Rapid-Response Educating

Vince Dziekan, Monash University, Australia


This paper shares the unsettling experience of teaching during the global coronavirus pandemic through a situated case study of Design for Culture and Heritage, a postgraduate unit at Monash University that introduces students to design practice in relation to the cultural heritage domain. The disruptive impact of COVID-19 over the course of the 2020 academic year demanded a reconceptualized approach to its curriculum delivery that involved shifting from an established basis in studio education to a remote-mode of online teaching and learning while performing all of this in real-time. Drawing inspiration from Rapid Response Collecting – a curatorial strategy initiated by the V&A Museum, this paper hopes to demonstrate the potential of tactically applying a design-led creative pedagogy to the study of museum practices. Indicatively, the self-reflective insights and learnings gained from this particular instance of "rapid-response educating" contribute to better understanding how educational experiences can be designed to inspire the next generation of practitioners by building their capacity to respond to the immediacy of social phenomena and contemporary issues, and ability to rise to the challenges that a post-COVID, post-digital museum will undoubtedly face in the future.

Keywords: Design, Museums, Cultural Heritage, Education, Creative Pedagogy, Coronavirus Pandemic


In the blink of an eye, once-crowded museums sat empty; and in response to their unexpected forced closure, museum technology stepped up to fill the void. While online collections, virtual tours, and social media campaigns have become a normal, expected part of the digital programming of museums today, perhaps their importance to cultural resilience and social impact is only just starting to be properly understood and appreciated… 

No sooner had the new Australian academic year got underway in March 2020 then the fuller implications of the coronavirus were felt. Even though precautionary steps had been taken in an effort to offset the anticipated impact of COVID-19 on the commencement of the teaching semester, nothing could adequately prepare for the scale or extent of disruption that the global pandemic would cause or the direct effect this would have on students, staff, and teaching programmes. On the 17th of March, all educational activity at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia was suspended; on that very same day, the initial studio of the postgraduate unit Design for Culture and Heritage was due to be held. This “unprecedented” situation called for immediate steps to be taken to repurpose and retrofit curriculum and reorganize the teaching delivery towards alternative implementation strategies. (Notwithstanding the hyperbole) But transitioning content and “pivoting” successfully from a well-established approach founded upon the model of studio teaching to a fully online programme of study required much more than logistical agility – and certainly more sensitivity than any Learning Management System could provide; it demanded that a reconceptualized approach to curriculum and pedagogy be performed in real-time.

Can the qualities of studio learning experience and practicums be successfully replicated online? How might a study of museums still be conducted given their widespread closure at both local and global levels? This paper aims to help university and museum educators respond to such challenges by adapting their cultural heritage syllabus to focus on digital rather than physical cultural experiences, including museum-based experiences suited to a purely online evaluation. More broadly, this account hopes to contribute insights and learnings that may ultimately help us to gain perspective and make sense of this significant historical moment in which the pandemic has seen cultural institutions shake the dust off of the concept of the “virtual museum”, especially through embracing digital culture and creative forms of social engagement (i.e. #museumathome). It does so by drawing inspiration and insight from Rapid Response Collecting, a curatorial strategy introduced by the V&A’s Department of Design, Architecture and Digital in 2014. This collection initiative was designed to be fast-acting and responsive to the ways that significant moments in contemporary history and the industrial, social, economic and political dimensions of design objects might be captured in their immediacy. According to the V&A’s inaugural senior curator of Design, Kieran Long, this time-sensitive approach was instituted to recognize that the material and contextual expression of artefacts “give[s] certain objects a certain relevance at that moment” (Long in Etherington 2013).

The paper lays the groundwork for this discussion by outlining how the course had been presented pre-COVID; its pedagogical motivations and course outcomes; its adoption of a wider suite of online teaching tools; and reflecting upon how we might educate the next generation of museum technology (or “musetech”) professionals and creative producers in deeply engaged and situated ways. It will address the potential of applying a design-led creative pedagogy to museum practice through the experience associated with developing a tactical curricular response that guided the coursework, implementation and teaching delivery of Design for Culture and Heritage on multiple occasions across 2020. The course’s syllabus – which will be represented more fully in the paper’s accompanying conference presentation – is imparted through a highly integrative pedagogical approach to project-based, active learning. Combining research and creative activity, the set of briefed assignments used to deploy the curriculum encompassed curatorial design, museum interpretation, intercultural communication and a variety of applied research methods (including ethnographic and field studies, precedents research, photo elicitation, and social media monitoring or “listening”). By reflecting upon the unsettling experience of teaching multiple iterations of this unit during the pandemic, this paper hopes to contribute towards advancing pedagogical imagination related to museums and digital technology through sharing its educational design and tactical “know-how”, especially with regards to:

  • instilling a curatorial design mind and skillset through experiential educational and training;
  • establishing the values of cultural intelligence by grounding ethical and responsible values specific to engaging design practices with cultural heritage content; and
  • creating immersive learning experiences that combine situated- and meta-learning as part of a pedagogical strategy for real-time education.

