#7: Studio Matters

Moving a lecture from face-to-face classroom to virtual conferencing is a pretty straight-forward conversion. That doesn’t mean the switch is seamless or ideal, but it is feasible. Activities that are inherently welded to synchronous delivery in a physical space, like studio and field trips… that’s a different story. Or is it?

While we’re on that topic, are online courses welded to the screen or is it possible to think outside the laptop and tablet to provide high quality active learning experiences while also fostering a sense of community among students?  

Dan explores these and related subjects in his conversation with Thomas Hawkins, Program Director for University of Florida’s Master of Urban and Regional Planning online.  Oh, and Socrates makes a cameo appearance to add his take on instructional design.

By the way, if you like this show please share with friends and colleagues, and subscribe, rate, and review us on your favorite podcatcher app. Thanks to everyone who’s done this already. It really does help other educators find the show. 

Also, we’d love to hear your comments, questions, and ideas for future episodes. Look for the bright blue tab on the right side of this screen (your choice of desktop, laptop, or mobile device), and click to leave us a voice message — it’s as easy as raising your hand in class.


DAN:  Our guest today is Thomas Hawkins, who is the program director in the Master of Urban and Regional Planning program at the University of Florida. Thomas is director of the online curriculum.  Welcome to Wired Ivy.

THOMAS: It’s good to be here. Dan. Thanks for having me.

DAN: The pleasure’s ours. 

So I understand that the online curriculum has already received its own accreditation from the Planning Accreditation Board. Congratulations on that!

THOMAS: Thank you. We’re really excited and proud. 

I think urban or regional planners can do the world a lot of good.  People ask what’s the core idea of being in urban and regional planning? My answer is always,  “it’s practical tools for making the world better.” You care about environmental protection and conservation. You care about environmental justice, you care about social justice. You just want to be able to walk to a grocery store or have your kids walk to school? These are all urban and regional planning questions and you can find solutions cause the decisions that matter most are made city hall, they’re not made in Washington DC or the state Capitol. 

DAN: Right. That’s a big goal to have accomplished. So is this the first online curriculum that has been accredited by PAB, I think?

THOMAS:  Yes. So PABs the Planning Accreditation Board, and they’re the body that’s responsible for providing accreditation to urban and regional planning programs.

DAN: And to clarify up front, there is also a curriculum which is campus based at University of Florida, that’s also offering a master of urban regional degree. Correct?

THOMAS:  The way it actually works is the planning accreditation board does a site visit and a re-accreditation process every seven years. We hadn’t had a site visit since 2012, which is actually the year that we started the online delivery of the master’s degree. We didn’t have an opportunity to go up for accreditation until this most recent site visit and re-accreditation process. 

The Planning Accreditation Board looked at our program singularly. You know, we strive to not distinguish between the online delivery and the on-campus delivery. Obviously differences between the two exist, but we believe the quality of the instruction is the same in both programs. And when the planning accreditation board reviewed the program, they looked at it as a single program. And so our new accreditation, covers both the on campus delivery and the online delivery.  We are the only accredited master of urban and regional planning program in North America that’s available online. 

A lot of students who I think could use our education for career advancement are located in communities where there’s no planning program within a reasonable commute. And even students who are in those communities where there’s a planning program available might not want to quit their job to attend lecture at 10:00 AM, right?

So this is this incredibly valuable thing that we have. And I think what we have not done, what we’re, we’re trying to figure out how to do most aggressively now is tell people that. Because I think that if we do a good job telling people that we are not going to be able to accommodate the number of students who are knocking at our door.

DAN: That would be excellent.  

So basically it’s one degree, the diploma says Master of Urban and Regional Planning, and some students take it one way and some students take in another way, but it’s all the same degree.

THOMAS:  That’s right.

DAN: Can you tell me a little bit about the student profile of who is in the online program?

THOMAS: Well, so the students in the online program differ from the on campus program in a couple of significant ways, and I’ll speak in generalities of course, because none of these are fast rules.

