The global pandemic of 2020 forced schools and universities all around the globe to rethink their approach towards education and to jump into the digital realm. Abadir, a private design school in Catania, involved us (me, Ale, Ela) in the organization of online workshops to introduce high school students to the design world.
Rather than focusing on ideating single activities, we felt the urge to propose a system that would allow Abadir to create an unlimited number of activities. To pursue our goal, we developed an infrastructure, a method and two workshops.
The infrastructure is where the activities take place. How will the role of the academy staff change? How does the user flow look like, from the registration to the conclusion of an activity?
We had to conceive a virtual space that allowed us to be in control of many aspects. A careful research led us to identify Discord as the core platform to use. Its channel-oriented structure, the possibility to create custom roles and bots are the aspects that made it the perfect candidate.
The method is a guide to design an online workshop, within the infrastructure. From the number of participants to the materials and tools required, all the aspects of a workshop are interdependent, and they need to be orchestrated to perfection to minimize any kind of friction. On the one side, this guide aims to assist and facilitate anyone who wants to create a workshop; on the other hand it’s a good opportunity to archive all the activities consistently and systematically.
Workshop - The Internet of Gestures
The last part of our outcome were the two workshops, and I was in charge of proposing one. Designing a workshop can be hard. Everything began with a simple question: who am I talking to? After high school, many students have to face one of the most important choices for their future, even if some are not prepared to make this choice. It is often believed that design is not for everyone, that it is intended only for the creative ones, especially if they’re good at drawing. The Internet of Gestures is an attempt to debunk those myths about design, leveraging on three main points:
- It is an activity accessible to all, the only instrument needed is the human body;
- It is built around contexts and with tools that students know very well: internet, social networks, online challenges;
- It presents an idea of design far from the stereotypes of chairs and drawings;
The workshop takes place over four or five days. Every day a new topic related to the digital world is assigned (e.g. slow Wi-Fi, no-filter). The students are asked to represent the topic in form of a gesture, and then enact their gesture in a small video clip. The use of audio, text or special effects is not allowed.
Will they understand the tasks? Will they give up prematurely or carry on until the end? Will the online format be an opportunity or barrier? The only way to answer these questions is testing. The activity proved to be suitable for a digital context in terms of form and content. I’ve been carefully observing the students and their behavior on the platform, here are my conclusions:
If you give the right motivation, there’s no need to threaten the students with marks. Quantitative evaluation could reveal inequality and cause anxiety. I was happy to see that the participants tended naturally to a collective form of evaluation, by observing and comparing their work with the other participants.
Running an online activity presents a high risk of leaving someone behind. To avoid ending up with two participants on day 3, start with easy tasks and increase complexity gradually. Videogames are the best example of this approach.
Split one big task into smaller ones, check quickly and more often. Fragmentation works very well with the concept of progression. Distributing the activity in more days, with a lighter daily workload, lets the students to better rationalize what they’re doing and why they’re doing so.