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Vancouver Community College Fashion Programs Design their own take on Virtual Learning

Originally published in The Georgia Straight

Whether it’s learning to feel the difference between textile fibres or to steer an industrial sewing machine, fashion education comes with a hands-on element.

So what does that look like during social distancing, as instruction pivots to more e-learning? And how will that education shift as the entire fashion industry grapples with the challenges of fitting and producing garments during a lockdown that’s only gradually loosening? Local institutions are in the midst of finding that out, getting creative amid COVID-19 measures.

Over at Vancouver Community College’s fashion design and production program, coordinator Andrea Korens explains how shifts in the industry prepared her team well for the changes that are happening now. “One of the great things about working in fashion is we are so poised for a pivot already,” she observes. “I think we had less stress than other programs.”

Theory classes easily moved to virtual learning, and the school has found creative ways—both high- and low-tech—to translate more hands-on instruction with social distancing.

One example is VCC’s Fashion Cycle 4 collaborative garment-production class for custom clients. Though it had to be put on pause because of COVID-19, instructor Jason Matlo and producer Brenda Gilbert decided to donate their time to hosting a Zoom-based “What’s Next for Fashion” series. “They’re meeting with students every week about what’s coming up next in the market given the current climate, to keep them inspired and engaged,” Korens says.

Elsewhere, Korens has used a simple tactic message to get into the tactile world of teaching fabric and textile studies right now. “I am actually mailing them pieces—I’ve got swatches and I send them to them in the mail,” she says with a laugh, pointing out that, as she’s based at home, the fabric pieces are sitting all around her.

With large studio space at VCC and the chance to return with social distancing in the fall, she looks forward to finding ways use to the classroom with some new approaches.

“We do all our teaching on professional equipment…and you have to turn things inside out and look at it from different angles,” she says. “There are certain things you just can’t learn without having someone there, going through with you step by step. There’s a reason the garments are not made by robots. Each garment has its own problem that hasn’t been solved before.” That means the school is installing cameras to show close-ups of sewing and other work, and looking at altering floor plans and adding sanitization.

Curriculum may adapt, too. Because VCC’s programs include noncredit courses for industry upgrades or general interest, it’s pivoting to look at what COVID-19 will do to the sector and what it can offer contentwise.

“What problems out are there in the industry right now?” she asks.

One of the first installments planned to start June 1 will be an e-class called Solving Fit for Online Customers—an issue, as people fear contagion, and a complicated act of communication involving measurements and size charts. Doing it right can also reduce shipping costs and increase sales and customer satisfaction, she points out.

As with instruction in other areas, all of it’s a work in progress—one that will require, as ever, direction from the industry that is also having to evolve online, outside the halls of the bricks-and-mortar school. “We will be reaching out to the industry association to say, ‘Are there needs that are emerging that we can help you with working collaboratively?’ ” Korens says.

Original article from the Georgia Straight

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