Rapid Response Curating

The effort to maintain “business-as-usual” in “unprecedented” circumstances enables us to draw certain parallels between the experiences of both museums and universities throughout 2020. As memory- and knowledge-based institutions, the common institutional challenges encountered in the face of the upheavals wrought by the global coronavirus pandemic are even more self-evident when the subject in question itself relates to culture and heritage. In the section that follows, I will briefly introduce the V&A’s Rapid Response Collecting programme before relating it to the particular pedagogical challenges that teaching deliveries of Design for Culture and Heritage’s studio programme needed to negotiate in 2020; attention will then turn towards a synopsis of the curriculum and sharing relevant aspects of its curricular context that were drawn upon to inform delivery strategies implemented across the academic year.

The V&A’s rapid-response initiative was established in order to acquire contemporary design objects whose topical importance was of paramount interest. Since 2014, the collection has amassed in the order of thirty-five objects that reflect contemporary design as a “lens to broadly understand the world” (Gardner in Wong 2020). The curation of the programme identifies items that set out a particular discourse for design between material culture and social history. These design artefacts speak for a moment in time or stand as a “bellwethers” that mark significant points of cultural, social, economic or political change. The collection encompasses an eclectic and apparently unrelated set of items that includes everything from an otherwise non-descript pair of mass-produced blue jeans to a pink “Pussyhat” worn at the Women’s March in Washington, DC on the day following Donald Trump’s Inauguration in January 2017; an Xbox Adaptive Controller; and born-digital artefacts such as the graphic identity associated with the Extinction Rebellion climate change activism movement. As Corinna Gardner, senior curator of Design and Digital at the V&A and chief curator responsible for the Rapid Response collection, has stated: “We see each object as a node, a material thing around which we can focus the bigger questions that bespeak how you and I live together, today and in the future” (Gardner in Russell 2017).

Without a doubt the single most pressing issue that marks our present historical moment involves the global outbreak of COVID-19. In an effort to document the tumultuous and widespread socio-cultural impact of the pandemic, museums have responded in various ways over the past year, including engaging the public directly in various efforts to create a shared snapshot that documents ordinary, lived experience of the crisis at this extraordinary time. Over and above the “normal” challenges faced when collecting contemporary material, the act of curating coronavirus-related cultural content raises not insignificant institutional, interpretative and ethical considerations; as recent project initiatives, including the V&A’s own Pandemic Objects archive (https://www.vam.ac.uk/blog/pandemic-objects) and a range of practice-led insights featured by the Museums Association (Atkinson 2020) attest.

So, how might we acquire better understanding of contemporary experience in ways that are responsive and time-sensitive while still managing to navigate uncertainty and unfolding consequence in considered and responsible ways?

Design(ing) for Culture and Heritage

Cultural heritage acts as a foundation of personal and collective identity; and is found everywhere, not just in museums. In the circumstances we find ourselves in today, perhaps more so than ever, it would seem that the “scope of what is deemed worth preserving has also expanded dramatically, extending now to environments, artefacts and activities that, in the past, would have been considered beyond the scope of historical attention” (Hoelscher 2006). It is on these two scores – of the diversification of cultural heritage and an acknowledgement of its “living” nature as “a social process that is continually unfolding, changing and transforming” (Hoelscher 2006) – that the pedagogical orientation towards the syllabus of Design for Culture and Heritage revolves.

Design for Culture and Heritage is a postgraduate unit of study that forms part of the Master of Design offered at Monash University by the Faculty of Art Design and Architecture (MADA). This coursework degree is positioned at the intersection of several creative disciplines including interaction-, digital- and collaborative design. Providing a platform in which emerging practices in contemporary design can be explored, Design for Culture and Heritage exposes students to opportunities for designing in the cultural heritage domain. The studio curricula challenges students to apply their design skills, creative processes and new technologies to prototype, visualise and present innovative design solutions that relate to the preservation and promotion of culture and heritage. The interdisciplinary and holistic approach of this unit includes, but is not limited to, exhibition design, interpretive media design, visual communication, and service design.

