Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Creating a Community

Topics for today's critique

Today I held an in progress critique with my students over my live teaching software. They are currently in the middle of a Watercolor project in which they create multiple paintings over several weeks. They have been studying Art Criticism through a paper this quarter, and they are starting to feel more comfortable with the idea of exploring and talking about art in a deeper way than “I like it” and “It’s pretty”. One of the barriers I spoke about in my last entry in regards to a community experience in the art classroom is what I aimed to overcome today. Yesterday I sent out an email to my students asking for volunteers to share their watercolor paintings with the class. I had a good group of students who were excited to share their work. I compiled a powerpoint with the images of student work (another plus to online teaching, I always have a digital copy!) and some guiding questions for them. In the beginning, students were shy and quiet. I encouraged them to use their microphones to make the discussion more natural and some did. I started by prompting them with the questions but as time went on they no longer needed prompting and the discussion had really taken off. My students were thrilled to share what they had made, as well as give feedback to their classmates. Some talked about the techniques they had tried with the watercolor and what worked well. Some even asked their classmates how to recreate aspects they liked from the work they had seen. During this critique they became a living, breathing, virtual community. Many students were able to gain insight into their classmates’ concepts and technique, as well as inspiration for their future artworks. One of my favorite quotes from students today: “You guys get me.” In my experience, students aren’t always excited about critiques. However, in my classroom today I have never seen my class so excited to be a part of something. They thirst for this kind of interaction and feedback from their peers and even through a virtual environment students are able to have meaningful discussions and relate to each other. I’ll definitely be having more of these!

Some examples of student work from the Watercolor project:

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Student Collaboration

Screen shot of my class discussion board

Elliot asks: Through both my formal and informal art education, some of the best parts were collaboration and inspiration for other students. It was always great to just walk through the studio and see what everyone else was working on. Are there any analogous experiences in your online class?
It is one of my biggest challenges in teaching online to create student-to-student interaction and collaboration. Where in a brick and mortar classroom it would be an automatic occurrence, it is something the teacher has to work for in a virtual classroom. There are several ways that I encourage students to work together in my classroom. During my live teaching lessons I emphasize interactive activities where multiple students can participate. They work together to answer a question or draw something on the board. The lessons serve to teach art history, technique, and to help students gain inspiration for their weekly assignment. I show professional works of art as well as student examples. Currently the technology I use for live teaching does limit students from talking to each other directly and that is a barrier in student collaboration. I added a discussion board to my classroom where students are encouraged to post their ideas and artworks and their classmates are encouraged to give feedback. I added the board after the class started therefore less students use it than I’d like, but I have high hopes for future semesters if it is introduced early. Where I have had the most success is when I did a live art critique. I let all students know it was optional and encouraged them to send me artwork if they wanted it to be shared. The response was overwhelming. Around 20 students attended and discussed their classmates’ artwork that had been sent in. Even after an hour, many students did not want to leave. There is a myth that students who attend school online do not wish to be social or don’t thrive in a social environment but I have found this to be untrue. I will be holding more live critiques, including in progress critiques to help create the experience that Elliot mentions in his question.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

It's Not Too Late

The Live Lesson page of my classroom that includes links to recorded content.

I love when I feel like I have reached a student. Today I had a conversation that simply made my day. I called a student I’ve been trying to reach for months and has never attended a live class session or returned any phone calls. She barely passed last quarter with a D. However, this quarter is going better for her as she has submitted two assignments for which she earned A’s. When I called her today our conversation went much better than expected. I was greeted with excitement about art and she shared with me that she has been practicing drawing every day in her sketchbook as I encourage my students to do. She has also been watching my videos in the classroom and she says she can see how much she has improved. I am completely thrilled that she has found this inner-motivation and was able to start without feeling like it was too late. In my online classroom, all assignments stay open until the end of the semester, and students like the one I talked to today are encouraged to turn work in whenever it is complete, even if that means it is late. The materials are not put away, and there is no in classroom deadline in which they can no longer work aside from the closing of the semester. As far as teaching students to follow deadlines, this policy teaches forgiveness rather than rules. My goal is always that students learn about art, so if for some that means they wake up one day and decide to take control of their education, so be it. When they have that wake up call they will be able to access to all of their assignments and recordings of live lessons to help them do the best they can.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Hands-on Online?