Generally our on campus students are younger and are going to school full time. You can think of your typical person who has gotten a bachelor’s degree, maybe works for a few years, maybe not, and is looking for a master’s degree to make themselves more valuable in the marketplace or just to learn more. 

In contrast our online student is older, works full time, most of them are working in a planning related field already. And so if you were to develop an archetype for the student enrolled in the online program, it would probably be someone who has found themselves working in a planning related field and needs a master’s degree in order to get promoted or to, to receive greater compensation or job responsibilities. Or it’s someone who is working in a planning related field and learned about planning and wants to change their job responsibilities to be more urban and regional planning related.

DAN:  Where are your students located? Do you have a sense of that?

THOMAS:  They’re all over. We’ve got about 40 students enrolled in the program and about 10% are located internationally. Most of our international students are native English speakers but certainly not all. Maybe about half-and-half between native English speakers who are located abroad and folks who speak English as a second language. And then among the remaining 90%, about two-thirds of those are in the US but outside of Florida. 

DAN: And how does that work as far as the speed that they go through the program?

THOMAS:  So our typical on-campus student graduates in two years taking classes just over four semesters, and our typical online student, we design a plan of study for them, that not all students follow, but most do, has them graduating in three years, taking courses over two summer semesters. So in a typical on… online student take six credit hours a semester.

DAN: I’m curious to know a little bit more about the faculty… are they permanent in the department? Are they adjunct faculty? How does the whole faculty composition work?

THOMAS:  It’s a mixture of both. Before I became director, I taught as adjunct faculty in this program, and that was actually in the on campus program as well as the online program.  We’ve got 12 core courses in the online program and 14 electives. I went up and counted on my fingers before our call, because I thought this might be a question that you would ask. We have three adjuncts who teach for us very regularly.

DAN:  Okay. So the bulk of the teaching is permanent faculty.

THOMAS:  Exactly

DAN:  What would you describe as your main responsibilities?  I, I should let our listeners know that this is your first year, you’re just completing your first year as program director, correct? 

THOMAS:  That’s right. About nine months into it. 

Well, I teach first and foremost, which is the thing that I was most excited about in accepting the position was an opportunity to teach more. It’s, for a long time it’s been the most satisfying of my many job responsibilities. And I teach four courses in the program: a land use law, which I’ve been teaching for some years; planning, administration, and ethics; a new course we’re developing called development review; and one of our planning studio courses. Teaching those four courses… it’s allocated as one quarter of my FTE or one quarter of my time, but in a typical work week, I spend more time interacting with students than a quarter time because it’s what I love to do. 

And then the rest is a combination of different administrative responsibilities.  I manage our budget, I manage our relationships with all of our faculty, including our adjuncts. We typically pay our faculty out of loads since we’re an off-book program. We individually contract with our on campus faculty to teach the same class in our online program that they teach on campus. But financially and administratively we renew our relationship with them every semester… and so taking care of those kinds of responsibilities.

DAN:  A student is generally considered either an on campus student or an online student? Or can someone who lives in Gainesville take one of the online classes? Can they go back and forth?

THOMAS:  In terms of their classification in the university system, they absolutely cannot go back and forth. And there’s a bunch of administrative reasons for that. One is this issue of our financial circumstances being different. 

Thinking about the strange new times we’re in with the coronavirus, maybe it’s timely to talk about this… is once we’ve created the resources for an online class, there’s no reason why on campus student can’t use those resources. And we actually are running two courses this semester where we’re using the same e-learning platform — we use Canvas — to present all of our pedagogical materials, recorded lectures, interactions like assignments, discussion boards, simultaneously to both on campus and off-campus students in one canvas shell and so the students are interacting with each other without regard to which program they’re registered in. And in those classes it was pretty easy to make the transition to off-campus teaching even for the on campus students when we had to do so for social distancing reasons because they were already doing that combined experience .