Curricular context

The case study that follows encompasses three separate deliveries of Design for Culture and Heritage across the 2020 academic year (Table 1).

DGN5203 First Semester 9 March* – 12 June 2020 31 Students


DGN5203 Second Semester 3 August – 6 November 2020 16 Students


Summer Intensive 16 November – 4 December 2020 20 Students


* Monash University adjusted its standard semester schedule ahead of the commencement of the 2020 academic year in anticipation of the imminent onset of COVID-19. The normal calendar was offset by a week by conducting an online orientation week prior to the expected commencement of on-campus teaching from Monday, 16 March. In response to lockdown measures implemented by the State government of Victoria, all teaching activity was suspended for a week, during which time all programme delivery was transitioned into a fully online mode, with teaching recommencing on 23 March.
** In this instance, Design for Culture and Heritage was offered as a combined delivery involving both postgraduate and undergraduate variations of the syllabus).

Table 1. Design for Culture & Heritage, Schedule of teaching deliveries in 2020.

The unit conforms to Monash University course architecture. It attracts six credit points of study, which equates to one quarter of a full semester course load (24 credit points). It is delivered over a standard twelve-week teaching semester, involving weekly studios of three-hour duration supplemented by independent study. Due to the COVID-19 outbreak at the outset of the first semester, all scheduled on-campus classes were converted immediately to online formats and existing timetabling arrangements retained. As “lockdown” measures introduced to curb the spread of coronavirus would persist in Melbourne throughout much of the year, this implementation strategy was maintained in second semester. [Note for readers: In contrast with educational systems in the northern hemisphere, the academic year for Australian universities runs across a single calendar year, commencing in February and concluding by November.] In this form, DGN5203 was delivered via Zoom, with both Google Drive and Moodle (Monash’s enterprise LMS) used as supporting platforms.

International student cohorts, in particular, were adversely affected by the range of travel restrictions and quarantine protocols that disrupted the commencement of the 2020 academic year. In response, the university subsequently would introduce a “summer semester” designed to enable students who may have deferred or had their course progressions compromised to realign their studies. Units offered during this period were delivered in an intensive, online study mode. The programme developed for the combined delivery of Design for Culture and Heritage – involving both postgraduate and undergraduate variations of the syllabus –was designed as a three-week long course, entailing a total of four formal studio sessions per week (including one full-day session), supplemented by self-paced, independent study.

Before concentrating on the learnings that were gained from these specific iterations of the unit delivery, it is important to acknowledge the prior knowledge that was drawn upon from previous experiences of teaching the course. Up until the 2020 academic year, DGN5203 had been offered to postgraduate students studying exclusively in an on-campus mode based in Melbourne. However, undergraduate variants of the syllabus had been implemented on numerous occasions since 2009 as part of MADA’s international study programmes conducted at the university’s Centre in Prato, Italy. In this setting, the conjunction between the cultural legacy of the Italian Renaissance and the contemporary culturescape (so termed by globalization studies theorist Arjun Appadurai) provided a number of distinctive opportunities to conduct intensive learning experiences where art and design students develop their critical and creative faculties in response to the juxtaposition not only of the historical past to the contemporary present, but also towards imagined, speculative futures.

On these occasions, the course curriculum adopted a situated pedagogy to promote intercultural values. It has done so by acknowledging how processes of knowledge construction occur in an embedded social context. While remaining adaptable to the unique opportunities that have come to characterise each delivery, the curation of these study abroad programmes has adhered to a consistent pedagogical approach, one that has sought to engage participants with processes of meta-learning by encouraging each student to become increasingly aware of the context in which their learning takes place. To this end, the “immersive studio” has provided a curricular structure that interrelates the learning experience with its cultural setting and social situation. Studio activities were designed to inspire students and hone their creative and cultural intelligence towards understanding the world around them by engaging in it. Most crucially to our present historical moment in which we are experiencing radical shifts between cultural heritage, society and technology, this responsive approach has supported ‘the investigation, interrogation and imaginative exploration of the relationships found within cultural complexes’ (Cormier 2016).

