INDUSTRY VOICES: FASHION
Unprecedented Times. Unprecedented Learning.
During these extraordinary times, everyone’s lives have been upended in many ways. Like everything else, academia and higher learning have been disrupted, forcing educators to come up with creative and diverse methods of teaching and learning in this new remote environment. While much of the news is focusing on more-traditional universities, as the co-chair of fashion design at the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising, naturally, my focus has been on how we can adapt in the world of fashion education.
Fashion, and the fashion industry, thrive on adapting and looking into the future—what is fresh and new, what is the next? The COVID-19 pandemic has added a wrinkle into what is normally the polished satin finish of the industry. In my position, I have given much thought as to how we adapt to the changing times, especially in a fashion academic field that thrives on a tactile learning environment: How do we Zoom our way into fashion learning?
Little did I know that five years ago, when my partner and fellow co-chair David Paul and I started filming our fashion YouTube tutorial videos, that we were ahead of these unprecedented times! It was certainly unbeknownst to me when I started filming those videos that they would become a supporting source of fashion education in higher learning. While the footage is all prerecorded, the time spent filming the videos, in addition to the hundreds of hours dedicated to editing, afforded a unique perspective and maybe some helpful advice regarding what could make for good remote teaching when it comes to fashion.
So, how do you turn a traditional curriculum into something that is taught remotely? The following information includes tips that I feel are essential in creating a smooth transition from in-person to online education and what would normally be taught in a studio environment.
Get tech savvy—quickly
A huge aspect of teaching remotely involves the savvy use of technology. How does an instructor show a fashion-drawing demonstration or conduct a patternmaking session when the students are not hovering in front of you while taking notes? Instructors who have been new to this Zoom classroom environment have quickly learned that they need to be technically prepared. For fashion education, there are three things that are essential.
First, a laptop is necessary to act as your main camera source; it becomes your new classroom. A second device, such as a cell phone or iPad, works as your visual aid for your students. Positioned overhead or over your shoulder, this additional camera allows the students to view your sketching demo or patternmaking instructions from a bird’s-eye view and works as the perfect teacher’s aide. Last, but not least, that secondary camera needs support via a tripod or boom-like contraption. While it does not need to be sophisticated, it just needs to get the job done. The laptop-phone-tripod tech trifecta can go far in helping make the remote in-studio class a success.
Be visually creative
When teaching remotely, educators must remember that they are more limited in the scope of instruction. How do you get—and keep—the attention of your students when they are not physically there in front of you? Instantly, your normal 3-D presentations become two dimensional and limit your ability to maintain the focus of the student.
Visual aids will be essential in keeping everyone interested in your demonstration. Whether it is a class covering how to sketch fashion or create patterns for a bustier, the use of images, PowerPoint presentations and videos will be essential to relaying information in a creative and strategic way. In this remote-teaching environment, more than ever—think visually to support your verbal curriculum.
Communicate but do not overcomplicate
The best educators are also good communicators. Being an excellent communicator has become increasingly relevant and important in this Zoom academic age. Remember: You might be an expert in your field, but those who you are teaching are not, so work on being engaging and do not overcomplicate. Keep it simple, or as simple as it can be, but always focus on the primary learning objectives.
High standards and realistic expectations
Whether teaching in a traditional setting or a remote environment, an educator should always conduct class in a professional manner. Consistently adhering to high standards when it comes to instruction also gives the students a sense of security and reassurance that they are, indeed, still getting the highest standards of education as in the traditional version. In tandem with having high standards, you should also have realistic expectations. Remote teaching—and learning—is an adaptable experience. As an instructor, you might have to reconfigure your approach to a traditional demonstration that would normally take place within a three-hour, in-studio session and divide up the lectures in a way that can be engaging and not tedious, allowing time for the students to digest the information.
My last tip involves patience—and lots of it. Remote teaching can be daunting, especially for instructors and educators who are completely new to this. Be patient with your students as well as yourself. Things may—and probably will—go awry. Technology can be a wicked beast with major “mood swings”; one day everything will work perfectly while the next you are spending an hour trying to unmute yourself. So, yes, remember to be patient. This is new for most of us, and adapting to this new remote way of teaching and learning is surviving, and, in the end, could be very educational for students and educators.