Lance Vickery Headshot
Lance Vickery | Assistant Professor

Applied Learning while Social Distancing

Abstract

Have you ever tried to describe a spiral staircase without using your hands? How about guiding a path through a rope course to a person wearing a blindfold? This is not charades or a team build exercise you might encounter at the Osprey Challenge Course. This is the new normal. Since the spring of 2020, this description is an apt metaphor for the challenges faced by all applied teaching programs, and Sculpture is no exception. In our courses, students learn by engaging in the direct application of skills. This past year has forced me to reevaluate nearly every single paradigm, process, method, and modality I have utilized in the past. Our curriculum focuses on the practice of the construction of three-dimensional objects through numerous different processes and techniques. Students learn how to build armatures, construct forms using basic planes, welding, carving, and metal casting, to name a few. The number of processes in Sculpture is nearly unlimited. Further, students are drawn to Sculpture because of its physicality and community. This is the challenge, how do you teach processes and techniques that by their nature are spacial and experiential when we all must be socially-distanced or physically separated by computer screens. Over the past twelve months, I have developed and refined many tools and techniques to improve the hybrid online learning approach and enhanced remote instruction methods for information dissemination to create an engaging and informative environment that also allows for spatial curiosity and exploration.

Background

It is an understatement to state that I was underprepared for remote instruction last spring. Our curriculum for the final weeks of any previous semester was highly focused on casting, specifically cast iron. This process requires a well-choreographed dance of all levels of sculpture students to pour a ton of iron collectively. This is not just a figure of speech. We typically pour between 1200-2000 pounds of iron each semester. The shutdown happened in those final weeks. As everyone did, we rallied and made the transition to complete the semester as best we could.

Nevertheless, those final weeks taught us the many challenges that laid ahead. Soon after the semester ended, I began working on restructuring everything in my courses. I prepared as if all instruction would be online, though I settled on a hybrid model. Essentially, all content and lectures would be online, and labs would be open. This model allows for face-to-face (F2F) and Remote Instruction (RI). Since everyone’s risk level is different, it is vital to give the students the best experience their situation would allow.

In addition to the daunting task of documenting every process, lecture, and demonstration that happens in a typical semester, the fall of 2020 entails numerous other changes that require a restructuring of project modules, instructional models, and primary content delivery methods.

Canvas/Project Adjustments

With online delivery of lectures and demonstrations, the priority was filming all the processes covered in each course. Shortly after the spring semester ended, my colleague Professor Jenny Hager and I began the lengthy process of filming nearly every process for each assignment. We systematically went through each assignment, looking for each demonstration we gave in-person. This process was revelatory in that we each saw how the other taught the same material. It was like co-teaching a course. The demonstrations reflect that totality. They are more robust than what either of us had done before.

Camera and laptop set up for remote class

I wanted to give a better viewing experience than in-person. Each demo requires two cameras: one overhead and one focused on the presenter. This allowed for both angles to be used to give the depth of the instruction while being able to see my face and a frontal orientation.

Additionally, creative close-ups on key elements help make the point and expected outcomes.

striker

The sheer volume of demonstrations that were needed was daunting, but it was not the only item that needed to be addressed. My course would have to be restructured to allow for asynchronous learning as well as remote instruction. Students could not depend on the existing systems of a well-stocked studio. This meant that I needed to increase the level of detail in the materials required lists. Each assignment must include tools and equipment that the studio provides. Additionally, the course schedule was restructured to account for delivery times of materials and tools. The scale of projects also had to be adjusted to be suitable for the home studio. Changing the scale of some projects provided additional time for other assignments that lend themselves well for RI, such as documentation, both of the final results but the process as well. Those assignments were made a bit more robust.

