How the Visual Arts Have Adapted to Online Learning

By Snehal Shinh

“Teaching online has presented many challenges. drawing, painting and ceramics are all very hands-on. It is difficult to demonstrate to someone how to add or change something on their piece without having the piece in front of you.” – Sherrie Olive

Sherrie Olive, one of many visual arts teachers at Valencia High School, shared how teaching art through Zoom has had many complications. Many teachers faced difficulties in adjusting their methods of teaching and engaging their students in the remote setting. As stated by Olive, art is a very hands-on process requiring the physical aspect of learning, something that was previously no longer an option.  

Initial Struggles

Many of Valencia’s visual art teachers have spoken about their endeavor to retain their students’ attention and keep them engaged. Much of this strife was due to students refusing to turn their cameras on or participate in class. Rayan Riech, the Visual Arts department chair, adds, “Also just the building of our classroom community is not the same…the interaction with teachers is also very different. We can’t show them and demonstrate techniques the same way online as we do when they are in class.”

Additionally, with the way art classes experiment with specific tools and material, the sudden shift to online had left the arts struggling to adapt. Providing materials for students was described as challenging. Before the switch to digital education, supplies were shared from class to class; however, once students were completely remote, five times the amount of the class materials needed to be purchased with the same budget, and orders could not be placed, Olive explained. Most teachers bought supplies for their students first and were later reimbursed. Normally these costs would be covered by donations, but the sudden overwhelming nature of the pandemic had affected many families so donations were not a possibility. 

Casey Riggs, a photography teacher, has had to accommodate his teaching due to the various technology and equipment that students had at home. Riggs described the teaching process had become a “multi step process” as students, in a traditional in-class setting, worked at a similar pace. “When we were all distant, it was a bit easier. We could focus on smaller tasks and then move on as a class (everyone seemed to be on the same page),” said Riggs, “things shifted and so did how we teach.” Teaching both hybrid and remote learners resulted in Riggs’s attention being split, and students were at various stages in their projects. 

Overcoming Adversary

“We have had to become flexible and adapt to the constant changes.”, as put by Riech, had made the most difference in how they have been able to teach. Part of this flexibility comes with the use of technology and becoming comfortable with these resources that may be completely new to some teachers. One of the first biggest changes Olive made to her teaching style was to do as much as she could by reaching out to her students through email and later versed herself with the various applications she now incorporates daily such as google classroom, breakout rooms, and a document camera. Additionally, Riggs views both his and his students’ flexibility as an achievement, “But again, we adjusted and made it work. As long as the students are learning and enjoying their time, I call that a win.”At the beginning of the school year, Reich provided students with the necessary tools, such as clay, during distribution days, both at the front of Valencia and the library. Since March, ceramics has been providing after school studio hours on both Tuesdays and Wednesdays allowing students to grab materials, get one on one help, and glaze or paint projects. Both Lauren Schultz, another ceramics teacher at Valencia, and Riech have been able to make home deliveries for students that could not come on campus for pickups. Schultz adds “It has been fun to see a student at their home and chat with them for a bit and actually get to see them face to face … We have students learning the potters wheel, students handbuilding and students glazing/painting. We get to fire their projects and see their happy faces when their projects are all fired and ready to take home.”

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