Cultivating Critique: Building a Virtual Studio in Online Courses

Concurrent Session 3
Streamed Session Best in Strand

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Session Materials

Brief Abstract

Critique is an essential practice in creative disciplines, an active learning approach that develops critical thinking, analytical skills, and communication skills in students.  In this session, we share how our open source Open Studio tool enables faculty to approximate art and design studio practice in online learning environments.


Kate Miffitt is the Assistant Director of Innovation at California State University's Office of the Chancellor. Previously, she served in different roles in instructional design and digital learning at The Pennsylvania State University. She holds a B.A. in English from Stonehill College and an M.A. in education in instructional technologies from San Francisco State University.
Gary Chinn is Assistant Dean & Director of the Office of Digital Learning at Penn State University. He has served as eLearning Initiative Project Manager at the Leonhard Center for the Enhancement of Engineering Education in the College of Engineering. He previously served as instructional designer for Penn State's Blended Learning Initiative, Baruch College at the City University of New York, and Teachers College at Columbia University. During his time with the eLearning Institute, Gary oversaw the design and development of Penn State's first Massive Open Online Course (MOOC), titled 'Introduction to Art: Concepts and Techniques.' He is currently pursuing online projects in collaboration with the School of Visual Arts and the School of Music. Gary holds a B.S. in radio-television-film from the University of Texas at Austin and an M.S. in instructional systems technology from Indiana University at Bloomington. His professional association memberships include Educause, the Sloan Consortium, the eLearning Guild, and the American Society for Training and Development.

Extended Abstract

Critique is an essential practice in creative disciplines, and can serve as a pedagogical approach, community-building exercise, and assessment strategy. Critique develops critical thinking, analytical skills, and communication skills in students - learning goals that extend beyond art and design disciplines. In our resident arts and design programs, the studio course is the cornerstone of the academic experience. How does that practice transfer to an online environment? It is challenging to replicate studio-based instruction with traditional features within learning management systems given the importance of visuals and the open nature of the dialogue. At the eLearning Institute within the College of Arts and Architecture at Penn State, we’ve developed an open source virtual studio tool as part of our course management system that approximates studio practice and enables faculty to meet the learning goals set in online art and design courses. We recognize that the skills developed in critique have broad applications, and are particularly critical to online students in art and design disciplines.

In this presentation, we will demonstrate the Open Studio tool, an open source application powered by Drupal, that enables our faculty to approximate the studio experience in an online environment. We will showcase the feature set developed to align with course goals, share outcomes from the pilot offering in a hybrid course, discuss future course design uses of the Open Studio, and facilitate a discussion about other ways to develop the tool for interdisciplinary use.

The Open Studio tool's use in an undergraduate course titled Introduction to Graphic Storytelling provides a rich example of the alignment of platform function and instructional goals. The course, a studio exploring the visual language of comics and graphic novels, involves writing and drawing exercises as well as short and long-form comics projects. Students study the formal concerns of visual sequence and storytelling, layout and lettering, and traditional drawing materials. An essential aspect of the course is peer critique of works. The Open Studio tools allow students to upload works to a gallery-like interface available for all class participants to view and comment on. The Open Studio also includes a process for students to submit short, timed creative exercises that then become the basis for larger projects in the class. This ability to submit visual works for peer review at various stages of refinement is an important part of studio practice.

Because the Open Studio is an open source project, we are able to improve upon the design and add functionality based on student feedback and faculty needs. Based on the pilot offerings of Introduction to Graphic Storytelling, additional features were built into the Open Studio, including the ability for faculty to set peer review parameters such as blind and double blind reviews, automated peer review assignments so all works get feedback, and rubrics to guide the review process and scaffold students’ critique abilities.

Moving forward, the Open Studio will be an integral part of the learner experience for a new digital multimedia design online program. Cultivating critique skills in design vocabulary is a significant goal in the interdisciplinary, project-based program. Students will use the Open Studio to display works in progress, provide critique, and iterate on their designs based upon feedback.

Attendees of this session will be able to view a live demonstration of the studio tool, compare use cases of the tool, and participate in a facilitated discussion about other potential applications - how the studio tool can be improved upon and hacked for other uses.  This session is appropriate for faculty and staff interested in alternative, active learning assessments online, particularly in the arts and humanities.