#Restart21
Of knowledge makers and smart learners

Prof. Jie-Eun Hwang is an embodiment of the value of continuous learning
Wonder Women Ep 4

She had well-curated presentation slides, as well-designed as the communities that she had helped reurbanize.

Prof. Jie-Eun Hwang of the University of Seoul was the guest speaker in the fourth episode of Wonder Women on 20 May 2021. She wears many hats: she’s an educator, designer, architect, researcher, artist, activist, and entrepreneur. But what she really is, is a continuous learner. When asked to described herself, her reply was: Learning forever. It’s me.

With a Doctorate Degree in Design from Harvard University, Prof. Hwang presented her hand drawn sketches and architectural drafts from when she was still in school. Her slides depicted her personal journey to digitization, how technology transformed conventional studies, and how education needed to pivot back to its essence, which is experiential learning. “Being a professor means meeting people. It’s about connecting students, experts, and community members, and making them collaborators,” defined Prof. Hwang.

In architecture, computer-aided design (CAD) software has made project modeling and visualization easier. But for Prof. Hwang who teaches the subject, technology is only a tool, and the necessary skills like drawing by hand still need to be enhanced. “It’s the core of graphic design. If we skip it, we lose the conventions” she emphasized. Architectural drafting boards are not common anymore, but Prof. Hwang revives it in a unique way – setting up a huge construction plan in a gym where students can work on their designs.”

Wonder Women Ep 4

While the pandemic has made interaction limited, it does not deter Prof. Hwang from offering immersive classes. She organizes exhibitions where students can physically gather and present their work. When previously touching the materials was allowed, now, this has to be restricted, and idea pitches are done through recorded videos. Evaluation is via app, and data is carefully collected so students know which areas to improve. “We employ hybrid learning, not distinctively differentiating between analog and digital, to give students a comprehensive experience. This way, digital transformation becomes easy to relate with,” explained Prof. Hwang.

Prof. Hwang developed a digital pedagogy that starts from digital literacy, to digital commons, to emerging technology. For her architecture classes, she makes use of technology to “freely travel” with her students, examining buildings during their virtual trips. “Digital technology is where people can learn on their own, and even create their own world,” suggested Prof. Hwang.

Apart from this, she ensures that students’ outputs are thoroughly documented in a digital archive. The online repository also serves as the students’ portfolio, not just of their work, but of their learning journey. “Students are also knowledge makers, and we want them to embrace that. We record all their projects here including those that weren’t successful. We do that because failure is a good reference, too,” Prof. Hwang remarked.

Wonder Women Ep 4

Prof. Hwang always highlights the importance of collaboration. She also initiated a digital mentoring program where participants can openly ask questions, and learn from each other. Collaboration is the same concept that she applies in reurbanization, reviving cities through citizen engagement.

The Sewoon Sangga project is an example of a “city in the making.” Once a symbol of modernization with megastructures when it was developed in the 70s, its luxury faded, and was about to be gentrified. Prof. Jie-Eun Hwang is at the forefront of the city’s regeneration, bringing together architects, engineers, and organizations like the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom to present a “diagnosis” and come up with a vision for an urban economy. As the director of the Beta City Center at the Sewoon Campus of the University Seoul, she provides an incubation space for ideas not just for the academic community, but similarly for artists and other members of the community. “Am I doing research or social activism? All I know is that I don’t want Sewoon to just be another district on the map,” said Prof. Hwang.

“This pandemic has brought all of us on the same ground. It means that we can all restart from the same ground,” reflected Prof. Hwang. As accomplished as she is, she said that the crisis has given her time to distinguish what is really necessary in her life. At first, she was hesitant to share what she does when she’s not teaching. But then she gleefully revealed that she that she is now in a band as a kaboom percussionist. She also cherishes the extra time with her family, enjoying being a doting aunt to her niece. “The process can be as important as the goal. I teach my niece to wash her hands, and I find that already an achievement. I teach her, as much as she teaches me,” she recounted with a smile.

Watch the full interview here

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Wonder Women is an online conversation series about success, wellness, and personal freedom. It runs every Thursday at 3pm GMT+7. Sign up here – bit.ly/WonderWomenSeries