A guide to linear perspective I created for students

Some questions posed by my friend Kate:
Since art is so literally a hands-on discipline do you ever struggle to get certain points across to your students that - in a normal classroom - wouldn't be a problem?
Art is very much a hands-on activity, however it is also more than that. Through my education, I learned about the world of art education transitioning from a discipline-based method (art production, art history, art criticism, and aesthetics) to a method more focused on big ideas, big questions, conceptual thinking, and exploration. The focus is no longer on creating perfect art products, but rather students and teachers putting the importance in the process. That being said, occasionally in my curriculum I do teach a particular technique, such as linear perspective. Linear perspective as a technique was the most difficult lesson for my students to grasp thus far. I do believe that some of the difficulty stems from the fact that I did not show them what I was doing with pencil and paper. I created resource pages showing the various steps of linear perspective, held multiple live lessons and help sessions, and used SMART notebook to have students walk me through each step as I would in a brick and mortar classroom. Even with these many methods I still was unable to reach every student. Since I taught this lesson, I created a video of myself drawing the various steps of linear perspective that students will be able to access in future semesters. I am hoping this will help. There is a definite challenge when it comes to getting consistent results in a project that stresses a particular visual requirement. Sometimes I do wish I could go over to a student’s desk and help them draw it out, however when I am not emphasizing a specific visual result, students are encouraged to explore the materials and focus on the process of creating an artwork. Sometimes exploration leads to mistakes and challenges that I believe will make them more self-reliant artists.

To me personally, art is about freedom of expression and creating things that are both personal and beautiful. Keeping this in mind, do you think your students have more freedom to express themselves without a teacher in the room looking over their shoulders? Conversely, do you think the students sometimes struggle more to bring their visions to life without hands-on instruction?
In some ways I do believe that students appreciate the freedom and privacy of creating art in their own space. More than the lack of teacher in the room, I think the lack of classmates can be helpful for some students. In a brick and mortar setting, many students who do not feel skilled in art are reluctant to create art in front of their peers, for fear of judgment. For these students, they have less of a risk of embarrassment and are free to create, knowing I am the only one who will see their work in most cases. I have spoken with students who have done poorly in previous art classes because of distraction, embarrassment, and the lack of flexible time to complete a project who are feeling positive about their experience in an online environment. I also see struggling students who miss that hands-on instruction and face-to-face motivation. In my classroom it seems that the students who are excited and put in the effort required do not seem to have trouble bringing their visions to life, however the ones who do not push themselves show a lack of vision in their artwork. I feel that this is a the case in any art classroom, but perhaps online it is easier to tell which students are not inspired to work independently and who are, since I am not there to breathe down their necks and require them to work a certain amount of time “in class”.

Remember, I encourage any questions about my profession, and I will answer them in blog entries right here!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Watercolor Video

My most recent goal for improving my online classroom is the inclusion of more self-created demonstration videos for my classroom. This one will be making its debut in the classroom next week for the watercolor unit. I am hoping it inspires my students to have fun and experiment with their project, as well as gives them a laugh. Humor is the key :)

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Communicating With Students (pt. 2)

Art 1 Newsletter

E-mails/Messages: Every week I send all of my students a message informing them of the current project and general announcements. You’d think e-mail would be my main source of communication with students in an online setting, and while I do use it a lot I do not consider it to be the most effective way of communicating. I start every day by checking my messages and answering any questions I have from students. Many questions are difficult to answer or explain in plain text so I also answer some of them over the phone. E-mail is actually my least reliable method when it comes to motivating students, however it is very useful for sending out reminders. 

Phone calls: Talking with students on the phone was something I needed to get used to in the beginning, and for some students it is still uncomfortable to receive a call from their teacher. I speak on the phone with each of my 180 students at least once every 9 weeks, but I speak with many of them far more often. Phone calls serve many purposes such as updating a student about their grade, helping them one-on-one with an assignment, proctoring them (discussing specific work to prove its authenticity), and encouraging them to log on and do assignments. With distance learning, it can be more difficult to motivate a student because they don’t see you eye to eye wondering where their assignments are. Phone calls serve as my main method of motivating students because I become more than just text on the screen when I call them personally to talk about how they are doing. I find that students are incredibly honest with me when I speak with them on the phone. They share many things with me that are school related and not. When I call a student they know I am focusing on their success and with many of them, persistence pays off. I find that the struggling students I have succeed at higher rates with consistent phone communication from me. However, I still have a group of students who do not answer my calls and I spend a lot of time speaking to answering machines. This can be frustrating, but when I have quality conversations with students I feel like those are my moments to shine as a teacher. Today I spoke with a student about her future, her plans after school, and gave her suggestions about how to choose a college. Though I don’t see my students’ faces every day I am still able to get to know them and establish a healthy rapport.

