Embracing the adage “the show must go on,” the Fine Arts instructors at the College of Southern Maryland (CSM) have come up with creative ways to keep students learning and engaged in a mostly virtual learning environment. With a couple notable exceptions, every art, music, theater dance and digital media class will be held this fall semester.
“CSM’s visual arts, music, theater, and dance faculty have developed innovative approaches to teaching the arts in an environment combining web and face-to-face components,” Associate Dean for Liberal Arts & Chair of Visual & Performing Arts Dr. Steve Johnson recently told students in a virtual student orientation.
Moving to remote operations was an easy lift for the traditional subjects as CSM has been offering online learning for 20 years, but courses that required hands-on instruction such as those found in many Fine Arts programs had to stretch last spring to wrap up projects and shows that were already in rehearsal.
“We all learned a lot,” Johnson said. “This fall, Fine Arts students in studio and performance classes will learn the foundations of their classes online through traditional web methods as well as Zoom and other online approaches at the scheduled class times. Later in the semester, students will have in-class opportunities to practice their skills in a carefully designed social distancing setting.”
He said small choirs, the Barbershop group and the salsa ensemble will perform small combos; however, concert band which has always involved 40 or 50 people will resume in spring 2021.
This is a remarkable time in fine arts education, Johnson continued.
“During times of stress, it has often been the Fine Arts that people turned to for comfort,” Johnson shared. “Now more than ever, music, theater, art and dance provide not only an educational foundation for a possible career but we also provide a remedy for people as they navigate the uncertainties of the pandemic.”
Students Performed Better – and All that Jazz
CSM Ballet, Jazz and Ensemble Instructor Laura Hutchinson, of St. Mary’s County, said there are silver linings to teaching in a virtual environment that she could have never predicted.
As her classes will continue to do in the fall, her spring classes met via Zoom to practice and rehearse with students using a chair, kitchen counter or table in their homes. Hutchinson filmed herself teaching various moves and positions and posted the lessons online for students to watch and review. Any other semester Hutchinson’s dance students’ final exam involved performing on stage at CSM, but last spring her students had to film themselves and submit their performance for a grade.
“The students were very creative – maybe even more creative – than they would have been on the stage at CSM,” she said. “I saw a completely different side of them because they were in their own environment and they let their environments become a part of their performances.”
Hutchinson did not want to downplay pandemic fatigue, though.
“It was definitely difficult in the spring because right before the pandemic – we were all preparing for a show and our show just got shut down,” she explained. “But I will say in the dance community there are so many opportunities to reach out to dancers and choreographers because everyone is in the same situation and we all want to help each other.”
She added that she has every intention of working with her students this fall to put on a virtual show.
“Maybe we’ll call it the Art of Zooming.”
“We Went to Where the Students Have Been All Along”
CSM Adjunct Theater Professor Michelle Ebert Freire said she too is looking forward to a creative fall semester with her students because of the unique twists and turns her spring semester students took.
“When we had to switch to remote operations, it was such a quick turnover and we didn’t have time to creatively plan,” said Freire, who teaches Major Movements in Western Theater, Creative Expression in the Theater and Intro to Theater. “But all of my classes stayed very interactive. It was fascinating. They were debating and discussing topics more than they ever would have in class.”
Freire pointed out the she and her colleagues “went to where the students have been all along – on social media – in chat rooms – sitting at home gaming.”
“We were able to do a lot of fun things,” she continued. “I am looking forward to the fall. I found it actually kind of exciting to see what the students came up with outside of the constraints of the classroom. There was more depth of thought and creativity. A lot of acting is getting to know yourself. It can make people uncomfortable in a classroom. But there is a safety feature when students are in their home. I think they reach deeper and share more.”
She doesn’t want to give away all the surprises, but Freire said the fall semester acting classes will be fun.
“I have a lot of ideas for the acting class,” she laughed. “We will be working on learning technique. Different solo acting exercises. One or two projects where students are performing a monologue. It’s not theater, it’s not film. Let’s just say Zoom has created a new theatrical art form. I can’t wait to put those Zoom backgrounds into use.”
There is a New Spin to Ceramics
In no class is the term ‘hands-on’ more necessary than in a ceramics class. Ceramics Instructor Alice Yutzy – who has taught beginning, intermediate and advanced ceramics and studio ceramics for many years at CSM – said her biggest lesson in moving her classes to a virtual environment was how to simplify her lessons.
“I learned pretty quickly last spring that I cannot take the same curriculum I had and put it online,” Yutzy said. “It was way too rich and contained too much information. There were way too many emails back and forth and it got really, really tedious for all my students and myself.”
The Hughesville resident said she carved out some time and created ‘guidelines for home’ that she continues to refine for her upcoming fall semester. She offers her students tips to work at home that include guidance about finding a safe dedicated space to work and how to keep everything in that space.
“Preferably somewhere where the cats or a two-year-old can’t get to their art work,” she laughed. “I also advise students not to wash their hands in their own sinks. At school we have a sediment trap. They could damage their septic systems.”
She said she also struggled last semester with not being able to keep a watchful eye on her students while they were creating their ceramic art.
“I don’t get to see it throughout the process,” she said. “Normally I watch them work and help them adjust where needed.”
But nonetheless, her students did great work.
“Amazing work,” she emphasized. “Working at home by themselves is actually better. They are not distracted by conversations or other people’s work. When the students would send in their photos of their work, I was blown away. It was that good.”
But by mid-summer, Yutzy said she had a solid plan for her students next semester.
“Right now, students will have to come in and pick up clay and tools; I will give them introduction; and then we’ll do the work in real time technology,” she said. “They’ll have to bring their projects on to campus to be fired. They will have to come in to glaze their projects too.”
Her husband Dee DeLauder is a photographer and he is filming videos of Yutzy demonstrating different techniques for her to share with students.
“It’s our first time working together,” she joked of her husband’s teamwork. “We’ll have to see how this goes!”
CSM’s School of Liberal Arts offers programs that expand student’s cultural knowledge, help translate meaningful self-expression into exciting professional opportunities, and provide a foundation of knowledge in the humanities and social sciences. Learn more about this Guided Pathway and the many fields of study at https://www.csmd.edu/programs-courses/credit/academic-divisions/ahs/.
Learn more about CSM’s many Fine Art programs by visiting, https://www.csmd.edu/community/the-arts/.
Apply now and register for fall classes at CSM, by visiting https://www.csmd.edu/apply-register/. Classes start Aug. 26 and Oct. 20.