DAN:  That’s really interesting. What I’m hearing is there’s basically two sections technically, but working out of the same Canvas course shell. 

THOMAS:  Exactly. 

DAN: And, then presumably, it’s one instructor who’s in charge of both of those sections. 

THOMAS:  Exactly. 

DAN:  So there’s a very parallel course design in the two courses. I would assume some part of the campus is synchronous. I mean, there’s lecture or something?  Are the online courses, asynchronous, synchronous, some combination of the two? How does that work? 

THOMAS:  Some combination of the two and it depends on the class. I’ll give two examples. In land use law we’re entirely asynchronous. I have pre-recorded lectures ranging in time from five minutes to half an hour.  So a lot of recorded material that students can peruse at their own schedule, and they have to of course turn their work in on a certain timeline. And I schedule synchronous sessions, but usually for question and answer office hours, maybe to talk about a large assignment that’s coming up, or to get feedback. 

For some other classes though we have a lot of synchronous activities and the best example of that probably is our studio course. In the studio courses it’s very important to have interaction. It’s an iterative learning process of trying out different ideas, looking at different areas of research, and there’s not really a way to do that asynchronous. And so I teach that course in conjunction with one of our adjuncts, Laurel Harbin, who’s a professional planner at the city of Tallahassee. And our solution that we came up with for that is, over the semester, we schedule weekly meetings with the students in groups of three. It takes a lot of time to do those weekly Zoom sessions. Since our students work, we do them usually on, on evenings or on the weekends but that’s the only way to approach that kind of learning problem, is to have synchronous session.

DAN:  So you have about 15 students in that studio?

THOMAS:  It varies. I think we have had as many as 15. We’re currently teaching it this semester and I think we have 11.

DAN:  Okay. So that’d be roughly four groups of three that you’re cycling through. And I assume those groups were somewhat organized based on time zones and availability. How does it work if you have a student, say, in Afghanistan? Then the scheduling gets tricky, I assume.

THOMAS:  It is tricky. I’ll give an example: one of our students is based in Japan. I know exactly what time they’re going to meet. It’s going to be about 7:00 PM because that’s the latest that I’m willing to meet, and that puts her at about 8:00 AM, which is the earliest that she’s willing to meet. So she’s drinking her coffee and everybody else’s having ah… something different to drink in the evening.

DAN:  Everyone has their beverage of choice as they say. Those synchronous small group meetings happen every week, every other week, about?

THOMAS:  We broke the course into two discrete units with projects due mid-semester and the end of the semester. And they’re iterative. They build on one another. The first two to three weeks of each unit students work on their own. We have materials we’ve prepared for them about the geographic area and about the kind of plan they’re going to be creating. And then there’s about four weeks where they actually draft their own redevelopment plan. And then just so during that drafting period is when we meet weekly.

DAN:  They have an actual client that they’re collaborating with as well, or are these studios hypothetical?

THOMAS:  They’re hypothetical. So all the facts are real world. We wanted to create a process where we could put a fence around the work that students did so we could point them in a specific direction. There would be some constraints, cause if the world’s wide open I don’t think it’s possible to get somebody clear enough direction to get good results.

DAN:  That’s a conundrum regardless of the mode of delivery, whether you’re in the box or online, it doesn’t matter.

THOMAS:  Exactly. But we also wanted them to have free rein to do their own research. What they do is they study a specific neighborhood in Tallahassee, Florida, and we provide them lots of information about that area but we also leave a tremendous amount of information out. And so they have to do their own real world research. 

And also the question is how do you conduct research as a professional planner without going somewhere. The answer is it’s the same thing that a professional planner would do in the real world. You’ve got public records requests, you can do your windshield survey on Google street view. Um, you pick up the telephone and you call local government agencies to ask specific questions and see what data sets they have available. And then, when we’ve had students in Florida, we’ve actually had students before drive to Tallahassee and take pictures. Two students who’ve done that in the three years that we’ve been using this particular of sort of hypothetical project

DAN:  Are, is there special equipment, or special software, that is going to be necessary for this studio project that the students need to access? 