Individual Instruction

Once the Fall semester started, I was not completely ready for the students. While I had worked out the main delivery mechanism for demos and lectures, there were still some pesky challenges that would need to be addressed in real-time. First off was the individual instruction. No matter how good the demonstrations are, students require individual instructions. In the hybrid model, demonstrations and lectures were asynchronous, and follow-up questions were handled at the lab. I set up a demonstration area outside the lab that had access to nearly all the same tools and equipment that is in the labs. In that space, I could further demonstrate critical processes safely. Additionally, I could have them demonstrate competencies in-person and adjust their techniques. Once they were ready, they could go back into the labs to work. The flexibility of the hybrid model organically allowed the students to stagger their scheduled time for individual instruction to ensure as few people in the labs at any time.

Welding as a particular challenge for instruction. The students were obviously, a bit unsure about starting a torch the first time. The outdoor setup allowed for instruction and real-time questions and answers.
Welding is a particular challenge for instruction. The students were obviously, a bit unsure about starting a torch the first time. The outdoor setup allowed for instruction and real-time questions and answers.
Students could work outside or inside, depending on number of students.
Students could work outside or inside, depending on number of students.

This worked well for students who could come to campus, but there were others that could not safely come to campus, especially in my lower-level foundational courses. In these cases, their questions focused on descriptions and comprehension of foundational principles such as dimensionality of objects in space. These concepts are easily conveyed F2F by simply picking up an object and turning it around in space. In RI, I initially attempted to draw these elements out using perspective in both Zoom and traditional paper, but there were gaps in understanding. That third D (dimension) is critical in understanding Sculpture. Currently, I am creating quick demonstration models of their projects and questions in Computer-Aided Design (CAD) software. This allows us to share an object in virtual space. It can be turned around. It can be opened up and modified. Now, we both understand what the other is saying. I now have a library of student examples that I can return to for future use.

elements in 3D using CAD software

Being able to see and turn an object around is key to understanding the problem and possible solutions. Several students were having difficult visualizing the forms. I made quick models in CAD to allow them to see the components.

I also used Autodesk 360 to share the three dimensional objects.

And of course, I needed to make instructions

You can explode the model with this button

Then move the lever,

I also put together an animation. But, It is a little jerky, but it might be helpful.

Click this button

The in-class studio experience is critical to learning the art. Just by working alongside each other, they form bonds and learning opportunities. Asynchronous methods are not naturally conducive to shared working experience, such as a traditional studio experience. However, adjustments can be made to help bridge this gap. Last semester, I began implementing breakout rooms that had no agenda on select “studio” days. The students were encouraged to show their progress and struggles, and the group typically would rally support. In addition to building personal connections, it also would hold students accountable for their time-management. Further, by making it less agenda-driven, they were also free to discuss anything else. These sessions have improved class cohesion and general project quality. I have recently needed to add some limited structure to the rooms, such as time limits and curating the members to ensure that a room might not have all introverts, to improve the efficacy.

I also reworked the critique model to use this method. Critiques are down in small groups of about 4-5 people. Each group is responsible for reviewing and assessing each member’s work. This number seems key. Any larger, the introverts will withdraw. Any smaller, there is not enough dialogue. These results have been great. The observations and assessments are coming from a more diverse group. Additionally, they are building relationships.

Non-curriculum Additions

Since students are not coming to campus as much, I found that students were having a difficult time finding their way to and around the space when they did come to the labs. I would get messages from lost students who were unable to find one of the labs or tools. Earlier this semester, I began the process of documenting the spaces using a 360-degree camera and mapping our labs and classrooms. I have put together a virtual tour of our spaces, complete with navigational elements. As we move forward, I will incorporate more descriptions, videos, and photos to allow students to visualize the space better. I have also used it to document some student shows for the UNF Gallery.

The 3D tours of both the space and student installations from the UNF Gallery.

Over the past year, I have seen the adaptability of our students and the innovation of our faculty. The pandemic has forced a decade of change into one year. It has forced me to reassess old assumptions and paradigms. Many of these new systems and processes will improve my teaching in both Face-to-face and Remote Instruction. I am looking forward to the return to the classroom and the studio experience to see the synergies of these two models.

covid_kori

* Photos shot by Jenny Hager or myself, except where watermarked. Special thanks to Silvia Agreda-Kostin for allowing me to use her images.

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