In examining how Kalamazoo College students, faculty and staff have adjusted to distance learning this spring, it’s easy to see the community’s ingenuity in shifting from in-person instruction.
For example, if it’s true that art imitates life, what is an art professor to do when distance learning forces a college’s classes online? If you’re Sarah Lindley, the Arcus Center of Social Justice Leadership Professor of Art, you paint plans that provide students with the personal interaction they expect, sculpt activities they can do at home with common household materials, and craft an environment that stimulates creativity in technology.
Lindley this term is teaching World Pottery, a sophomore seminar ceramics class, and Mold Processes, an intermediate sculpture class for juniors. The first requires student research and reflection in a class that introduces a variety of clay-forming techniques and historical perspectives. The intermediate class uses mixed media casting processes to develop the more advanced body of work expected of art majors.
The sophomore seminar’s technology is Padlet, a colorful and easy-to-populate online system of boards, documents and web pages that looks a lot like many social media platforms, especially Pinterest. The format allows an asynchronous course model where students view instructions through mediums such as video and submit their projects before meeting individually with Lindley.
Their first project involved creating pinch pots with paper and egg whites in an activity like papier-mâché. A second assignment asked students to stack objects from around the house, look at their curves and see how they might emulate pottery.
The juniors also utilize virtual classroom technology, including the use of Microsoft Teams, a collaborative platform that combines chat, video meetings, file storage and more to allow for regular face-to-face exchanges. Lindley wants her advanced students to build confidence for creating art under any circumstances and learn they can start a project from nothing. Lindley added creating something from nothing can feel like one of the hardest things to do and developing that skill will help her students for the rest of their lives.
“A lot of what we are doing this term is creative problem solving,” Lindley said. “Course planning is creative problem solving. This is just a more extreme version than we are used to. I’m also hearing from a lot of students that they really appreciate a curriculum that acknowledges different learning styles.”
So, given the term in distance learning, how does Lindley measure the success of her teaching methods this term?
“I look for indications of depth of learning in lots of little ways—an unanswered question someone raises in a reflection paper, a connection to contemporary pop culture in a presentation on historical objects from a distant past, or an “aha” exclamation in a one on one virtual chat,” Lindley said.
“My goal would be for everyone to participate in each activity this term,” she added. “The students still have rubrics, but students would have to persistently not respond to assignment prompts and feedback not to pass. So far the quality of work has been pretty good to great.”