THOMAS:  By the time students take studio — we don’t require GIS, but almost all of our students take our introductory GIS course as an elective…  maybe taken some of our design courses that teach them SketchUp, and so they have all those skills as a background. We don’t tell them, “Hey, this is how you will do this.” We tell them, “This is the real world planning problem and you have the skills and you have the resources, go get it.” And then those, those weekly synchronous meetings are the ones where they say, we can’t figure this out. And the answer of course as well, think back to the tools that you learned in a course. How does this relate to that? What possible solutions do you have available? And we kind of talk through those problems.

DAN:  How did you come into online teaching yourself? Had you taken online courses in the past and your graduate school or was it just pure luck that found you here?

THOMAS:  Pure luck! I’m actually interested cause I know your background is much more, you, you have a tremendous amount of experience in online education. And so I’m sort of interested in maybe a compare and contrast. 

DAN:  Ok.  Bring it on.

THOMAS:  The first job I ever had teaching as an adjunct at the University of Florida was for UF’s Law School… I did my undergrad at UF. I’m actually from Gainesville, and went to law school at Emory in Atlanta. I think in 2011 I started teaching as an adjunct at the law school and I didn’t know anything about teaching. I knew a fair bit about land use law cause I’ve been practicing it for, for many years. I was always interested in planning and I had a master’s degree in real estate finance and so I knew a lot about these issues but I’d never taught before. And then two years later I started teaching in the online program and it was the same thing. 

We have a really great resource at the University of Florida called — I think it’s The Center for Instructional and Teaching Technology. My friends over there would probably lambast me for not knowing their acronym, but they helped develop online courses for the university. And when I started going to them to help improve my courses, I learned so much, not just about online teaching, but about teaching in general. That was the first time somebody came to me and said, so what are your, what are your course goals? What are your student learning objectives? You know, where do they fall in Bloom’s taxonomy? I didn’t, I didn’t know. I didn’t know the answers to any of those questions. And I’m a much better teacher now because of those collaborations than I was when I started. 

DAN:  Thinking about my own history, I mean I had been teaching and had a good bit of experience as a classroom teacher and was looking to do some additional teaching work. I’d seen an advertisement at Virginia Tech in the program that I’m working in now that was a semester, or maybe a year early, something like that. But it put the Center on my radar. So I contacted them and I said, “Hey, you know, here it’s my portfolio, these are my areas of expertise.  I see some areas where I could help you and I would love to do teaching for you.”  

In the program that I’m working in now, at Virginia Tech, the norm is that the faculty are not anywhere near the program, so we’re scattered all over the country. In the first course that I taught, I was paired up with somebody else. We team taught it. Now, I’d been teaching for almost 15 years in a classroom, I was familiar with teaching but a lot of the online technologies and techniques were new to me so it was really helpful to be able to learn from somebody else, and work with somebody else who’d been doing it for a while. 

You know, what you do in the brick box classroom isn’t necessarily what you’re going to do in an online space. The learning objectives are the same. I mean we’ve got learning outcomes that we all have, that we’re trying to get to, but the way you structure the resources, I find, the way you structure the activities that people are going to be doing, the way you structure the relationships between people, you know, setting up the problem… in my experience they’re very different. And to get good outcomes they can be different and probably should be different. 

THOMAS:  I agree. 

DAN:  This brings up the theme that we’re looking at this season in Wired Ivy, and that’s the idea of creating online learning communities. And you’ve talked about this already, as far as how the students are relating to each other. One of the things that I consider very important is the idea of how students get a sense of belonging when they’re online students. Is this something that is an intentional step for your program?


DAN:  So what sorts of things, I mean, how do you approach this issue? 

THOMAS:  I’ll start with a slightly different answer, which is kind of what I see happening. We, we already have these online communities and they intersect with our real lives in very real ways. What I’ve noticed our students doing is using texting, social media, email to have really rich relationships with each other, completely independent of what the program is doing.

