Post-Pandemic Pivot: What a Year of Art E-Learning Revealed about Engaging Students Online

Concurrent Session 3
Streamed Session Blended Leadership

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Session Materials

Brief Abstract

E-Learning specialists from five art colleges came together to review positive impacts of the e-Learning "pandemic pivot." Historically, higher education has rarely offered art courses remotely. However, the forced transition online revealed actionable resources about fostering socially engaging and inclusive spaces to enhance student learning now and in the future.


Araminta Star Matthews has both a BFA and MFA in Creative Writing, along with graduate and professional certificates in Digital Curation, Teaching, and Global Career Development Facilitation. In addition to being a full-time instructional designer for Kennebec Valley Community College, Araminta teaches graduate classes in Methods of Teaching Art for Maine Educator Consortium, and Instructional Design and Project Management as well as Web Design for Educators for the University of Maine at Farmington, and undergraduate classes for the University of Maine at Presque Isle in Ethics, Information Literacy, Composition, and Creative Writing. She is both a professionally published author and a professional learning designer with published research in the field of best practices for social presence design online. She is currently exploring the intersection of best practices in Art Education and eLearning Design with a collaborative group of instructional designers and curriculum developers across five Art and Design Colleges to develop the next iteration of Art Education research for digital spaces.

Extended Abstract

eLearning for art education requires a distinctive pedagogy. Artists as learners have a tendency to require a higher level of visual and kinesthetic modalities in their learning experiences, and their social engagement is a critical component in the learning processes for these students who are learning the socioemotional language of their discipline and developing a critical eye to assess their work and the work of their peers as a regular function of their discipline. Experts in learning design can attest to the challenges in developing social presence and engagement in online classes in general, and these challenges are exacerbated by developing courses that require a high level of visual and tactile instruction. For example, Anderson and Garrison’s community of inquiry framework has been used extensively to improve online course design by creating cognitive, social, and teacher presences in online learning environments (Anderson, Garrison & Archer, 2010), and this work is critical for art-based education happening in any modality.

Prior to the pandemic, faculty in art and design expressed these challenges as reasons that classes in the disciplines of painting, sculpture, wood and metal craft, ceramics, and printmaking might not be a good fit for eLearning environments. For example, “of the 36 schools listed in the AICAD (Association of Independent Colleges of Art and Design) website, only six offer any online options, and only three offer programs that can be achieved fully online” (Matthews). Similarly, many of the experts in these disciplines are experts in the visual and tactile arts and perhaps have less time to devote to the technological skills necessary to be proficient eLearning instructors. According to a recent article by Araminta Matthews, research suggests there are possibly 89,000 placebound American adult learners who might pursue an art and design degree if one were offered in a modality flexible enough to meet their needs, suggesting that perhaps the need for art and design programs online has always been there and the pandemic helped us to acknowledge this reality. 

The pivot pushed people to move online before they were adequately prepared--everyone taught everything like a live Zoom demonstration, but that’s not always what a discipline needs. When art pedagogy moved online, it revealed some new things about what we thought were best practices in instructional design. For example, early research in instructional design suggested that lengthy Zoom sessions might contribute to Zoom-fatigue (Stanford), and this is how we advised our faculty. Unexpectedly, it turned out that our students felt these sessions fostered that connection they were missing in live classes--even live classes prior to the pandemic where students sometimes shied away from interpersonal interactions until some weeks had passed--and this is a critical component of eLearning for artists. We are all willing to admit that teaching is a lot of improvisation, which is not a model easily offered online, and through this process, we’ve learned as instructional designers how to be more organic in our development of courses. We improved our professional skills of creating and sustaining “planned spontaneity,” an instructional design foundational skill that came in handy during the pandemic pivot. Some faculty members evolved the process further by adapting new and existing tools to accommodate prolonged online student interaction. 

This session will describe how online art and design courses have unique needs and how to design to meet those needs. We will discuss the critical need for faculty to build spaces within their courses with forward-thought for their students to develop a cohort and social presence. We will demonstrate the unique challenges to art-based classes offered in web-facilitated formats and guide our participants through a learning design process to determine collaboratively how we might overcome those challenges to deliver effective, inspiring, engaging online classes for growing designers and emerging artists. 

By the end, our participants will have a clear framework for selecting meaningful, purposeful technology to integrate into their classes that will encourage student engagement and nurture social presence. Additionally, during the session, participants will create a shared “wiki” of useful resources for creating student social spaces, and the panel committee will maintain this wiki using principles of digital curation in order to ensure the resource lives beyond the conference session. The eLearning pandemic pivot forced us all to adapt quickly to new modalities of teaching and learning, but it is through these profound moments of purposeful implementation that we will carry forward the many lessons learned during this period in our history so that the next generation of learners can benefit from these shared experience.