We asked Harriet Harris, Dean of the Pratt School of Architecture, and Quilian Riano, Assistant Dean, about the visions of the New York University, scattered between technological hybridization and eco-political engagement.
After months of isolation and remote lectures, the university world finally seems ready to reclaim its physical spaces, repopulating classrooms and laboratories. The world of education is certainly taking home a wealth of digital wisdom while coming to terms with a real metamorphosis of the university’s language. “I think one of the interesting things about living in one of the world’s most diverse cities is that, in many ways, we became the eye of the storm. I had just become the new dean of a university in a metropolis radically challenged by the pandemic,” Pratt Institute School of Architecture Dean Harriet Harris, who was appointed to the position in 2019, tells us. “When we moved to a virtual setting, the assumption was that all students would have the same distance learning experience, so we worked to create resources and make access to new required tools accessible to all. For example, we had a virtual rendering of the entire school, a sort of prototype of our entire building: students, even though it was still remote, could come in and walk into the building and attend reviews in a virtual environment.”
It was incredibly important for us to start thinking about ways to give students a greater ability to coordinate their own sense of community autonomous from their interactions with professors
But while the pandemic and related quarantine periods have spurred, almost forcibly, the study of new virtual and totally remote tools, the past few months also bring with them widespread concern for the mental health of thousands of students isolated or forced to return to their hometowns. “It’s been a major challenge, out of which comes a desire to build community, looking for ways to help more than just educational activities, to reclaim all those lost social micro-dynamics,” Harris continues. “It was incredibly important for us to start thinking about ways to give students a greater ability to coordinate their own sense of community autonomous from their interactions with professors.” A new digital trust, then, through which students, the majority of whom are born-digital, suddenly have skills that professors didn’t have and slips the typical unilateral academic relationship in making them their own teachers’ teachers. “Within our school, there was suddenly a shift from a sense of community confined to the university campus, to a much stronger, but in fact atomized and dispersed across the planet.”
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