DAN:  And you don’t have to do anything other than get out of the way…

THOMAS:  It seemed completely obvious once I noticed that it was happening, but I hadn’t predicted it. The relationships that they have are very deep and very genuine and very friendly, even though they met working on a group project or trying to find somebody to ask, you know, when is this assignment due, have you figured out, you know, what Hawkins wants, and that’s how those relationships developed.

DAN:  Because of a curriculum with a significant requirement of core classes… Is there a sense of cohort? I mean, do people identify with the semester they started or the people in a particular core course? How does this sense of identity develop, practically?

THOMAS:  Ah, that’s probably a question that’s best to ask for our students. I don’t know that I’ve ever asked that. I think that they do, based on the way that they interact with each other. And you see trends in people signing up for the same groups to complete group assignments, you know, they’ve obviously built friendships. 

I also think that there are some great networkers in every class. You know, every time we admit 12 new students, one of ‘em is in the master’s program and to build connections and relationships and usually sparks those kinds of conversations and relationship building. 

DAN:  Teaching online can be a very innovative mode of education. You’ve been doing this for eight years, or seven or eight years now. I wonder if we’re just beginning to tap the potential of that, but you as a program director, also you as an instructor, what sorts of things do you find yourself doing to foster or encourage innovative activities within the online curriculum?

THOMAS: You know, that’s a great question. The, the one thing that I loved doing in a classroom, and this is because of my background in legal education, is trying to teach with the Socratic method. That was always hard with planners, even in a law classroom because they weren’t accustomed to it. But when I would lecture in an auditorium at UF Law School with 95 students in the room, I really worked hard to have that kind of interaction. Pick a student, ask that student questions, run through different scenarios and hypotheticals, put a student in in, this may sound like torture, but in law it’s the, it’s the norm. I would love to find a way to do that very well in an online classroom, because my lecture style and in an online format is very different. The lectures are much more static and not interactive. 

There’s other things we can do online you can’t do in a real classroom–play video clips, have interactive learning experiences where there’s a lot more iteration between them finding materials and bringing them back for discussion. It’s a trade off. Online does some things better than on campus, but I haven’t cracked that nut yet of a Socratic learning method, uh, through Zoom or some other tool.

DAN:  Well, you had said that your land use law class is entirely asynchronous. 

THOMAS:  Correct. 

DAN:  So there’s obviously not going to be that immediate feedback that a classroom Socratic method has. But it’s a fun thing to brainstorm about. I mean, could students basically apply the Socratic method to each other in a synchronous, mini-synchronous mode, tape it and then post it to the class, for example. Do you have to be involved with that Socratic interchange? I don’t know.

THOMAS: The way that I’ve done it, I’ve always been involved, right? It’s a, there’s, there would have to be reinvention to do it differently.

DAN:  There would have to be reinvention. That’s the heart of innovation, though, isn’t it?

THOMAS:  Exactly.

DAN:  Yeah. I find it fun to really try out new things. For me the issue was field trips because the work that I deal with is largely place-based and within the physical environment. And so how do I do a field trip in a way that the learning outcomes are achieved? 

THOMAS:  So how do you do that? So you have students do their own individual-led field trip to a kind of place and then share their experience.

DAN:  Yes. Basically, in a nutshell, that’s exactly what I do. The field trips have parameters as far as the type of thing that they’re looking for and the type of analysis that they should be applying to the setting. They have the opportunity to go pick a place, go to it, record it through a variety of means, whether with words or pictures or sounds, and then they share those with the rest of their colleagues in class. And then you’ve got this rich experience where you got a dozen different locations that are being featured within one field trip activity. And it’s going to be very dependent on what the purpose of that field trip is but it’s generally structured somehow along those lines.

THOMAS:  Give me an example.  Are these, Is this for coastal planning? They’re going to like a marsh or an estuary. What are the kinds of places?

