Remote LearningWest Chester Arts Faculty Use Creative Approaches to Aid Remote Learning

When WCU President Christopher Fiorentino sent the March 10 email notifying faculty, students and staff that, due to precautions surrounding COVID-19, the remainder of the semester would be taught using alternative modes of instruction, a wave of surprise ran through campus. As the first university in the region to make this announcement, West Chester University was a leader in taking such action.

Since then, faculty have rallied to find creative and innovative ways to continue instruction remotely for the remainder of the semester. Arts faculty in particular – some who teach classes whose sole purpose is to bring ensembles together in unity - faced the tough task of finding ways to connect with and instruct students from a distance. 

After two weeks of remote teaching and learning, faculty report some advantages to remote teaching, and students have welcomed these new ideas and methods of instruction. As part of this ongoing feature, we will share some of the new and creative ways our arts departments and schools are coming together during this unprecedented time to ensure student success.  

Wells School of Music

Voice - Emily Bullock, associate professor of voice and interim chair of the vocal and keyboard department says, “It may not be ideal, but it’s working,” of her remote instruction. “One advantage I had was already knowing the sound of my students’ voices. Knowing their strengths and weaknesses, I gave them each a specific vocal technique exercise to focus on for the remainder of the semester.”

Bullock teaches 12 students in one-on-one instruction each week. One of the technical challenges Bullock faced was the sound delay between accompaniment and voice. Pianists would typically be in lessons accompanying each student live. To solve this problem, first recording devices were sent to pianists who needed them. Pianists recorded songs and sent them to students via dropbox.

When students log into the zoom lessons, they see Bullock at the keyboard, who plays warm-up pitches at her keyboard. Students sing back, a capella, and the lesson moves on from there.

When asked if there are any advantages or surprises from teaching remotely Bullock says, “To prepare to teach at a distance, I went back to the pedagogical roots of teaching voice. Going back to these roots was good for me and my students. Watching them on zoom, I see a lot of things differently.”

She adds, “This type of singing and teaching – the way the voice functions with breath work - started in the early Baroque period.  We’re working on body-awareness, and I’m giving them new ways to think and feel things.”

A couple of students have even experienced break-throughs, says Bullock. “One student resolved some postural issues because of the way we’ve been thinking and talking about breath control.”

West Chester University Symphony Orchestra - To continue with the semester, Joseph Caminiti, director of orchestral studies and conductor of the symphony orchestra, had to rethink the very nature of ensemble work, whose goal is to come together to make music.

Caminiti chose to grow the orchestra’s capacity as an ensemble by having players listen to and view master classes of their instruments through platforms like YouTube and the Berlin Philharmonic’s Digital Concert Hall. They then come together via Zoom to have a group discussion of what was gleaned and how it’s informing their practice of their instrument.

Caminiti is also having students compare one of their final performances together from February 23 with that of the Berlin Philharmonic.

Caminiti says, “I’m asking them to note visual and sonic differences between the two, and what it would take as individual players and corporately for our ensemble to perform better.”

Students are also choosing orchestral excerpts from three standard repertoire pieces and applying all that they’re learning from the viewed master classes and concert comparisons.

Caminiti adds, “Finally, so that we have some sense of ensemble togetherness and to serve our respective communities, I’m having all students play their instruments for 3-5 minutes on their respective porches to treat neighbors to a bit of beauty during these turbulent times. Doing this act separately, but at the same time, will hopefully give us some sense of togetherness along with providing a service to those around us.”

Department of Theatre & Dance

Costume Construction - Constance Case teaches costume construction and stage makeup in the Department of Theatre & Dance.

Her first thought when the announcement was made to move instruction online, was that her costume construction class would be too hard to teach remotely, and that she should perhaps adjust the class to be more academic.

Case soon revised her thinking, realizing that the history and sociology of costume design wasn’t what students signed up for. She needed to think outside-the-box and embrace all the technology available to her to continue to teach the requirements of the class. Case got a camera to do close-ups of hand shots of her sewing (web cameras can’t do extreme close-ups), and now uses i-movie to post videos in advance of class for students to watch and learn a skill.

She adds, “I realized that students could still learn a lot of the things we do in class. The difference is that students are used to spending class time to learn and perfect the skill. Now that’s done through videos they watch in advance.”

The students’ final project is to make a pair of pants, only this semester they’ll make the pants at 1/8 scale, sized to fit a doll that students will also make.

April Merion, a costume construction student says, “Professor Case goes above and beyond to help us all succeed. Her videos of hand stitches explain every step. If people are struggling with a project or stitch, she adds zoom meetings to go over it. She shipped the fabric and materials needed to make the pants to each of us before online classes began. She is a wonderful professor and has done so much for our class.”

Department of Art + Design

Wild ClayAssociate professor Andrew Snyder’s ceramics class took a new turn when Snyder realized students would not be returning to the classroom. Tasked with challenging his students to continue with their art, Snyder created a series of YouTube videos to teach students how to prospect and harvest both river and backyard “wild clay,” and then how to prepare and create bowls and pinch pots from that clay. Links to Snyder’s videos are found here:  

Madeline Consugar in Snyder's class says, "The process of harvesting clay is very hands on and lots of fun! It would not normally be covered during the semester, so I am happy that we are now able to take the time to do it! Professor Snyder has made it easy by participating in the harvesting himself and recording videos." 




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