Teaching Creatively In A Pandemic
May 19, 2020
SHSU Media Contact: Wes Hamilton
Written by: Jackie Swan
The College of Arts and Media at Sam Houston State University was developed on the foundation of human interaction, so how does an organization that thrives on developing their work via physical presence survive in a time when large gatherings and non-essential physical contact is banned? Amidst a global pandemic, professors provide insight on their experience.
Within CAM, during the spring semester, faculty members faced the universal challenge of moving a highly interactive curriculum to remote delivery. Thankfully, many instructors had prior online teaching practice. The catch? The experience was with courses designed for virtual delivery.
“I've enjoyed learning technologies I didn't have much experience with before,” said Macaela Carder, visiting assistant professor of Theatre.
She and other faculty have been working on a play festival for their students, in which the students are given a prompt with a few days to write and then have 48 hours to produce it. Thanks to quick thinking and adaptation, Carder notes that the 48-hour festival went forward in its virtual form.
“The caveat was that the production team could not gather in person. The students used Zoom, iMovie, smart phones and other ways to showcase the new plays,” Carder said.
Of course, the effect this pandemic has taken on our faculty has placed stress on the students as well.
“The students miss our face to face meetings (as do I). After all of this is over, I don’t believe we will take our class time for granted. But for now, they are grateful for some sense of normalcy, structure and continuity,” said Aaron Brown, assistant professor. “They are grateful for the videos and new creative assignments that allow them to process what they are reading and/or watching in a new way. We will learn from this pandemic and be even better teachers and artists.”
Yes, meeting face-to-face is typically more personal, but working from home occasionally allows for more relaxed conversation when seeing how someone decorates their house or becoming acquainted with their family and pets in the background. It is a way to break the ice. Associate professor Edward Morin adds that this shows there is more to teaching than following the path to a grade.
“For some students, limited access to resources and personal schedule changes could make completing coursework more difficult,” Morin said. “Learning objectives, schedules, and deadlines are important, but under the circumstances, I wanted to assure students that we would be moving forward within a framework built on accommodation and understanding.”
Morin hopes to bring this mindset of flexibility to his future classes, whether they are remote or on campus.
In John Lane’s percussion class, students found the lack of instruments as the opportunity to create their own.
“We are all making it work by being creative and adapting to the situation. Several students, who do not have keyboard instruments at home, have constructed their own practice boards (a long plank of wood with the outline of mallet keys) to keep up their skills. These efforts, while not ideal, have so far proven quite successful,” Lane said.
Remote delivery comes with more triumphs as higher education travels into uncharted waters. Forcing artists to create within the confines of their own homes only pushes them to think outside the box and find new ways to connect. Assistant professor of Dance Joshua Manculich has been teaching a jazz-based weekend class on Zoom. His takeaway?
“I have had my Sam students in the same class with dancers from Norway, Ohio State, Chicago and more,” Manculich said. “It is lovely to see the Sam community representing in the professional/community web classes.”
Sure, instruction methods, equipment and communication have made the adaptations, but what about the access to advanced technology like cameras, sound boards and production studios that so many Mass Communication students utilize each semester? Out in the real field, broadcasters, journalists and filmmakers can expect technology issues and sometimes shortages. This gives professors the chance to teach valuable problem-solving skills and still produce content that practices professional techniques. Clinical assistant professor, Jonathan Read, has had to rewire multiple courses that use campus technology as a foundation.
“For example, my audio production and performance classes (over 100 students) spend a lot of their time as DJ on the campus radio station in order to satisfy the public speaking core component of the course, Read said. “With students going home and buildings locked down, this was no longer an option. I transitioned to podcasting. [It] has really turned out greater than expected.”
With audio components adjusted, where does that leave the visuals?
“For my Advanced Production class, students have been working in groups on a selection of TV series that the class came up with,” Read said. “Again, this is no longer doable, so we had to modify the course. This too worked out nicely as I am having my students produce and create mini documentaries sharing their own experiences with COVID-19.”
Quarantine has caused much panic throughout humanity, but the CAM faculty members use it to push their students above and beyond.
“Our students will develop skills that will make them more flexible and adaptable. I believe many will work on some very creative projects in these unusual circumstances. I also believe that future employers will be impressed with the degree of adaptability, and creativity of some of that output,” said Wojciech Lorenc, associate professor. “In our industry right now, the focus is shifting from ‘what can you do with a large budget/studio?’ to ‘what can you do without leaving your home?’. Ironically, this can be great opportunity for some of our students to stand out.”
These professors represent not only their respective departments, but the College of Arts and Media as a whole - creative, adaptable, and eager to succeed. Social distancing and stay-at-home orders are crucial for society. It poses many boundaries and certainly affects motivation. However, faculty members refuse to let this put a damper on their students. Without a doubt, art will continue flourish
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