DAN:  I was teaching a course in landscape planning, and they would be going to a particular landscape… we’re talking about something of several square miles to larger than that. And they would be looking at the land use on the landscape. They’d be looking at satellite imagery, they’d look up the history of the landscape, do analysis with respect to the structure of the landscape, looking at how people are interacting with that landscape, and putting together, basically, a report on their landscape, on their field trip, and then posting that to Canvas, which is the LMS that we use.

THOMAS:  Okay. I’m developing a course with one of our faculty members named Laura Dedenbach, and one of the ideas that we had tossed around is having students do something like that, a self-guided field trip. And we were thinking about it for the purpose of basically determining site design metrics for different land uses. Find a, a multifamily apartment complex, find a single family house, find a automobile-oriented commercial use and measure what are the setbacks, what’s the floor area ratio, how tall is the building, what are the lighting schematics like, what’s, how much parking is provided. It sounds like, it’s very different than, than a several mile landscape, but it’s same kind of idea.

DAN:  It is. That could work very well except,  you know, for that student of yours who’s on a base in Kabul, Afghanistan. 


DAN:  So, you know, you’ve got to be able to be adaptive within the lesson itself…

THOMAS: Yeah. 

DAN:  But it’s that type of approach. I don’t, I don’t do it in coastal because I have a lot of students who aren’t near a coast, so they can’t do a virtual or a distributed field trip because they really can’t get to a good site. So field trips are kind of interesting. 

I could see how the Socratic method is a challenge… how we adapt that method has given me some interesting food for thought. Of course, it goes back to what the learning outcomes are and how the method is going to achieve them. Yeah, I like that. I don’t use the Socratic method. I don’t lecture. My courses aren’t lecture-based. Maybe one of our listeners will have some ideas. We’re going to work on this one and then touch base maybe in six months or a year and see where we’re all at on it. Okay? 

THOMAS:  Yeah. I’ll let you know if I, if I find a solution. 

DAN:  One of the things that I’ve been struck by also dealing with professional students is that the structure of the workplace nowadays is one where you’ve got distributed teams that are often very remote from one another. I have found it useful for students to collaborate and work in the online space in graduate school because many times they’re going to be doing the same thing when they get out into the job, or they’re already working, or they get into the next, their next career. I mean, is this something you’re seeing in your program, I take it?

THOMAS:  Oh, absolutely. My last professional job, before I took this one, was as the, uh, planning director for a not-for-profit in Florida called 1000 Friends of Florida. We were involved in a lot of lawsuits, we did legislative lobbying, but we also provided assistance to citizens who were trying to figure out how to interact with their local government on planning issues. We had two employees in Tallahassee, one in Gainesville, that was me, and one in Orlando. And as a team of four, we work really effectively with residents in Florida who were from Monroe County in Key West to Pensacola, if you’ve ever driven from Key West to Pensacola, it’ll take you about 14 hours and places are not close together. So I would absolutely say that it’s the norm now. The tools that we use in online learning are the same ones that students will use in their professional practice as well. 

DAN:  Yeah,I see that. 

So I do want to turn to the whole seismic impact of Covid-19 that we’re dealing with. It’s sort of upended everything in America.

THOMAS:  This is a perfect segue from what we were just talking about now. Now, even when you’re in the same town, you’re using those online tools.

DAN:  Exactly. So I’m wondering, you know, what you’re seeing as the most important impacts of Covid-19 on your work? In theory it could be seamless, but obviously it’s not. 

THOMAS:  Yeah, when we switched at the University of Florida to an all online delivery for all classes, including the on campus classes, my first response, cause I’m, as I mentioned earlier, I’m teaching this class where we’ve got one learning environment with online and on campus students in the same Canvas shell. And I essentially told the on campus students, lecture is canceled, but class continues, just using the tools that are online. Right? The online students who’ve been doing the exact same thing as you for the last two months without coming to lecture, and, so that’s, you do that now, too. I thought the response on campus students would be, Oh, great. We don’t have to come to class anymore. But that wasn’t the case. The on campus students wanted, wanted synchronous sessions like lecture and so I’ve been scheduling weekly Zoom sessions

DAN:  And actually lecturing over Zoom to your on campus students?