Rapid Response Education

Drawing upon the previous experience of delivering the syllabus in an off-campus, study abroad mode proved invaluable when challenged to redesign the local, on-campus delivery of the course in the first semester of 2020.

Key concepts that informed the revised online format and its rapid-response strategy related to curatorial design and cultural intelligence. Curatorial design informed the ways that immersive studios have been programmed to create integrated learning experiences associated with previous international, study abroad courses. Drawing largely upon situated pedagogy, this approach was duly applied in response to the onset of COVID-19 by engaging students immediately with issues being encountered across the cultural sector, and those faced, in particular, by museums. Placing additional emphasis on cultivating cultural intelligence also proved integral to the repurposed teaching strategy. In this regard, it is important to acknowledge that Monash’s Master of Design course is subscribed predominantly by international postgraduate students from the Asia-Pacific region. Previous teaching experience has found that this cohort responds very positively to practice-based challenges that promote cross-cultural themes and issues, thereby cultivating intercultural literacies. Through designing a series of responsive coursework assignments, the online studio supported the enculturation of an educational experience grounded by the process of meta-learning.

Situated Pedagogy

Situated learning acknowledges that the process of knowledge construction occurs in context and is embedded within a particular social environment (Lave and Wenger 1991). Theoretically, situated learning stands in contrast to most conventional forms of education where the acquisition of knowledge – and “know how” – is largely abstracted because learning activities take place out of their applied contexts. In previous study abroad versions of the programme concerted efforts were taken to integrate field research and creative work as much as possible to promote direct engagement with site specific and localized contexts. For instance, on multiple occasions immersive studios have been coordinated as part of the Biennale Sessions programme of the Venice Biennale. This platform has provided the occasion to host a number of speculative design briefs that have challenged student cohorts to produce creative works in response to prevalent issues and thematics determined by the curatorial direction of the exhibition.


Design is an integrative discipline that finds itself at the intersection of multiple fields. Arguably, now more so than ever, the challenges confronting today’s world place ever greater demand on ways that designerly ways of knowing, acting, and thinking (Cross 1982) can be applied to address the scale, extent, and complexity of these problems. In an educative sense, meta-learning places an onus on how the learner’s understanding of their learning context and the act of learning itself contributes towards gaining subject-specific knowledge. Meta-learning describes the process by which students become increasingly aware of habits of perception and inquiry that may have been otherwise internalized (Maudsley 1979). This concept emphasizes the interdependence that exists between the student and the subject of study. In the case of creative learning, this “ontological dimension” is even more pronounced, as “the development of knowledge, practical skills, cognition, and technical expertise are closely interwoven with the development of feeling, perception, confidence, sense of purpose and identity, and a tangible enrichment of lived experience.” (Danvers 2003).

Challenges and Learning Design

The revised learning design of the unit addressed its COVID-affected conditions by responding to the following contentions:

  • Can the qualities of studio learning experience be successfully replicated online; and
  • How might a study of museums still be conducted given their widespread closure at both local and global levels; a question that was further compounded while doing so under “lockdown” restrictions of self-isolation and quarantine?

In order to respond to these specific challenges, transferrable learnings gained from developing implementation strategies for previous overseas study programmes were, once again, called upon. In particular, the following contextual considerations proved especially useful in helping to inform and guide the studio’s redesign; namely, 1) subject-; 2) socio-cultural-; and 3) practice contexts.

In the first case, the subject context relates to identifying creative ways of engaging design-based practices with issues affecting the cultural heritage field. While directed towards contemporary cultural production and emerging design practices, including creative technology, these content-based considerations were translated into a curated series of coursework assignments. The design briefs – creative projects and research exercises – associated with the studio programme delivered in 2020 will be outlined in the following section. Importantly, socio-cultural considerations also factored into the structure of the educational programme. When deployed as part of study abroad courses, the curriculum has adapted successfully to an intensive mode of delivery (where it has been taught over a three-week period, rather than a standard semester format of twelve weeks). On such occasions, formal academic study has been treated as part of a broader enriched, immersive learning experience, where in addition to participating in formal studio teaching blocks, there was the associated expectation that students would thoroughly engage in co-curricular activities, both in and out of studio, through excursions, site visits and independent fieldwork. Adapting teaching strategy to make the most of opportunities presented by these different curricular contexts has proven equally inspiring as instrumental to the success of these programmes. Lastly, in terms of what might be described as the practice context, study abroad experiences, for example, have exposed art and design students to what it means to work as an “artist-in-residence”. In these instances, embracing a studio residency model offered a distinctive way of exposing students to this particular mode of professional practice by situating it within an immersive learning experience; no less so than with the case of delivering the course over the past year, when the practice context drew upon the shared experience of living in the midst of the unfolding pandemic. For students, this involved negotiating how to study, learn and practice design remotely in an exclusively online studio mode while in self-isolation (due to the “hard lockdown” measures imposed by the Victorian state government over a significant proportion of the year).