Parent Newsletter: I recently sent my first classroom newsletter home to update parents and students about the second grading period. Because it is an online school, there is not a large amount of papers that go home so I wanted to communicate with parents in a way that didn’t involve the computer. I do not have access to reliable email accounts for parents either, so a letter seemed to be the most effective way of getting in touch. I am hoping to communicate to parents that I am approachable and excited to help their child succeed. I included a parent activity in the newsletter that requires them to work with their child and also to contact me. I have yet to see if this activity will be successful but I am aiming to engage the parents and guardians in their students’ learning.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Communicating With Students (pt. 1)

A screenshot of a lesson recording

A common theme in curiosity around distance learning is how teachers communicate with students. Because of the various technologies and formats of online schooling, there are more than a few solutions and not all online schools are the same. In my experience there are five main ways I directly communicate with my students, and they all have their strengths.
Live Instruction: This is probably the way that is most directly connected to what you might see in a traditional brick and mortar school. Twice a week I run a live teaching session in a web conferencing program. Students log in to the program and I open up my virtual classroom. I use various tools to create visual content to show students. My main tool is generally a Powerpoint presentation but I also use SMART Notebook (a virtual SMART board) and I also frequently show videos. I present my visual content while speaking to students over my microphone. Students are able to ask questions via their microphones or by using the chat box and they are able to interact with the lesson content in SMART notebook and Powerpoint by clicking the “raise hand” icon. I make my lessons as interactive as possible and though the lessons are not required for students to attend, many students participate. This method is my favorite way of communicating content to students because I am able to work with a group and I receive a lot of feedback about what is working well with the lesson and what I need to clarify or improve. Another advantage to this method is that every lesson is recorded so students can watch it later. Online schooling offers flexibility for students to do their assignments when they choose, and also to be able to watch lessons when they choose. Imagine this type of technology in a brick and mortar classroom. You have a student who is ill and does not come to school for several days while you are teaching a large amount of new content. All teachers have experienced this, you find yourself working with that student to help him or her catch up on missed lessons. Through the technology I use in my live instruction, recordings of lessons are available for students whenever they need them. The recordings also give me the opportunity to reflect upon past lessons and improve my teaching strategies.
To be continued…

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Beginning

My "classroom" AKA the command center

Some days I have to pry myself away from the computer screen, like many teachers force themselves to finally pack up, turn the lights off, and go home at the end of the day. The difference for me, is that I am already home. I am home all day from when I wake up to when I log off. My classroom is not a large room filled with posters of famous artworks and cabinets full of art supplies as I once imagined it would be. My classroom is a place inside the computer that students access when they want and where I am free to teach in my pajamas.
It was almost by accident that I became involved with online teaching. As someone who experienced my own personal education as well as student teaching in a traditional brick and mortar school, I was skeptical in the beginning. I wondered how I would feel not seeing my students face to face every day. I wondered how I would be able to judge the amount of effort students put into their work or how I could help them if they were struggling.
Last year, I became a substitute teacher for a very large online charter school in Ohio. How do you substitute teach online? The school only needs a substitute teacher when someone is on a leave of absence. After I accepted the position as a substitute art teacher, I attended intense training sessions where I learned how to access my classroom content, grade, conduct live lessons, and communicate with students. I was assigned a mentor to help me with such a large learning curve of technology and my new environment. For me, I have always been a “nerd” or “geek” and new technology is easy and fun for me to pick up. Throughout my position as a substitute teacher, it became apparent that teaching online might be something I am very good at.
This year I was offered and graciously accepted a position as a full time high school art teacher at the same large online charter school. I am experiencing my first year as a teacher in a way I never would have expected, but in a way that I love.
I am also working on receiving my Masters Degree in Art Education at OSU, and that’s where this blog comes in. I will be reflecting upon my year and telling my story of what it’s like to teach online. Please ask me any questions you’d like to know about my profession and you’ll be helping me reflect and write my masters project as well, a double wammy!