A series of online workshops initially intended to assist faculty with the transition to online course delivery led to the creation of a community that stretched across all the artistic disciplines within the School of the Arts, Media, Performance & Design (AMPD).
“Remotely Interesting,” as the series was called, was the creation of Tim Hampton, AMPD’s director of computing, with assistance from a committee of his AMPD peers.
“Due to the pandemic, 2020 was a year of rapid eLearning adoption in AMPD, relying on technologies including video streaming and online delivery systems,” said Hampton. “Although the school was already strongly committed to online classes, preparations and capacity were not evenly distributed.”
Hampton set about rectifying the disparities by creating a series that he considered “an extension of the lunchtime ‘brown bag’ sessions held in AMPD before the pandemic.”
The sessions became even more important once it became clear that pandemic restrictions would extend beyond the summer. “It was a big transformation for the University,” Hampton said. “Staff, students and instructors all expected to be on campus in the fall, but, instead, we all had to work, learn and teach from home.
“Our sessions were technical at first, talking about how to teach effectively online, but over time, it became as much about helping each other as anything else.”
Hampton likens it to a “variety show” with lots of different performers, including staff from the Teaching Commons discussing universal, accessible course design and the copyright office staff talking about intellectual property. There were technical sessions with instructions on technologies such as Moodle, Zoom and Microsoft Stream and best practices specific to disciplines such as dance and music. There were also faculty panels and panels of students who provided important feedback about effective teaching and course organization.
Hampton and his team also created a Microsoft Teams site for faculty so they could meet and speak to each other asynchronously. It allowed them to help each other with technical issues they encountered outside normal business hours and assemble an online resource of problems found and solved.
Boyan Demchuk, a fourth-year film production student and president of the Winters College Council, helped Hampton by organizing the student panels and participating on a few of them.
“Our main focus was helping faculty understand how students had experienced their summer classes and assessing what worked and what needed improvement for online learning,” Demchuk said. “I think it has helped.”
He noted that it was challenging for everyone at AMPD to move in-person studio courses online in what are often physically demanding programs.
“It was a good experience participating in these panels,” he said. “We got some really productive conversations to happen.”
Hampton agreed, noting, “Students offered very thoughtful advice and feedback. Faculty members were receptive to their constructive ideas.”
Jennifer Bolt, PhD, an adjunct professor and course director in the Department of Dance, offered a series of workshops on the PRIMED™ model for student retention, health and well-being that she created and employs in her own courses. She also attended a number of the Remotely Interesting sessions to learn from others.
“Remotely Interesting was one of the silver linings of the pandemic,” Bolt said. “It got people across all departments in AMPD online together and there was a real connection formed between faculty from all of the art forms. It was challenging for all of us to take our 3D art forms and adapt them into a 2D learning sphere.”
She says rather than allowing faculty be in a place where “isolation and loneliness overwhelmed us,” Remotely Interesting used “what kept us apart [technology] to bring us together. I hope it won’t stop; it was such a gem.”
Hampton is confident that Remotely Interesting has had an impact on the landscape at AMPD.
“Even if we return to campus in the fall, there may be more interest among faculty in teaching online,” he said. “They may, at least, offer students the option of reviewing lectures and presentations online.
“Can we teach online effectively now? Yes. Do we want to? That will probably come down to an individual decision.”
Although the sessions became less frequent as faculty settled into their remote course delivery roles, Hampton plans to hold Remotely Interesting events periodically and ramp up again in the summer when faculty have a bit more time.
“I’m looking forward to holding a session in person,” he said. “I’d also like to have our Remotely Interesting material edited so that any AMPD instructors new to teaching online will have a playbook to get themselves started.”
By Elaine Smith, special contributing writer to Innovatus