Studio Programme

As a design-based curriculum, Design for Culture and Heritage adopts a project-based mode of teaching and learning. The learning objectives [1] of the unit are incorporated into the coursework and factored into a series of assessment tasks. The assignments are effectively divided into practical, creative projects and more theoretical, research exercises (Table 2). Projects are designed to introduce the students, in the first instance, to foundational concepts related to cultural heritage and then as a basis for directing their technical skills and design interests towards their creative application within the cultural sector. Helping to scaffold these creative and inquiry-led projects, students undertake research into galleries, libraries, archives, and museums. These exercises provide a means of exposing students to a representative variety of methods that relate to design research.

These coursework assignments have changed over the years in response the nature of the delivery (i.e., to capitalize on local opportunities during study trips in Italy), identifying topical cultural issues or exhibition-related projects (which have translated into collaborative projects developed in association with cultural industry partners, including the Centro Pecci in Prato, Italy or the National Trust of Australia in Melbourne). Resulting design output has entailed the creation of physical design maquettes, media production and concept designs presented to industry stakeholders. Given the restrictive aspects of offering a studio-based programme under COVID-affected conditions, these assignment briefs were reoriented to encourage rapid prototyping and placed greater emphasis upon design communications. Likewise, in the case of the research skills exercises, the focus of these investigations turned from prioritizing observational research normally conducted in-person in the context of museums, heritage sites and cultural precincts, to ethnographic design studies (Plowman 2003) that focused instead upon the virtual museum.

Assignment Brief Assessment Description
1 Introductory Creative Project 20% Students engaged in an unfolding group activity that explored the influential role that design plays in creating interpretive experiences involving tangible and intangible cultural and heritage content. The studio brief involved the conceptualization, curation, and developmental design for an imaginary exhibit that would feature in a Natural History Museum on the theme of the natural elements (i.e., Earth, Air, Water or Fire).
2 Research Skills Exercise: Ethnographic Research 15% In response to “lockdown” restrictions implemented due to Covid-19, students investigated the ways that cultural institutions continued to engage their audiences with digital culture via online channels by introducing them to a variety of design research methods, including visual ethnography.
3 Research Skills Exercise: Precedents Research 15% In response to the forced closure of museums experienced during to the global pandemic, students undertook precedents research that focused upon a virtual museum. The reports produced incorporated a review of their digital programmes (including website, online collections, digital media production) and monitoring of social media engagement over a set period.
4 Applied Creative Project: Design Proposal 10% Drawing inspiration from the Museum Wormianum (1588-1654), students were challenged to create their own personal Wunderkammer as a means of documenting the experience of self-isolation due to the global pandemic for posterity. Students were issued with the speculative design challenge to reconceive how a museum, collection, or cultural heritage experience might exist as a miniature museum. The design process was scaffolded by the stages outlined in the Smithsonian’s Exhibit Development guide (http://exhibits.si.edu). The first stage of the assignment addressed the concept design resulting in a design proposal that provided an Interpretive Master Plan for their “MiniMuseum” projects.
5 Applied Creative Project: Design Prototype 40% Following feedback on their initial proposals and studio consultation, students pursued creative development culminating in a design prototype that addressed the range of conceptual, technical, and experiential considerations associated with their MiniMuseums. The primary design outcome translated into a short audio/visual presentation (“design pitch”) that successfully communicated their concept in an engaging way supported by related content and media production.

Table 2. Design for Culture & Heritage, Coursework outline.

