When Trent turned to primarily online and remote delivery for fall 2020, the third-year Cultural Studies course, Workshop: A Visual Arts Studio, was presented with a unique opportunity – the ability to critique the pandemic experience through a digital lens.
“The central question of the course became, ‘how do we engage with art in a digital interface?’ explains Dr. Kelly Egan, assistant professor in the Cultural Studies department. “The course became a self-reflective tour in what it means to create artwork right now for digital consumption.”
CUST 3111Y is an introductory studio course exploring two-, three- and four-dimensional art production using a variety of materials and techniques. Emphasis is placed on research-creation, the exploration of materials and concepts with attention to space, form, image and experience, and the intersection of traditional and contemporary practices including the relationship between art and technology.
Flexibility and honesty key to ensuring student success
After completely re-designing the course for online delivery, Professor Egan landed on a structure that allowed students to express themselves and their assignments in a variety of ways, from reading notes to video essays to audio commentary.
“We have a lot of freedom when it comes to our projects which is exciting. I wanted to start learning how to paint with oil paint, so I’ve been using those materials for most of my projects, but there are other students doing collage, photography, and video,” shares Lindsay Olivieri, a third-year Cultural Studies student, and member of Champlain College. “You don’t feel restrained, so you can try anything you want and see what best suits you.”
In adapting her normally hands-on course, it was important for Prof. Egan to create an open and honest dialogue with her students.
“I constantly acknowledged that this year wasn’t a normal year and I adapted and experimented as often as I could,” says Prof. Egan. “It was important for me to be generous and vulnerable with my students and meet them in their experience.”
Engaging online tools keep students connected
Online tools became critical for Prof. Egan to engage with her students, while also creating a space for discourse that could occur outside of the virtual classroom.
“We have mainly been using Zoom, Voicethread, and Blackboard. Prof. Egan has created a few different threads on Blackboard which have been super useful,” explains Ms. Olivieri. “There is a thread where people can share art they came across or that they were inspired by. There is also a thread for us to talk about our projects with the other students and brainstorm. Being able to share screens on Zoom is surprisingly very useful, and that’s how we’ve been sharing our artwork in class!”
Voicethread in particular has allowed the traditional art crit experience, where students critique the art of their peers, to continue in an engaging, online platform.
“I liked using Voicethread for crits because students can post a photo or video of their work, and students can respond with video, audio or written comments,” says Prof. Egan. “The platform allowed for a variety of methods of engagement, depending on what works best for the student. It has helped to keep critical engagement alive in the class when we would normally be all together in one room.”
From making artwork on TikTok to re-coding Tumblr pages, to creating traditional artwork, Prof. Egan believes that the success of her course has as much to do with her students, as it does with her.
“The students continually impressed me by figuring out how to engage in subversive ways,” notes Prof. Egan. “They took this opportunity to probe the digital experience and play with it and I’m so proud of the work that they did. They learned that no matter what they have access to, they can make something meaningful.”
Learn more about Cultural Studies at Trent. Applications are still open for fall 2021.