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Dealing With Online Learning2020-04-20

After we found out the school would be temporarily closed on account of the global pandemic, this was a daily question I was being asked. At that moment I didn’t have an answer to that question.  I was trying to figure out myself how to switch from something that requires a studio space, materials, live demonstration, and of course my physical presence into a virtual platform, within a matter of days. All of a sudden, everything that was planned for the beginning of the second semester had to be modified and adapted for the remote-classroom type of teaching.

As I was lacking experience at teaching in this format, my biggest fear was that I will be in a continual situation where students and I will stare at each other in an uncomfortable silence until the class is over. Even thinking about it was enough reason for me to take action and at least try to find the best solution where everyone would benefit. The first step I had to make was to familiarize myself with tools and software that would be used as a bridge of communication between teachers and students.

However, even though the Chinese New Year break was over and the new school semester had begun, myself (and many of my colleagues) were still based in various places around the world on account of the disruption to travel.  This meant that I was without a lot of my usual resources- including my school computer. This was a bit of a concern as I didn’t have all of my resources nor any of my teaching tools installed.

Thankfully, before the start of the semester, my colleagues and I were instructed by the school management to use Skype for Business; an instant messaging software that was proven to be the most convenient one for creating conference calls that can host over 200 people.

This proved to be a great application.  The most important option seemed apparent at first glance. It was a feature that would later become my primary tool of choice; the screen casting option. After all, the term “visual” in visual arts explains itself as something that has to be appreciated and recognized by the sense of sight.  “Screen sharing” involves sharing access to my computer screen. Students are then able to see my screen and watch my activity in real-time–ideal for scenarios such as corrections.  

Surprisingly, the first two weeks passed quite successfully. Everything was working well thanks, very strangely, to Microsoft Paint-  the only drawing software I had installed on my PC and the only software I could use where I would be able to.  Microsoft Paint is an exceptionally basic program that is hardly considered seriously by anyone who is involved with digital design – especially not when programs like Adobe Photoshop (which I had in Beijing) and similar are on the market.  However, its simplicity and ease of access proved to be incredibly useful.

Combined with the screencasting from Skype, students were able to share their artwork and essays from holiday homework and at the same time receive feedback and corrections through MS Paint.

The illustration shows two screenshots taken before and after the teacher's intervention in MS Paint (Artwork by Jennifer Zhu from H-2018)

The daily procedure for students would be done in a few simple steps:

  1. Taking and making a selection of high-quality photographs of their artwork, gathered sources, first and second-hand images… etc.

  2. Attaching/Uploading artwork through Skype or WeChat group

  3. Teacher downloads the photographs and opens them in MS Paint or Adobe Photoshop

  4. Through the screencast option, the teacher opens discussions between students on analysis of the work on the screen

  5. The teacher intervenes with appropriate tools through drawing software and indicates the strengths and flaws of the work

  6. After giving the feedback in real-time, teacher uploads edited work back to students

  7. Aside from group discussions, each student in the group goes through 15 minutes or longer (depends on the number of students) direct communication with the teacher

The method was very well-received by the students, which gave me the confidence to continue and to find more space for improvement.

Upon my return to Beijing, I gained access to my work laptop, thereby also to all of my resources, records and tools which embellished my lessons significantly. The most useful asset to the lessons was Adobe’s Photoshop, an image-editing software used by around 10 million users around the world.  This allowed me to continue similarly, but with more digital options available to better communicate the teaching of art.

Teacher's intervention in Adobe Photoshop (Artwork by from left to right: Carlo Jiang (T2-2018), Jennifer Zhu (H-2018) and Shelia Cheng (Q1-2018))

In the last four months, the world has changed drastically as it is now battling with an invisible and dangerous enemy. In these hard times, as we are waiting for the return into our classrooms, I got to realize that these are not the impossible times. I am grateful for the experience of being able to learn something new that will be beneficial for our students. In the midst of the pandemic, many of us are in need of a little positivity as we are looking for new and creative teaching solutions in virtual spaces.

Milos Colic

Teacher  of Art and Design and Homeroom Teacher of H456B

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