With summer turning into fall, the “back to school” season is on us though under radically different circumstances than ever before. Last spring, those of our artists who are also full-time professors (Enrique Chagoya, Diane Edison, Amer Kobaslija and Andrew Lenaghan) had to make the abrupt and difficult transition to online teaching. Now that their semesters are resuming with remote classes, we checked back with all four on the coming academic year.
Enrique Chagoya has been finding a balance between teaching remotely and focusing on his own work, while also suffering the effects of the wildfires in California and the ongoing pandemic. “I had a hard time during the last months of shelter in place and teaching online. The university closed all the facilities for months and I did not have studio access during that time (my studio is at the university), so I was forced to work at home on small format paintings…
Teaching online was the relaxing part. The hard time came with so many faculty meetings (almost one every day of the week for months), which were an extra distraction and stress (I meditate every day to reduce the stress). I am now getting ready to start teaching my fall quarter. The fires around SF have been a huge and scary distraction. The sky at 8 AM was as dark as 8 PM (everyone in our neighborhood has the lights on at 10:30 AM, which is even darker than 8 AM). I am afraid it will be like this all day. It feels apocalyptic…”
In contrast, Diane Edison has had a largely positive experience transitioning to remote teaching at the University of Georgia and considers it to be a potential long-term solution. “I have been teaching remotely since spring and all of summer and now fall. I actually enjoy teaching this way because I tend to see more of my students than with a regular classroom situation. It is an intimate environment where the students are allowing me into their homes. Attendance has been better but now this fall about 25% of my students have contracted Covid from one class alone. I think the University may have to reconsider in-class teaching…”
Meanwhile down in Florida, Amer Kobaslija has been taking things in stride. He explained that “teaching online courses is a challenge to put it mildly, especially for a lowly, hands-on painter like myself, barely computer-literate. The good thing is that the faculty at [the University of Central Florida] were given the opportunity to take an online teaching webinar this summer, which was of tremendous help when it comes to figuring out how to transition from face-to-face into the new virtual mode. I am getting more comfortable with the new format as we go, and in time it will get easier. Yet the question remains a daunting one -- how to teach a practice as visceral as painting without being physically present in the studio (like football or dance or boxing or piano..., even poetry..., or philosophy!?)
Having said that, so far so good. We are in the second week of classes and I am grateful to my students for their wonderful demeanor and their patience. Far from becoming a computer guru but I am learning new tricks. We are making it work! The logistical obstacles, however intimidating, are not insurmountable. Perhaps once the pandemic is over and we go back to campus, a component of this new remote-teaching format will remain? It may even be a good thing, who knows: the prospect of structuring the educational experience in a new way (mixed-mode), spending a certain number of days on campus every semester, meeting face-to-face, while at other times the classes would be conducted online. No compromises, just getting best of both worlds. Globally, a myriad of courses in many fields have been facilitated remotely for years. Despite challenges, in a long run the pandemic is forcing us all to adapt and evolve. The show must go on.”
Closer to home here in Brooklyn, New York, at the Pratt Institute, Andrew Lenaghan is similarly skeptical of online teaching, but rising to the challenge. “Going back to school has been particularly crazy this year with the frightening prospect of teaching exclusively by zoom. It has come with a whole new list of catch phrases and words..."zoom fatigue" "asynchronous learning" and "not having enough bandwidth". The process of teaching has been difficult. It requires much more preparation than I typically have done. I am making lesson pdfs for everything. One can not read the class robbed of the real classroom. Do students think a joke is funny? I feel like every joke is falling flat. It is hard to know how anything is going over. Students have their screens turned off at times. Our classes are 6 hours. It is understandable that they might want to turn off their screens. How does one teach a drawing class when they cannot see the work?
On the other hand, the commute is really great, and I am serious about that. There are other unexpected advantages of the "zoom room". Students are all looking at the same screen during demos, lecture, and critique. This week we will have our first live model via zoom. I will not have to configure poses so as to accommodate 360 degrees. Everybody will be drawing the same view, there will be no more cropped limbs or impossible foreshortenings. And of course it is better to have a better prepared professor. Zoom will make me a better teacher. Rising to this challenge is difficult but when it is all over, god willing, we will all be better for it.”