Southeast Missouri State University student publication

Faculty adjust hands-on learning for online

Saturday, April 11, 2020
Empty parking lots at Southeast' River Campus amid student's transition to online learning.

Southeast Missouri State University is in the midst of transitioning to online learning from which will last through the end of the semester due to the worldwide pandemic of COVID-19.

After an extended spring break through the week of March 23 to March 27, Southeast began seeking new ways to provide alternative forms of learning such as Zoom video conferencing, Moodle course page features, and video lectures.

For classes that were already provided online, this transition demanded very little, if any change. Similarly, for departments that rely on software or have projects and papers that are easily submittable over the internet, little restructuring was needed.

However, other departments took a particularly hard hit.

For places like the mass media, art, and music departments --which often rely on the ability to do hands-on fieldwork to provide the students the experience they will benefit from for their eventual future job-- major adjustments were necessary.

Justin Miller, exhibition coordinator for the art department, said this change was particularly tough for classes he teaches on painting.

Miller explains that he regularly tells students that going to museums and art galleries to see pieces of art in person are a crucial step in understanding methods or specific characteristics of a creation.

“No matter how good the images that you're looking at through a monitor, it's not going to convey the texture or the sheen,” Miller said. “You just don't have as much access into trying to figure out how somebody creates something without analyzing it in person.”

Miller said that, although he has his own specific class struggles, other parts of the department like ceramics, photography, and printmaking, are also having a particularly hard time due to the resources regularly provided at the school such as a gas kiln, printing press, darkroom or wet lab.

“That's part of why you go to college right, to have access to those things and experiences that you would typically not have on an everyday basis,” Miller said.

Sophia Han, applied violin and concertmaster of the Southeast Missouri Symphony, teaches a variety of in-person classes that require physical lessons.

Han said musical nuances can get lost no matter the quality of technology when teaching over online media.

“What I love about face-to-face [classes] and being in my studio is that I can play along with students, so that they are able to get a sense of what kind of timbres I'm looking for in their sound, and they can try to match mine. Timbres kind of get lost on FaceTime or Zoom,” said Han.

Professor of Mass Media and TV/Film James Dufek explained that while physical tools are a big part of the Mass Media department, they are working to find new methods of learning that will provide students the proper knowledge they need for future career endeavors.

Dufek explained certain disciplines such as lighting, set design, audio acquisition and camera dolly movements require hands-on action which may be hard to teach in an online format.

“I’m sure if students had access to equipment in a remote setting, that there could be an instruction from a distant location to guide the creative process with live interaction or communication,” Dufek said. “I guess anything is possible with today’s technology — but you still need the proper instruction to make things work.

Miller said during the transition one thing he has been learning is how to adapt a new vocabulary that will effectively articulate to students how to describe techniques that would have been easily understood in a physical manner.

“I was trying to show this process, or do a video on this process about glaze, and I found myself defaulting to metaphors, things like, ‘It should be about the consistency of syrup or ketchup or something,’” Miller said.

However, Han mentioned that with these feats come other areas to focus, such as physical form.

“If [students] are playing with the wrong contact point, or playing with the wrong part of their body, I can diagnose that visually. So for me, this was an opportunity to really hone down on some of the finer techniques that I can see,” Han said.

Han said although online classes can never truly make up for the in-person college experience students would receive, there are silver linings to be discovered through the new formatting.

“As a musician, what I’ve noticed among my students is that we hate playing for cameras. Whenever there's a recording going on, whether it's audio or visual, we kind of shut down. So this is also a great opportunity for us to practice playing in front of a camera and not getting nervous,” Han said.

Dufek said while the fieldwork is valuable, what comes first is the ability to effectively convey a message that can be executed successfully through hands-on-experience, which can still be done through online media.

“We provide each student an overall foundation of understanding what the media are and how they create and distribute messages. This provides an opportunity for students to create a message, whether that be a news story, advertisement, social media post, short film, or television program, and this is accomplished with the instruction of how to do this and then with a direction of the proper use of tools necessary to create and deliver the message,” Dufek said. “So, yes, we are dependent upon some tools to create and distribute these messages via a specific medium, but the transition has not been totally disruptive,” Dufek said.

The one thing all individuals agree upon is their ability to use the transition as a future learning experience throughout the process.

“I think, from this whole experience I've learned to be more flexible in both my attitude and my planning,” Han said.

Miller added his gratitude for being supplied half a semester to lay some ground before the change.

“You know, and at least there's a lot of things we did physically that I can now reference; I can recall those things. I think this would have been an even exponentially greater challenge otherwise,” Miller said.