The Visual Arts and the Built Environment (VABE) Program is both interdisciplinary and inter-university, involving the School for Arts and Creative Innovation at the University of Windsor and the School of Architecture at the University of Detroit Mercy. VABE brings together students and faculty from both schools to approach the design of the built environment as artists and as architects.
Gallery Displaying Student Work
In the Design Studio
Every five years, to fulfill the requirements of the National Architectural Accreditation Board (NAAB), documentation has to be collected in binders, including course syllabi, project requirements, and examples of high and low grade assignments among the student work.
Dr. Veronika Mogyorody, Coordinator of Virtual Arts and the Built Environment, wanted to streamline and simplify this process and recognized that e-portfolios held potential for this, as well as serving as useful repositories for student work and records of their progress. She worked with the Office of Open Learning and the Centre for Teaching and Learning, setting up a beta test using Drupal as the platform for storing student work and the support of a Master’s student in the Computer Science program.
The use of e-portfolios was introduced for the first-year students in Fall 2013, and will be expanded as these students move through their programs. Students access a designated e-portfolio VABE website with all the relevant course information on objectives, requirements, timelines, content, and expectations, and deposit their own original design work.
For courses in Architectural Design, the students may be asked to select specific buildings, analyze the structures, and create a series of drawings to demonstrate their understanding of the key principles. As the students in first-year work by hand, all the completed work is either scanned or photographed in order to be part of the e-portfolio. When they move into the second year, students begin to use computer-aided design (CAD) and the e-portfolios will incorporate this as well.
In addition to completing the design assignments, students are also required to add an online reflection piece to their work, in which they comment on the strengths, weaknesses, and challenges they perceive in their own work.
As a tool to replicate future workplace environments, students are presented with an online calendar and expected to plan their course workload as if they were planning a site project. In the program, as in the professions, they encounter the challenges of multiple priorities and tasks, requiring careful analysis, coordination, and commitment to timelines. Considerations of the time element are to be added to the reflection piece for each assignment.
In terms of responding to the NAAB requirements, the intention is the Association will have access to all student portfolios, as well as the course websites, including learning objectives, assignments, and other information. The NAAB-established criteria detailing the concepts that students are expected to have learned for a program to be accredited, include such topics as accessibility, service systems, building materials, and assembly. For each assignment, the faculty checks off the relevant skills, creating a complete online picture of how all the skills are assessed in the program.
Outcomes and Benefits
Each student will have a complete portfolio of all their work that accompanies them throughout the program and beyond. It can be used as a tool to illustrate skills, specialties, and learning achievements to other educational institutions, for co-op placements during the program, and for employers after graduation. Some students, in the past, have neglected to adequately document or even retain their work – the e-portfolio will provide a substantial and easily accessible record.
For the first three years, all students take both the visual arts and the architecture components of the program; at the end of third year, they must choose to specialize in one of the fields. To be accepted into the final year for the Bachelor of Science in Architecture degree, students need a B average or above, a portfolio, and a public exhibition. The e-portfolio will help the students in preparing for this and the jurors in making their choices.
The students reported they enjoyed being part of a beta-test and having their opinions solicited and responded to. One of the students in the class was particularly enthusiastic and skilled and became the first point of contact for students who were uncomfortable with the technology or software. The Computer Science Master’s student assigned to the project was helpful in resolving the occasional glitches which surfaced. It was very important that he responds in a timely manner to ensure the students remained engaged with the process.
The faculty found the student reflections very useful in uncovering where individual students required additional assistance and remedial work.
Challenges and Enhancements
At first, students responded to the e-portfolio as an additional time-consuming task to be done after they had finished their assignment. By second semester, they recognized its value and considered it a valuable part of the assignment. They mastered the necessary skills, such as taking photos of models and organizing the materials in the e-portfolio for easy access. Students were also challenged in the creation of the reflection pieces, as the tendency was to prepare them more as explanation for the work rather than an introspective self-analysis. This aspect has also improved through experience.
The creation of e-portfolios brings some technological challenges, for example the considerable memory required for storage, a need that will continue to grow as more classes begin to participate. Secure memory is essential, as well as policies and practices about issues such as retention and potential employer access.
As this group of students move through the program, the capacity and applications of the e-portfolios will evolve, in response to the increasing sophistication and technology-based nature of their work.
Dr. Mogyorody found that her involvement in leading the initiative made her really think about her teaching, as the assignments, and material associated with them, needed to be repositioned and “atomized for the web” in a way that never happens in the design studio. Despite the increase in workload, she has found the experience positive for both students and faculty, and an effective tool for meeting the NAAB requirements.
For Further Information
Coordinator, Visual Arts and the Built Environment
Assistant Provost – Academic Architectural Advisor
University of Windsor