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Can Design Be Taught Online? Part 2

Fourth year students in Ryerson University’s Fashion Design program are facing unique and unforeseen challenges with remote learning.


My last article illustrated the reality of being a third year fashion student in the midst of a global pandemic and questioned whether or not design could be taught online. After speaking with the third years, we came to the consensus that fashion design does have the capacity to be taught online, but this can only happen when it’s approached in a way that equips all students with the same opportunities for success. A substantial part of student success depends on open communication and collaboration; students are struggling to picture what Fashion Design at Ryerson will look like when it’s online. The intention of this article is to voice the challenges that Ryerson Fashion’s fourth years face when planning their final year. 


After speaking with the third years, we came to the consensus that fashion design does have the capacity to be taught online, but this can only happen when it’s approached in a way that equips all students with the same opportunities for success.


In mid-August an email was sent out stating the plan for the core design courses, and meetings were set up to ensure that students could have any last minute questions answered about the upcoming school year. Ryerson Fashion students explain that many of their decisions around enrollment, course selection, and their capstone/collection had to be made before much of the content informing these decisions was released. Understandably, it takes time for Ryerson staff to develop course content, create resources for students, and plan for an online semester, but it’s vital for us to recognize that it also takes time for students to prepare plans of their own.

Ryerson’s Fashion staff has been working tirelessly to provide students with the materials they need, and shared resources for inexpensive student-friendly alternatives. One of the supplies that students will receive are blocks. Fourth year students are responsible for requesting which blocks they need (i.e. pant block, bodysuit block, jacket block etc). This implies that they would have already determined which garments would make up their collection before school started. One concerned student asks, ‘If I request menswear blocks, does that mean I won’t have any access to womenswear blocks? Are there childrens or plus size options? It would be really helpful if I could get a course outline and a detailed assignment breakdown before I have to make my choice”. Towards the end of August it was announced that the deadline for block selection will be moved to September to allow students more time to think about their collection.

Another student explains; “Starting to design your collection over the summer break is challenging, especially for students who are working, or looking after family members during the pandemic”. While for some the pandemic has provided nothing but time, others are struggling to determine their plans for school, begin the ideation process for their collection, and work to cover the costs of the aforementioned. Meanwhile, others grapple with location, health, and safety precautions, “I am thinking about inspiration but it’s really difficult to collect photos, swatches and things of that nature because I don’t feel comfortable going downtown” says a fourth year student. 

When asked about their prior experiences with remote learning, an interviewee replied that “some of the outcomes were less than ideal, but professors were also in a challenging position”. With that being said, prospective fourth years felt that the learning objectives were not the same. Because of the time crunch and lack of clarity, many aspects had to be compromised. Students need to be given options within their projects to ensure that they are capable of meeting the learning objectives. However, modification to a project is not to be confused with watering down the learning objectives to ‘accommodate’ those who can’t meet the original demands. Ryerson Staff have been given the time required to thoughtfully put plans into action, and students want to feel confident in their choices about their education. “There’s a lot of people that don’t feel comfortable and want to take a fifth year” revealed a fashion student.

Ryerson has made a substantial effort to provide students with the materials and tools necessary for the upcoming school year, but students recognize that issues will arise when lab access is uncertain. Some pieces of equipment are practically impossible to get to every student and some students will be put in a situation where they’ll have to settle, compromise or adapt their designs; for instance, knit fabrics with stretch usually require a cover stitch machine or a serger, and it’s not feasible for every student to secure their own. One of the interviewees shared their own concerns about this, “we’re told to execute our work on a ready-to-wear level, but is handknitting suitable? Not many people own a cover stitch machine and I don’t want everyone feeling like they have to resort to cotton woven fabric”. 

Lastly, we need to look into the role that technology plays. After taking the exchange program and completing the majority of their work using design software, an upper year explains the importance of technology. When the time came that they could no longer collaborate with their peers in-person, they expressed that design software made the transition to home learning much smoother. While fashion students at Ryerson learn multiple Adobe applications, and they take a Computer Aided Design course in third year, an earlier and broader implementation of technology would be beneficial. With the release of multiple new fashion programs and a commitment to including new perspectives, students hope that Ryerson Fashion will continue to develop their implementation of technology within the program. The pandemic has created space for monumental shifts within the fashion industry, and as fashion students, we need to be keeping up with the technology that supports a more ethical, inclusive and empathetic fashion world.

I realize the question I should be asking is no longer, can design be taught online, but rather, how will design be taught online. These interviews have illustrated that a good number of concerns don’t have an easy fix. Though Ryerson is under a lot of pressure to alleviate the stress around COVID-19 learning, students should feel as though they have control within their education. The one commonality shared by all of us is uncertainty; nobody knows how the rest of the year will unfold. Fashion students are aware that there are some very student focused professors and faculty, and though things seem scary and intimidating right now, all we can do is prepare ourselves as best we can and have faith that the faculty is doing the same.