the questions start to flow and we get a great dialogue going. Input is important, and it matters to make the mentee feel like they are truly living a “day in the life of a designer.”
One of my last mentees was a student that was an IIDA Campus Center President and a part of our local IIDA chapter. We really got to know each other and had some great discussions. She remained a part of the chapter, serving on the board of directors, and is now part of the Communications team of which I currently serve as VP. We work together all the time! It came around full circle, which was really nice to see and reinforced to me just how important nurturing students is to our industry.
Registration for the IIDA Student Mentoring Program is open through January 31, 2020. Learn more about participating.
Research shows that mentoring can help ensure the academic and professional success of students and protégés. Mentorship is especially crucial now as employers recognize the need to engage and retain millennials. Every year, IIDA pairs thousands of students and mentors for a day of job shadowing through the annual IIDA Student Mentoring Program. Networking opportunities and career insights are expected, but bridging the gap between generations has become an added and significant benefit of the program. After last year’s Student Mentoring Program, we caught up with three students to get their take on how the program impacted them and what lessons they’ll be taking as they embark on their professional design careers.
Mentoring Motivated Me to Build My Professional Network
Student: Krista Neerdaels, interior architecture student, University of Wisconsin-Madison
There were three of us who attended the mentoring day together. [Our mentor Jamie] spent time showing us the types of projects she was working on, walked us through the programs they use, and gave us insight on what a typical day is like for her. We then went out for lunch, and afterwards she set up a few meetings with people who work in different departments at Flad. Later, we discussed specifics on how to move into the professional world—advice on resumes, interview etiquette, and portfolios.
An important aspect about Flad that I appreciated was that the designers, architects, and engineers all work in the same space, so all departments are involved when a project begins. I believe it is very important to have integration of design and architecture as soon as possible for the benefit of the final product. The mentorship experience also motivated me to continue building my professional network to gain even more confidence about my future. It was an inspiring day that encouraged me to find a company that is the perfect fit for me.
Mentoring Intensified My Passion for Design
Student: Heba Toulan Pennington, interior design student, Houston Community College
Mentor: Catrina Wyrick, Abel Design Group, Houston, Texas
I signed up for the [Student Mentoring Program] to gather a full understanding of how interior design/architecture functions on a daily basis. My mentor and I spent time discussing what a typical work day is. Then, we went to a construction site to see how the contractor works with the architect. My favorite part of the day was the session where we covered building codes in elevations and plans.
The program intensified my passion for design. I came away inspired and intrigued by the process of designing.
Mentoring Solidified My Career Path as a Designer
Student: Jonathan Butler-Knutson, interior design student, University of Minnesota
Mentor: Maren Idso, NELSON Upper Midwest, Minneapolis, Minnesota
My favorite part of the [Student Mentoring Program] was being able to see what it is like to visit a site and let the space help inform design solutions. After receiving a quick overview of her project work, Maren and I, along with her coworker Matt, walked to Gaviidae, a five-story geometric art deco style structure that is part of the Minneapolis downtown skyways system. Upon arrival, we noted that there was very little foot traffic on the first floor. The second floor, bustling with traffic, drew its occupants from the skyway system to the retail and restaurants that are present in the space. There was a complete lack of business presence on the third and fourth floor, and only about 25 percent occupancy on the fifth floor.
After recognizing some of the issues that had been amplifying the issue of low tenant occupancy, the three of us sat down and worked through a plan of a potential tenant space. The best part of the experience was how willing Maren was to let me assist her. After arriving back at the office, she let me sit down and rework the plan in Revit based on my suggestions.
My mentorship experience solidified my belief that design is the field for me and sparked excitement about the work I will get to do.
The 2017 IIDA Student Mentoring Program is currently underway. If you are a student participating in this year’s program, apply for the Wilsonart Essay Competition for a chance to $1,000 and a trip to Chicago during NeoCon 2017. Search #IIDAsmp on Facebook and Instagram to see the Student Mentoring Program in action.