SECAC Summary: Pedagogically Sound Approaches for Hybrid and Online Learning

In October 2017, AHTR held a session at SECAC in Columbus, Ohio (go Buckeyes!) titled Pedagogically Sound Approaches for Hybrid and Online Learning. The abstract reads as follows:

Technologically supported long-distance learning has become integral in higher education initiatives.  Hybrid and online courses allow flexibility in student learning in university and museum education departments. They permit the development of andrological models applied through self-directed learning. But, the creation of hybrid or online learning courses can be challenging. Instructors are tasked with learning new effective pedagogies and devising delivery systems different from those they employ in face-to-face classrooms. With a dizzying array of interactive technologies, it can be difficult to discern the most effective approaches to online or hybrid learning. This session asks for papers that address how educators can develop, build, and assess effective courses. Papers may address questions including: How content  taught in a digital learning environment can foster skills of critical thinking, reading, and writing and/or model best practices for digital citizenship? How do digital or online activities relate to activities and discussions that occur in physical spaces? What are effective methods to build metacognitive or reflective assignments into the course so that students are more aware not only of what they are learning but how they are learning. And how can instructors effectively measure learning outcomes produced by various forms of online learning?

We were lucky to have four wonderful papers, three of which are posted below. The fourth will be incorporated into a post for publication in Spring 2018.

Let’s Talk About Art, Baby! Utilizing the Discussion Forum for Hybrid and Online Art History Courses
Jenny Ramirez, James Madison University and Mary Baldwin University
After several semesters of teaching large (55-65 students) sections of Art Appreciation and Survey Art History courses and trying to find creative ways to engage students—largely non-majors—I decided to turn classroom discussions into online forums. Discussions in large classroom settings can be intimidating, ineffective, and frustrating for both students and instructors alike. Even small class sizes do no always produce successful discussions due to lack of preparation, dominance of certain students, and the reluctance of others. Furthermore, if participation is part of the course grade, it is difficult to assess informal classroom discussion with consistency or rigor. By converting the discussions to an online format, mediocre classroom conversations have transformed into dynamic, thoughtful, and reflective dialogues that nurture respect, tolerance, critical thinking, and open-mindedness.
Part of the battle in engaging students (especially students who do not see the relevance of art to their major or lives) is finding discussion prompts that are provocative, open-ended, and timely. Some of the topics that have opened up thoughtful and lively debate include: Can Animals Make Art? or Who Should Own the Parthenon Marbles? or How have Napoleon and Kanye used art for self-promotion? or Can a factory in China produce Authentic Art? Most of the prompts include a short introduction to the topic (which usually connects with the current in-classroom lectures), an article, website, or short video that further develops the discussion topic, and a few probing questions. Some prompts also require students to research a topic and embed an image or website that supports their argument. For example, for “Art in General Culture,” an art appreciation course with a contemporary art emphasis, the discussion prompt might be:
“Discussion Forum: Western vs. Non-Western Art

As we move into our final unit, Art and Identity, the way an artist is identified and defined is often connected to their culture, race, gender, and ethnicity.  On that topic, the terms “Western” (European tradition) and “Non-Western” (all cultures outside the European/American canon) have been used to set standards and value judgements.  Discussions about Non-Western art from a Western perspective run into an intercultural difference problem. In other words, aesthetic values are culturally specific. Therefore, using your own culture’s aesthetic values to judge another culture’s art may lead you to value certain kinds of visual culture and not others.

Please watch the two videos below on contemporary artists, Wangechi Mutu [short ART 21 interview] and James Luna [performance piece, Take a Picture with a Real Indian]. Having watched the videos, how do artists like Luna and Mutu complicate a distinction between Western and non-Western art?  How might they challenge the notions of identity and cultural stereotypes? How do their chosen medium/media contribute to their ideas? Do “Western” and “non-Western” still have meaning in the 21st century? Can you think of a current artist of any art form who also blurs the boundaries between “Western” and “Non-Western?”

 Students have a deadline in which they must post their initial response in their Course Management System Discussion Forum. Initial posts must be at least 10 substantive sentences, free of grammatical and spelling errors, posted by deadline, and demonstrate effort, thought, and insight. Then, to create dialogue, they must reply to at least two other students. These reposts must be at least 5 sentences and should introduce new ideas to the conversation by challenging, suggesting, or augmenting ideas voiced by their classmates. While these guidelines unquestionably lead to some contrived answers and forced, superficial conversation, I do believe that online discussions are more effective and desired by students than face-to-face. I find that students who are introverted or disengaged are more invested and outgoing online. Responses to questions are more thoughtful, organized, and carefully tailored with the advantage of time, editing, and virtual space. This is not to say that discussions don’t happen in the classroom—they do, but tend to be more spontaneous and low stakes, the “burden” of participating in the classroom is replaced by the ability to perform online. A clear grading rubric is provided along with Discussion Guidelines to assist students in meeting the requirements as well as in assisting me, the instructor, in assessing the discussions (initial responses might be worth 15 points, for example, and each repost worth 5).
Beyond participation and assessment, online discussions help students become more curious and respectful of issues surrounding art. They become part of an online community of learners who collectively interact and support each other. Ultimately, these types of skills can transfer to the real world by enhancing cooperation and civil discourse in our growing digital, global, diverse, and socially-mediated world.