THOMAS:  Yes. I don’t really lecture the same way again because I use Socratic method so much in the classroom. Instead it’s just been kind of question-and-answer. The lectures that I’ve prepared, I think covered the material in greater detail, in a level of detail, that it doesn’t make sense for me to try to repeat it at a Zoom session, and so I tried to use it for something different, which is question and answer. Talking about assignments. What did you guys think of this assignment? You know what, uh, you know, well, you know, what was the answer? Why is that right? Why is that wrong? Who agrees, who disagrees. 

DAN:  So this is really interesting because it’s, so in your department there is a parallel set of courses. There’s an online section and a brick-and-mortar section. So in theory for your program to switch to all remote delivery, it wasn’t really remote emergency delivery. It was, we’re just going to start using the online resources. But I’m hearing there was pushback, from at least the students if not other places.

THOMAS:  I think for the most part, yes. I think there are some instructors you had more challenges with it. Maybe they didn’t have a Canvas shell that was as well built out or maybe because they were treating their online and on-campus students differently. And so we’ve dealt with those things as they’ve come up. I think some other instructors are doing a lot of, a lot more synchronous lecturing via Zoom. 

DAN:  So you’ve been teaching for eight years. You’ve been program director for almost a year there. What lessons would you say you have from this past year or your earlier teaching for folks who are on the front lines trying to learn how to do good quality online education?

THOMAS:  I think that the basics are the same in any format and it’s, that it’s about relationships and interaction. So you want to create as many opportunities for that as possible. 

I think that the tools that we have online, this goes back to this sort of, the sufficiency of online communication and those communities that are built there absolutely rich enough for those relationships to be strong. But what I would recommend to anybody getting into online education for the first time is to, to look for those ways to build those relationships.

DAN:  And we’ll leave with that wisdom.  Thomas Hawkins from the master of urban regional planning program at the University of Florida. Thank you for joining us on Wired Ivy. 

THOMAS:  Thanks. It’s been a lot of fun. 


KIERAN: Hi Dan. Did you enjoy your conversation with Thomas Hawkins?

DAN:  I did, I did. Thomas and I did geek out a bit on urban planning, we kind of talked inside game for quite a bit of it. We left that out of this episode in the interest of time. We had a lot of fun, though. 

KIERAN: I’m sorry I wasn’t able to join in but I’ve listened to the recording. You two covered a lot of ground!

DAN:  I was really interested to talk to Thomas about his planning studio because I know that planning studios are a very particular creature in the curriculum and I wasn’t sure how that was going to translate to an online program.

KIERAN: Can you say more about what the learning objectives are for studio in an urban and regional planning program? Because, when I hear “studio,” I automatically translate that into “lab,” because of my background. What’s the function of studio for this discipline?  Yeah, say more about that.

DAN: Sure. In a planning curriculum, the studio serves as a practicum course. And it usually is a capstone or comes very late in the Plan of Study. So the point of the studio is for students to synthesize the skills and tools that they’ve gotten in earlier courses, but it’s also a time for them to be in a pre-professional setting. And a big part of that then becomes the interpersonal skills that they have to have as a professional planner. So they’re going to have to be able to communicate and negotiate with each other, but then also with the client.

One thing that’s important to remember is that, in my experience at least, planners tend to be optimistic extroverts, so they actually like to get into studio, and they actually like to work together with each other. 

KIERAN: Okay. 

DAN:  It becomes really a group project. That’s the driving force of it. 

KIERAN: Okay. That makes a lot more sense now. From your perspective, are there inherent reasons, beyond the tendency towards extroversion, that make studio difficult to accomplish in an online setting within this discipline? 

