How the MSU interior design program handled the online transition

The upper division of Michigan State University’s interior design program is small, accepting only 20 students per year.

The building of human ecology is their home. There, students have 24/7 access so they can access the lab rooms with the programming they need. They have hour-long studio classes where students can work on their projects and receive feedback from their teachers.

The program is accredited by the Council for Interior Design Accreditation, or CIDA and the best program includes a competitive review process.

When MSU responded to the COVID-19 outbreak by switching to e-learning for the rest of the semester and into the summer, Eunsil Lee, the program’s associate professor, didn’t think he could make the transition.

“I used to think online studio was impossible,” she said. “Now I have found that the online studio is possible, and it works really, really good.”

Throughout her workshop, she gives lectures and meets students via Zoom for 10 to 15 minutes to follow the progress of their projects.

“At first I was a little freaked out, but it’s getting better,” Lee said. “I actually like it now.”

For university education specialist Laura Winter, her entry-level hand drawing course is more difficult to teach online because students are learning these skills for the first time. For higher level courses, however, it’s going better than expected, she said.

For his upper classes, the students’ projects are all computer generated, so the hardest part is to get away from them.

“I like to have face-to-face contact with students,” Winter said.

The program is small and tight-knit, with students collaborating and working together throughout their time together in the program.

“I have not received any complaints other than this feeling of attachment and being able to collaborate and see each other,” said Assistant Professor Linda Nubani.

She currently teaches classes at the senior design studio.

“The nature of the interior design program is, I mean, that they order pizza around midnight, that they stay together, keep each other company,” she said.

In the final year, most design courses use technology. Nubani said a render plan could take up to an hour, so students having to work on their renderings on their own comes at a cost.

“During that hour, I now feel that they are isolated, and that is maybe the most difficult part, emotionally,” she said.

With the transition to online classes, students lost the ability to track their progress against other students. Because of this, Lee said the gap between students who progress and those who fall behind has widened.

“Those who are kind of behind, they don’t have some kind of motivation from others. There is a lack of motivation or a lack of stimulation,” she said. “It’s a little difficult to motivate them.”

Not having pacemakers to monitor progress is difficult for students, and some of them are hesitant, Nubani said. In her one-on-one meetings with the students, the students worried about their progress against others and she had to reassure them that they were all in the same boat.

“Now I have become a source of information about their peers, where they are in the process and if they are doing well.”

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Students are always in contact through group discussions. Winter said her students said they would have questions on how to do something, but that they would ask the class through their group discussion. She believes that since the classes have been online, the cats have become more active.

While online courses are not ideal for the Michigan state community, this period allowed classes to develop and learn new ways of teaching the same subjects.

“It’s a tough and difficult time,” Lee said. “But, it’s also an opportunity.”

Correction: This article was updated at 5:00 p.m. on April 23 to reflect that only the upper division of the interior design program admits 20 students each year.

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Billie M. Secrist

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