The Pitfalls of Developing Online Courses, or Online Courses ARE NOT Classrooms                        Mary F. Zawadzki, Instructional Assistant Professor, Department of Visualization, Texas A&M University

When building online learning environments, especially for the first time, art history instructors inevitably rely on methods associated with the traditional classroom structure like PowerPoint lectures, required discussions, writing and reading assignments, and examinations. However, online courses are not classrooms, at least not in the traditional sense. Rather, they are interactive, student-driven educational communities and, as such, they are fertile ground for the types of innovative pedagogy that many art historians have already embraced.

Most Learning Management Systems like BlackBoard and Canvas have all the tools that you need to create an student-driven, immersive learning environment. Besides posting any information related to the course, one of the best features of BlackBoard is “groups.” The group feature is a great way to break down a large class into smaller, more manageable learning communities. Groups can be created by the professor or by the students, and they can be set to private so that only the people in that group can participate in it. Within the group, students have access to the general BlackBoard features like blogs, discussion boards, tasking, emailing, and a folder to upload and view documents. In my courses, students use their groups to discuss anything associated with the course or the subject matter, sometimes prompted by me. They create, maintain, and comment upon reflection blogs; work on group projects; and present information about artists, artworks, or topics they want to know more about or find interesting. Groups allow me to deal with smaller learning communities, thereby providing quicker, more substantial, and individualized feedback and guidance.

The instructor’s level of activity within the learning communities, extensive comments on essays and projects, and weekly announcements reminding students of due dates, changes to the course, or other important information, can make the world of difference. I use the announcement feature to check in and ask students how they are doing, and suggest that they email me with questions or concerns. Students get the individual attention that they need to succeed, even if it means that I run activity reports and gently remind them that success in my course requires their participation and engagement. In student reviews and in personal emails, students have said that this level of involvement by a professor in an online course is a rare and welcomed change.

An online instructor’s role is not one that teaches from the top down; rather, online faculty are curators, facilitators, and guides. We compile and curate information and we design the methods that facilitate independent education and exploration. If your institution allows you to deliver your content by using password protected alternatives to the LMS, there is a variety of creative platforms and applications that can be modified for educational purposes. For example, blogging platforms like WordPress and Blogger have templates that resemble flip books or magazines. Creating a private “blog” where you launch your material allows you to create a course narrative — in essence, an interactive online textbook. There, you can embed documentary videos, shorter lecture videos, and other media to accompany short written blurbs or links to open source reading material available from museums, historic sites, Open Culture, and Smart History. Interactive timeline platforms like Sutori allow you — and your students — to create timelines where you can present information about art and artists alongside significant social, cultural, and political events. Virtual tours associated with cultural sites like the Vatican, Google Earth’s Interactive Stories from Around the World, and Google Arts and Culture tours and “zoom in” allow students to virtually explore historic and cultural sites, and objects in ways traditional art history lectures could never do. Online learning platforms are also the logical domain of educational video games. Texas A&M’s LiveLab and their industry partner, Triseum, are spearheading this initiative with their award-winning game, Arté: Mecenes. These technologies are the next step in the presentation of image-based instruction indicative of our discipline.


Online and in Real Time                                                                                                                                                                                                         Parme Giuntini. Otis College of Art and Design

I moved across the country last year to live in North Carolina, but I still teach for Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles. My courses are online but, unlike the usual asynchronous format where students and teachers never meet, I teach in a virtual classroom. By using teleconferencing software, I can teach a face-to-face class in real time, just not in the same physical space.

Flexibility and self-directed learning are key components of online courses. Still, faculty and students often bemoan the loss of classroom engagement and personal interaction. Teaching in a virtual classroom bridges the gap between the two, although this model brings its own set of pedagogical challenges.

I use Zoom teleconferencing software which was designed for online group work and collaboration. Students log in with their computers; everyone can see each other and talk as a group. There are options for screen sharing which virtually mimics sitting in my office with a student and using my computer to help them research databases or work on paper drafts or browse a website together. Screen sharing also means that we can all see and discuss images together. Zoom has a breakout room function which allows me to assign students to individual virtual rooms where they can see each other and do group work during class. I can “drop into” their groups, they can text chat questions to me from their groups. When I end the groups, everyone reappears on the main screen for further discussion.

Pedagogically, a virtual classroom must be a flipped classroom. It’s not an option. Online and in real time creates an authentic, but different classroom experience from sharing the same physical space. I can deliver very short lecture bytes (6-8 minutes), but expecting students to meet virtually in real time and listen to a lecture on a screen is not only counterproductive; it is grounds for student mutiny. In a flipped classroom, lectures are part of the homework, along with videos and readings. Students spend class time doing activities that demonstrate their ability to interact with the material.

At first, I posed questions about the lecture and reading homework and went around the screen asking everyone commenting on the topic. I still do that as the initial way to touch base about main points, but it was more successful to design debates, panel discussions, simulations, and role-playing games. The homework lectures and readings addressed the issue, and I assigned student groups a specific role to play or position to argue.  I made collaboration part of their homework, so they came to class prepared.

These kinds of activities fostered better oral communication and critical thinking. Students were able to engage with the material, connect issues and information from earlier weeks to current work, and actively participate every week.

The online course genie is never going back into the bottle. A synchronous, virtual class does restrict some of the flexibility of a fully online, asynchronous format, but it offers a new model for authentic faculty and student engagement and an active learning pedagogy.

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