DAN:  I think the online part of it is not difficult. Planners are very comfortable using technologies and they’re also familiar with working professionally with people remotely. So that part of it is not a stretch in the professional mind. 

The way that Thomas has built out his studio, quite successfully it seems, is to include a good bit of synchronous work in the studio, in a degree that otherwise is largely asynchronous. So that has been their interpretation and I think it’s hard to say if that’s very particular to planning or the way that they have chosen to build a successful planning studio. 

KIERAN: Okay.  What I’m recognizing from this conversation is we’re using the term “studio” as an umbrella that covers lots of different learning activities. But then we talk about the challenges of doing studio in an online environment as if it were just one. 

DAN:  Yeah.

KIERAN: And it’s not, it’s not at all. I mean we’re, it’s very different from say what happens in an art studio…

DAN:  Yeah.

KIERAN: …or what happens in a planning studio, in a chemistry lab, in a biology lab. And yet when we start talking about how we move campus-based classroom instruction to online, we sort of forget all that nuance and we just start talking about studio as if it were one thing. 

DAN:  Yeah, I think you’re absolutely right, in that, “studio” really is shorthand across many disciplines for kind of hands on whether professional work or some sort of practice based work that mimics what the career is going to be seeing. 

We could fall into the trap of saying, well, let’s make something that’s an online studio and instead of going back to the original, well, how is this going to be reflective of the profession? We say, how is this going to reflect what we’re doing in the classroom? 

KIERAN: Right.

DAN:  I’m not saying that’s what, what’s going on in Florida… 

KIERAN: Right.  Well, no, I’m looking at this from the outsider’s lens, right? 

DAN:  Yeah.

KIERAN: And I know in the biological sciences, we might make the differentiation between bench, and field, and classroom. 

DAN:  There you go. 

KIERAN: Within the discipline, we have some more specific language, but when we start talking online instruction, people don’t say things like, “Is it possible to get great learning outcomes teaching online in a calculus class?” We say, “Is it possible to get good learning outcomes teaching online?” Well, 1) as if we had no data, which we do: and 2) as if it were, you know, what’s the difference? Russian literature, differential equations… 

DAN:  It’s all the same! 

KIERAN: All the same! 

DAN:  It’s all the same.  I was intrigued about his adapting the Socratic method to an asynchronous online space. What was your take on that?

KIERAN: I would have liked to hear more about what learning objectives are informing Thomas’ choice of using the Socratic method. This isn’t a law program so I wasn’t exactly sure why that was an appealing choice for him.

DAN:  Definitely plan on following up with Thomas, especially about using the Socratic method. Hopefully some of our listeners can give us some suggestions as well.

KIERAN: Yes! Listeners, even though Season 1 isn’t over yet, we are planning to do some short-form, 5-10 minute episodes over the summer to offer ideas and resources while folks are prepping for the next academic year. For example, we’d love to invite Thomas back, share your input, and discuss how those ideas might be implemented, so be sure to send them to us!


Thomas Hawkins is a planning educator and lawyer, and the director of the online master’s program in the Department of Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Florida .  You can learn more about the department on their website, or at LinkedIn, or on Facebook, or on Instagram.  

Thomas credited the Center for Instructional and Teaching Technology at the university for being a valuable resource.  

We welcome your questions, feedback, and suggestions for future episodes. Join our Wired Ivy LinkedIn Group, tweet us @wiredivy,  or look for the bright blue Talk to Wired Ivy tab on the right side of this screen to leave us a voice message!

Wired Ivy is wholly owned by Kieran Lindsey and Daniel Marcucci, and we are solely responsible for its content.   Views expressed in this podcast and affiliated media are those of Kieran, Dan, and our guests, and do not represent Virginia Tech or any other institution.  Our audio engineer is Star Path Images, and a license for our theme music, Breakfast with You, was purchased from SmartSound.

Want to be notified when whenever new podcasts and other content are published? Join our mailing list!

Success! You're on the list.

3 thoughts on “#7: Studio Matters

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: