We have all learned our disciplines, practiced our disciplines, and taught our disciplines by being in particular kinds of spaces (the studio, the theater, the rehearsal room). Each of us teaches in our own particular way, requiring students to push boundaries while focusing on the specificity and nuances of our artistic practices. We embrace exploration and experimentation, while requiring attention to craft and exactitude. We’re always asking ourselves, What is it we teach? How can we teach it? How can it be learned?
Often, our teachinng occurs in shared, rarified spaces. When we meet face-to-face in the classroom, our pedagogy depends on embodied experiences: listening, observing, physically demonstrating (a stage direction, a dance move, a phrase of music), or creating images or objects. We share expertise and ideas in real time, in a collaborative learning environment.
For these reasons and more, we experience disruption differently and — it must be said — more disruptively than many of our colleagues in other disciplines. Much of the available technology to support hybrid or remote teaching in the classroom is not up to the demands of teaching in the studio and performing arts: Sound quality is often poor, with a significant lag time; the quality of visual images varies, with limited fields of focus; and perhaps most significantly, we lose the quality of embodiedness — a given when we are face-to-face, and central to the way we conceive of teaching.
And yet this moment of disruption may provide us with the opportunity to reify our teaching practices, providing us with the means to discover new strategies, revise assignments, and identify resources that might enrich our face-to-face studios, rehearsal rooms, and stages. Remote teaching may allow us to innovate, reimagine, and experiment — to see what lies beyond traditional classroom encounters. As artists, we are creative problem solvers. The work that lies ahead falls directly in our wheelhouse: We talk, share, innovate, envision, and adapt to circumstances.
What follows are a few suggested approaches to courses in the performing and studio arts this fall as well as some resources to explore, use, and customize as part of a community of artist teachers.
Nurture a community of artists
Make art together. It’s one of the best ways to build community. Small-group experiences don’t need to be reinvented for the remote teaching landscape; they can be extensions of your way of working with students face-to-face, informed by the culture engendered in your teaching spaces.
Give lots of feedback. In surveys and conversations with each other and with faculty, students say they’re hungry for as much conversation with and feedback from faculty as they can possibly get — maybe even more than during normal times. Set boundaries, of course, but also create structured, regular opportunities for students to speak with you one-on-one.
Get students talking to one another. Replicate the kinds of exchanges that tend to happen naturally in studio or performance spaces by offering occasional, optional “30-minute check-ins” that are purely social, where everyone (including you) comes together to catch up and “see” one another. You could also set up a student-only group chat outside of class, thereby creating a space for students to stay connected and care for one another. Establish frequent opportunities for faculty-generated feedback on performances and artwork. Students say they appreciate it when faculty leverage the use of older majors or students in the class in order to give peer feedback.
Create collaborative assignments. Assign students to work together in small groups, either in a socially distanced setting or over Zoom. Create cohorts to design and/or realize a project collectively. Organize small groups to critique one another’s work. Providing written feedback as individual responses or in a shared doc is one model. (For more on online studio art critiques, see Resources, below.) Another way is to organize a “round-robin,” where all students have the opportunity to meet one-to-one to critique each other’s work and provide written responses. Try establishing “creative partners” in your class; these duos or trios create a space of collaboration and ward off social isolation. Offer prompts that encourage students to think about what feelings or experiences they might share in common during this altered circumstance.
Consider the many forms that collaboration can take. Collaboration happens when students work independently on components that are later incorporated into a larger whole. Students may be able to generate or compile images, sounds/music, or language/lines, which can then be organized, by chance, into an “exquisite corpse,” or by intention, providing students with the opportunity to curate. Another assignment could ask students to consider what takes place in their homes, identifying particular movements that inspire short, choreographed gestures. Put together, these can create a collaborative performance. Dancing Alone Together provides resources for prompts (some weekly) generated by artists and dance companies.
Send work out into the world. Students can use YouTube, Facebook, or Twitch to stream a live broadcast. (OBS is an example of a free program that can connect a camera to a live broadcast. Look to the ITS Training Calendar for OBS workshops) They can also create a simple website (using WordPress or Google Sites, where it’s possible to embed multiple streams into one page to be shared simultaneously. Gaming apps like roll20 have live-streaming capabilities as well. Establish a digital repository for student performance recordings.
Bring in other voices. Consider inviting other artists to virtually visit your classes. They could come from near or far — on Zoom, miles don’t matter — and they could discuss their work and their process, answer questions, provide short demonstrations, or even lead workshops.
Make small things
Keep things short and straightforward, for you and your students. When teaching remotely, concentrate on a series of small, focused projects that can be clearly and concisely delivered. Use simple tools, and take advantage of resources that already exist. Think creatively along with your students to help them find a way to approach and accomplish assignments. Assigning short modules that can be compiled into larger works is also an option.
Do a technical deep dive
Working with students on technical aspects of your discipline is likely to be more challenging in a hybrid or remote context, but assigning a “deep dive” into a technical approach, or a series of such dives that students can collaboratively learn from and assemble into a larger “whole,” can be helpful. For example, consider combining three separate soundtracks, or hand-drawn animation and stop-motion animation, or a video that highlights various technical aspects of choreography. If the lack of available technology proves too limiting, foreground assignments that integrate the conceptual material that’s central to the course. Emphasize concept and process, so that success (however it gets defined) doesn’t hinge on an end product that requires specialized technology.
Reflect on the possibilities of place
The shift to remote learning, in relative isolation, is a big adjustment, particularly for students who are used to working in rehearsal spaces and studios. Help students establish routines for practice times, and provide practice exercises. Consider requiring them to turn in recordings — audio and/or visual — of their practice sessions. Incorporate meditative practice to “bring them back into their bodies,” developing skills that will help them channel the noise of the world around them and redirect it. Build in humor when possible, even if in the form of short, improvised exercises. In Teaching Live Art Not Live, Hope Ginsbug discusses home as the site of place-based practice, where students can address the mixture of emotions and experiences of being at home. Ginsburg suggests creating opportunities for students to explore the space and feelings of home: What would it mean to create a play about your mother? The neighbor you’ve never spoken with? The teapot? What does your home sound like?
Make an art of necessity
Inasmuch as possible, be aware of what equipment and materials your students have access to. Are there funds or other means available to equip or supply students who can’t afford it on their own? Make an effort to avoid privileging those who already own sophisticated iphones, cameras, microphones, or computers. Can you think of ways to celebrate grainy images, digital glitches, or what’s generally considered substandard audio? Can low-fi be as worthy of investigation as hi-fi?
Assign digital portfolios
As appropriate, have students document the work they do remotely, so that it can become part of their portfolio. Establish guidelines for documentation, knowing that most students will be using their iPhones. Stress composition and focus, lighting, clarity of image, and sound. Remind them to eliminate unnecessary elements that might be distracting from the start. Creating a digital portfolio using Google Slides or by creating a folder in Google Drive is a good practice.
- Check with the Colgate Arts Council about the availability of funds to cover honoraria or fees for guest artists.
- A number of colleges and universities have issued guides for teaching in the arts at moments like this. Teaching Effectively During Times of Disruption (Stanford University) offers extensive terms, technical information, and arts-related materials. Distance Learning in the ARTS, a YouTube video from Bard College, offers resources for dance, theater, and film. Two articles from Hyperallergic offer insights into transitioning to teaching ARTS remotely: Teaching Art Online Under Covid19 and In California, Art Schools and Programs Debate How to Reopen.
- General digital resources include this COVID-19 Resource List from Gibney Dance, NYC; The Getty Research Institute’s Archives and Resources for Feminist Research; MEMORY, an independent artist-driven studio specializing in producing and curating innovative, thought-provoking works that push the formal boundaries of their medium; and ubu, a great archive of avant garde films, concrete poetry, papers, performances, music, and more.
- Check out these Dance Studies Association resources for moving dance-based pedagogy online as well as Barnard College’s Movement Lab, which offers links to prompts, and the Dancing Digital Progress Blog.
- Resources for Teaching Music and Audio Production Online by Eric Honour, Jeff Kaiser, and Michael James Olson includes this listing of Sound Repositories and Sample Libraries.
- Remote Teaching Resources for Music is a collaborative Google doc compiled by librarians and Eastman University offers COVID-19 and Resources for Music Teachers.
- Metropolitan Opera streaming includes more than 100 streaming, full-length operas, all of them in HD for spectacular examples of design and production values.
- Teaching Music in the Age of COVID-19 is a collaborative effort of the College Music Society. Review the “Accessing Resources” section for ideas for large ensemble instruction, chamber ensemble coaching, one-on-one lessons, presenting recitals and music classroom instruction.
Studio Art and Design Studio
- Check out this Facebook page for Online Art & Design Studio Instruction.
- Cabin Fever is Kate Lain’s curated guide to independent/experimental films and videos.
- Looking for ideas for specific assignments and critiques? Check out Artist’s Statements from Bard College or studio tours with artists and making slip molds at St. Lawrence University. The Getty Museum’s Open Studio offers a wealth of art-making ideas by visual artists Kara Walker, Mark Bradford, Xu Bing, and others. RISD’s guide to Remote Teaching Strategies offers advice on critiques. Finally, the Z.O.M.B.I. Survival Guide for VCUarts offers useful resources for online studio art critiques. Some of the ideas and formats here may translate to the performing arts as well.
- For useful exhibitions of visual art, look at Social Distance Gallery via Instagram and KUNSTMATRIX. Colgate’s Department of Art and Art History has a subscription to the latter.
- The Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) offers tips for students: Studio Art: Maintaining Your Studio Practice.
- Some digital studio art resources include MCN.edu’s ultimate guide to virtual museum resources, e-learning, and online collections, Princeton University’s single-artist websites, and Colgate’s own MDID.
- The Association for Theater in Higher Education published these Resources for Teaching Online, which is similar to a guide from Loyola Marymount (Teaching Theater Online)
- Scene Study Emergency Pack provides two volumes of short plays (5- to 10-minute scripts for two characters) written for or adapted to be used in remote learning.
- Some potentially useful digital theater resources include Kanopy for streaming films and the Alexander Street Theatre Performance and Design Collection, which includes BroadwayHD and National Theatre Live. Both resources feature the contemporary titles needed for use in design and production classes.
Video Platforms to Explore
- Colgate’s own resources on recording and using video
- Draw.chat for creating a drawing chat room
- Panopto: video recording that allows for interaction
- Snagit for creating video from images
- Camtasia for more advanced video capture and editing
- Skitch: potentially useful for performance feedback submitted via video
- GoReact: online video platform for student practice and assessment of performance-based skills
- VideoAnt: video annotation tool developed by (and housed at) the University of Minnesota. It allows you to insert annotated feedback to students on their recorded video performance at the moment where the feedback applies within their video. Similar to GoReact
Much of the information here was gleaned from the Z.O.M.B.I. Survival Guide for VCUarts at Virginia Commonwealth University, and Teaching in the Context of COVID-19, co-authored by Jacqueline Wernimont at Dartmouth University and Cathy N. Davidson at the CUNY Graduate Center.