Observations and Comparative Reflections

This paper has considered the benefit of applying a curatorial methodology – inspired in this case by the V&A’s approach to rapid-response collecting – to design pedagogy, and reflected upon the influence this has had on tactical ways that learning design was adjusted in order to negotiate the implications of COVID-19 upon the teaching delivery of Design for Culture and Heritage across the 2020 academic year. While introducing a broader discussion of online design education and the impact of the coronavirus pandemic is largely outside the scope of this research, the reader will find that Katya Fleischmann’s account of the abrupt switch to remote, online teaching and learning experienced by studio-based design programs at the Queensland College of Art (QCA), Griffith University in Australia, provides a useful background study that helps establish the context and some comparable parameters that relate equally to this case study (Fleischmann 2020). Also, given the limitations of this paper, a more detailed description of the actual coursework and direct discussion of student responses to these briefs will feature more prominently in the accompanying conference presentation. Notwithstanding these caveats, it is hoped that the following summative observations offer some reflective insights into what those creative outcomes reveal to us about engaging students successfully with digital cultural heritage during the pandemic.

  1. Having been developed iteratively over a number of years, teaching strategies employed in the delivery of Design for Culture and Heritage have promoted the sharing of cultural understandings from positions of difference rather than a mono- or uni-cultural lens. Significant opportunities have been identified from previous experience to help relate cultural heritage as a subject with students that bring diverse cultural backgrounds to its study. This experience has shown that students on the whole respond positively and are more prepared to engage with cultural and heritage issues when they are connected to personal background and lived experience. Introducing foundational cultural heritage concepts through group activities has also proven to be an instrumental strategy which has helped reinforce the importance of culture to both personal and collective identity and the formation of shared values relating to humanistic, as well as educational concerns (eg. creating a culture of learning) (Thomas and Brown 2011). Research activities that involve the collection, preparation and processing of creative materials and resources greatly facilitates dialogue (and utilizing online platforms exclusively to do so, as was the case during 2020, has only enhanced this). Working together on design challenges encourages creative thinking leading to design responses that draw upon cross-cultural themes and narratives in imaginative and playful ways. By promoting collaborative creativity, the student cohort as a whole becomes more fluent in working with cultural content, and cognisant of the interpretative functions associated with curation, exhibition design, and the range of museum media and communications.
  2. Museums provide us with a shared cultural language (a lingua franca of sorts). As a means of facilitating intercultural dialogue, the study of museums surfaces the cultural values of objects and artefacts (eg. by raising representational issues and revealing how meaning attaches and accrues around them), the role of interpretation (eg. by recognizing the ways design mediates interpretation), and the importance of narrative and story-telling to exhibition-making (eg. by promoting an ethos of “form-follows-narrative”).
  3. Adopting a more speculative approach to design (Dunne and Raby 2013) encourages critical and creative thinking about real museum issues. As an illustrative case in point, students were confronted with the challenge of reconceptualizing the paradigmatic features of museum interactives which has become an urgent “real world” issue that museums are facing in their efforts to “COVID-proof” themselves (Heimbrock 2020). This exercise was conducted during the second semester as an exploratory design “sandbox” run in collaboration with Dan Koerner from Sandpit, a Melbourne-based experience design studio that works extensively with museums. While ostensibly the resulting conceptual prototypes produced by the students embraced the unfettered opportunity this presented to ideate freely with the possibilities of new technologies, such as depth cameras, sensors, eye-tracking and micro-gestures, these propositional designs provide imaginative “solutions” to ways that remote or touchless interaction can be incorporated into museum experiences.
  4. Working with Millennial and Gen Z student demographics (Ittelson 2019) has also reinforced the idea that the virtual museum can be treated, in and of itself, as a primary mode of museum experience. Precedents research undertaken by students over the past year has shown that digital media content, ranging from VR tours to videos and podcasts, are able to be appreciated as a distinctive form of visitor experience that is not necessarily diluted or diminished by the lack of any direct physical or analog counterpart. While social media activity ­– especially in providing a means of responding to self-isolation, as with #museumathome, for example – can support connectivity and resilience at both personal and collective scales; and by doing so, (re)states the importance of museums and other cultural institutions towards ensuring cultural wellbeing during (and beyond) the pandemic.

While it must be conceded that these observations have been informed by a single, specific case, this educational experience was not an isolated one by any means. In this respect the Digital Specialization unit – taught as part of the University of Leicester”s well-established and highly-respected MA Museum Studies course – offers a useful point of comparison. The following, concluding observations are indebted to the collegiality of colleagues at the University of Leicester, Prof. Ross Parry and Dr. Alex Moseley (Leicester Learning Institute), with whom I have collaborated on a previous occasion as part of the team involved with delivering this programme as a “digital sandpit”. Their recent case study of the teaching and learning experience encountered in Leicester during the first half of 2020 (Parry and Moseley 2020) coincides with the initial efforts to COVID-proof the first semester delivery of Design for Culture and Heritage in Melbourne.

