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By Design: How DesignLab Broadened Online Services as Campus Turned to All Remote Learning

May 4, 2020

These past few weeks have seen extraordinary change, including at UW-Madison. It brought a (FAST) shift from in-person to remote classes, closures of physical spaces, and uncertainty about navigating this new situation.

While online teaching isn’t new territory, the shift to all-online instruction in just under a week required a tremendous lift campus-wide. 

The staff at the DesignLab found themselves in an interesting position. They were committed to providing their expertise and service despite not being physically open. However, their work with online video instruction was already somewhat mapped out. With a little ingenuity, and a dedicated effort by their staff, they were ready to handle the rest of their on-demand instruction online by the time students “returned” virtually to campus. 

The team at DesignLab also had an online platform in development to provide distance consultations to students by mid-April, with a pilot in place with a course through the medical school. With COVID-19 causing all students to go online by March 24th, their expected launch timeline needed to move up – fast.

“We had to quickly reimagine how this pilot could open to all of UW-Madison and not just the students from the online class with which we were working. In February and March, we had already spent a lot of time testing various platforms and figuring out all our technical needs,” said Mandy Morrow, Associate Director of the DesignLab. “Now, we just needed to figure out how to quickly train our staff on how to do consultations, get the information to our patrons about how to use WebEx Meetings, and hope that we’d be able to get it up and running by the end of spring break.”

In just a matter of days, DesignLab staff had everything prepared. They finished creating an entire structure for online consultations, repurposed in-class workshops using previous instructional videos, and made a library on Kaltura encompassing many of their frequently asked design and how-to questions. 

“The team stepped up over spring break, working to transition their in-class workshops scheduled for the week of March 23rd to pre-recorded videos. I was nervous we would not be ready, but our staff worked hard to ensure it was all ready on time. We even were able to make a video about how distance consultations work. On March 23rd, we had a few appointments, and they were the real-time test of the system, and it thankfully worked,” Morrow stated.

The DesignLab now also offered virtual drop-ins so students could get personalized help. Individuals could make an appointment up to 4 hours before any appointment time available, or drop-in when DesignLab was “open” for business. The DesignLab is closed for the summer to appointments, but plans to be open again next fall via both distance and in-person appointments if possible.

The appointments are easy to set up: First, fill out the form to provide background on your project or needs, then complete a checklist of questions to help staff gain a broader picture of what to focus on during the consultation. By completing the form and list ahead of time, patrons can get the most in-depth assistance from the DesignLab team during their appointment. Second, wait for the email before your appointment to access the WebEx Meeting. Third, click on the link and join the meeting!  

“We are especially committed to making sure students who need to complete a digital assignment have the tools and assistance to do so, no matter where they are in the world,” explained Morrow. “We originally planned to set up distance consultations so we could help students who are not in Madison. Now, it is our only means of helping students, and we are committed to keeping it going.” 

The DesignLab is also committed to helping the entire UW-Madison community, including faculty and staff. While DesignLab is closed for appointments over the summer, the team is still available to support instructors who are teaching online classes and those preparing for the Fall semester. More information can be found on the DesignLab instructional support page. They understand now, more than ever, the importance of having resources that provide solutions and keep your needs met. 

For more information, check out the DesignLab website.