Zoom. Remote learning. Skype. Asynchronous and synchronous communication.
These are all terms that have, by now, embedded themselves into our collective college minds in this new way of life and education at University of Findlay. While without their existence it would be much more difficult to adapt to our current way of meeting and educating, these means of virtual gathering and discussion sometimes feel a bit…digital.
With the present state of the country, good old-fashioned human attributes like humor and creativity seemed, understandably, to take a backseat to learning new technology and getting accustomed to the burgeoning ways of existing with other educators and students early on. If the thought has surfaced that the human side of educating students – the ability to laugh and create and feel – has disappeared in a flurry of virtual greetings and Zoom meetings at UF, it should be as quickly dispelled as it was considered. Thankfully, there are still great creative works being produced by students, and plenty of kind and inspirational leadership by faculty is to be found.
Within the visual and performing arts, English, and communication programs at UF, for instance – where particular creativity can traditionally be found in abundance – it seems that, inventive artistry is still going strong. For associate professor of art Ed Corle and his 3D Design in Crafts classes, for example, students are working on his “Get Crafty” assignment, in which they have knit, sewn, spun, drawn, painted and carved everything from blankets to tea pots. “My mother liked to sew, my father had a woodworking shop at our house and we would work on furniture projects together. My grandmother liked to knit and crochet. Quilting and sewing was a past time for many women in our family going back generations,” said Corle. “A lifelong crafts experience adds spice to life and is good for the soul.”
The drawing students in associate professor of art and chair of the department of visual and performing arts Valerie Escobedo’s class are keeping their creative juices flowing by finding artistic opportunities in nature. Taking inspiration from British artist Andy Goldsworthy, Escobedo said, her students in ART 211 Drawing Media and Concepts used sticks, rocks, grass, colorful flowers, and other natural components to complete the project after the University moved to online delivery in March. “The goals of the assignment were to provide students with an opportunity to get out of the house and interact with nature,” she explained. “To develop their photography and sculpture skills, to challenge themselves with a project that required them to ‘go with the flow,’ to find resources available to them, and to create with what they found.” With the opportunity for students to do some hands-on learning outside of the classroom comes the added benefit of finding influence and insight in the ultimate art studio that is the great outdoors.
This semester found Diana Montague Ph.D., professor and chair of communication at UF, teaching speech online for the very first time, so, given that it’s a new experience for her, she has had to “adapt some of the point-bearing ‘classroom exercises’ the class can no longer do together in the actual classroom.” To give students an opportunity to practice the PREP (Point, Reason, Example, Point) method of impromptu speaking, she explained, and to “blow off some COVID-19 confinement steam,” she set up three short impromptu speech assignments for the students to record. Students answered the following questions in their one-minute speeches: What is your biggest whine or frustration about the COVID-19 pandemic? What is one unexpected joy you’ve experienced while sheltering in place? What is one thing you really miss about being in the classroom on campus? “I recorded my own examples for each category, and told them to try to have fun with these small assignments,” Montague said. The idea, it seems, is to use speech as a form of therapeutic pondering, helping students to both hone their public speaking skills while venting about triumphs, tribulations, and desires at the same time. Students did share some insight in their speeches, Montague said. It turns out that they are collectively getting antsy with being cooped up, taking joy in home-cooked meals and extra family time, and missing the social interaction of being on campus.
In what Sarah Fedirka, Ph.D., UF associate professor and chair of English calls a “ridiculous example” of the lightheartedness she’s instilling in her students and virtual classes currently, one of the students in her American Literature survey class set a rubber chicken (named Cluck) in his camera frame during an initial Zoom session. “Cluck ‘attended’ class,” she said. “I now incorporate images of Cluck into our class slides, and even made a Cluck puppet that appears with me sometimes when I make Studio videos.” Cluck has become the class mascot, in an attempt, Fedirka said, to convey to her students that she sees them; that she shares in their struggle. “Let’s still be able to laugh at ourselves. Everything is going to be okay,” she said.
Creativity. Wonder. Inspiration. Passion for learning. These are all terms that have always been a part of UF’s word bank across the curriculum, but particularly within the arts and humanities. What is important to note is that this is not changing with the “new normal” in which we find ourselves as a University and as a people. Creativity and a sense of humor help us to make sense of things, and, in the example of these classes and instructors, help students to not only learn by doing, but lighten up and discover their talents along the way.