Of all the possible classes I could have been teaching when COVID-19 hit, I think I got pretty lucky.
Teaching a web design course did mean students needed access to (somewhat decent) computers – definitely a privilege and a barrier to entry – but it seemed to shake out okay. I was thankful that the main goal – create websites – was intrinsically paired with working online. I didn’t need to shift projects the way I would have if I taught something like sculpture.
It still had its challenges, as I’m sure all courses did. I couldn’t just walk around and see what students were working on, offer up bits of advice, or do meaningful check-ins without them being planned in advance. It was hard to do screen sharing for code help and not have their computers start grinding away.
I think critiques actually may have gone better than in person – largely because I had students upload their websites earlier, and required their classmates to view and give written feedback to each student in a shared Google doc, and had more “in progress” group feedback sessions than I would in a classroom. The projects went more slowly, but I think students became more invested in each other’s work, took time to think about it, and had more context than they might have if they were seeing the work sort of “day-of”. That said, I’m sure a lot of feedback and camaraderie happens among the students in the lab when they’re all in there after-hours, working away – maybe this was a feeble attempt to replace that.
It’s looking like I’m teaching darkroom black and white photography in the Fall, on campus. At first I was thrilled I wouldn’t have to figure out how to teach a version of that online, but I’m now faced with lots of logistics surrounding appropriately distancing the class. It’s usually a full class with a wait-list, which is already true – 10 enrolled with 2 seats held for Freshmen, 9 on my list, and a total of 15 enlargers in the darkroom. I prefer to keep the enrollment to 14, as something always breaks during the semester. If we space every-other enlarger station, we’ll hit 6 feet between, but I’ll only have room for 8 students. That’s ignoring the fact that the large shared sink, a bit less than 5 feet wide, usually has students working on both sides of it, facing each other. It also ignores that there’s 4 feet between the sink and the enlarger stations on each side – which will often have someone at a station working, while someone else passes behind them processing their prints. If I cut it down so that we only use one side of the sink, that takes my numbers to 5. And students will still need to walk behind each other. And there’s still a purposely narrow and bendy light-trap hallway out of the darkroom that they’ll need to navigate with no run-ins, to evaluate their prints in the light.
So! What have I learned from teaching online that I might apply to this course? If it runs in the darkroom (if we can find safe enough protocols), I doubt I’m going to be able to teach my full session at once. I could split the class with half on Tuesday and half on Thursday – long stretches between meetings aren’t the worst thing for a studio class, as long as students are keeping up with their out-of-class work. Actual class time will become more important, and we might have to modify some assignments. I also want students to feel like they’re still getting enough contact time out of the course. For web, I created how-to videos for relatively simple tasks that I often needed to repeat for students. For photo, it might make sense to do narrative, captioned videos for all of my project introduction presentations, and ask students to view them ahead of time. The how-tos of processing film or making an enlargement, usually assigned reading in a text-book before hands-on review and attempts in class, might benefit from a video demonstration in the same space (with same chemicals, tools, etc) students will be using. Ideally critique would happen with all the students together – if this isn’t possible, hanging all the images in an area and asking students to do informal written/audio/video responses could be an option. I’m reluctant to take critique to a digital medium (uploading scans or photos of the prints) for discussion, since the class is such an analog experience, and there’s so much emphasis on viewing the qualities of the final print (which will inevitably change with digital interpretations).
If I end up with two small groups, I think it might be nice to change up who is in what group at least once during the semester – but I don’t know if that’d be too jarring schedule-wise or interpersonally. I just want to create community among the whole class, and not small feedback bubbles or cliques. Maybe some sort of online interaction with the whole class during the week/time they’re not meeting? How to facilitate that and make it something enjoyable that they want to do, and not a chore…
I’m glad it’s still two months away!