While being conscious to not overstate these claims, a number of transferrable principles can be inferred from the common experience of redeveloping our respective teaching deliveries in response to the challenges that the onset of the coronavirus pandemic forced upon us. Characteristically, each of our pedagogical responses were guided by a willingness to act quickly, trust in collaboration (that includes recognizing the capabilities that students themselves bring to the situation) and adhere to underpinning educational values. Both drew upon the ability to “flex” in order to try different ways of working while approaching the use of technology in an integrative manner (as opposed to deferring to the promise of a single “silver-bullet” solution). Instead, each garnered digital confidence by calling upon familiar and less-familiar tools as part of their online delivery strategies. For example, in the case of the former, Leicester utilized Blackboard Collaborate Ultra, whereas Monash made use of enterprise-wide platforms such as MoodleGoogle Drive, and associated collaboration tools (i.e., Google Slides); In the case of the latter, staff at Leicester introduced OneNote and Padlet, while at Monash we called upon a variety of new and untested communication and collaboration tools such as ZoomMiro, and VoiceThread.

Staying true to guiding pedagogy is perhaps the most resilient cross-over between these two examples of rapid-response education. To support students through a process of discovery has meant ensuring that focus remains true to educational objectives rather than becoming preoccupied with replicating physical processes online. Crucially, drawing upon the experience of what’s worked before, even if this “know-how” was gained in other settings, proved indispensable. In the case of the University of Leicester’s Digital Specialism this meant drawing upon and amplifying strategies forged from previous experience in conducting intensive deliveries of the curriculum. For its part, Design for Culture and Heritage drew extensively upon the previous experience gained from implementing immersive studios that have served as a basis for supporting situated- and meta-learning in study abroad contexts and through projects involving collaboration with cultural sector partners. Ultimately, it was by relying upon underpinning pedagogical values that each of these educational programmes managed to navigate the uncertainty of the COVID-affected conditions they both encountered during 2020. They did so by balancing risk-taking with assurance and speculative imagination with reliable confidence through employing creative pedagogical strategies that managed to successfully engage design thinking processes; place greater onus on digital prototyping; and produce project-based learning experiences which reflect “real-world” situations and consequence.

These closing observations speak to the importance of curating the experience of learning.

In conclusion: It is hoped that this paper will assist others who confront the challenge of educating the next generation of museum practitioners. The findings it has shared are largely tactical in nature. And while we can only look forward to a return to some form of “normalcy” in the aftermath of the pandemic, it is inevitable that (post-COVID) museums – and universities, for that matter – will never be quite the same again. With respect to the curricular approach taken to Design for Culture and Heritage, it is undeniable that certain aspects of the course discovered through rapid-response educating will remain integral features of the programme. For instance, in purely practicable terms, utilizing online platforms for students to collect, prepare, and process creative materials and resources proved extremely productive. But far more tellingly, the process of doing so greatly facilitated collaborative creativity and promoted cross- and inter-cultural intelligence. Likewise, while the museum website and its social channels became principal means of cultural engagement by default during the depths of self-isolation and “lockdown”, this exaggerated situation is indicative of a much more enduring condition; and opens the prospect for further research into how “virtualised” forms of museum experience, as represented by online digital content and participatory social media, relate to the media literacies and lived experiences of Millennials and Gen Z audiences, who, after all, are the main constituency of the postdigital museum in the future.


[1] The unit is designed so that upon successful completion students should be able to:

  • Evaluate and communicate the potential of design as a means for preserving and promoting culture and heritage;
  • Propose and present ethical and responsible design concepts specific to culture and heritage;
  • Understand the significance of collaboration as part of inter-disciplinary teamwork in co-creating complex design solutions for communicating and promoting culture and heritage;
  • Demonstrate ethnographic research methods as part of the design process for culture and heritage productions;
  • Demonstrate conceptualising, visualising, and prototyping skills for complex design solutions in the area of culture and heritage;
  • Critically analyse and evaluate cultural heritage design productions or prototypes as a response to a specific brief; and
  • Understand and apply the rules of occupational health and safety appropriate to the unit.


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Cite as:
Dziekan, Vince. "Rapid-Response Educating." MW21: MW 2021. Published February 1, 2021. Consulted .