An inside look at in-person art classes this fall

Category:  The Arts
Wednesday, September 9th, 2020 at 12:45 PM
An inside look at in-person art classes this fall by Hazel Modlin
Contributed Photo: Associate Professor John Bavaro teaches a fall 2020 class outdoors at a local cemetery. The art department has been teaching outside, teaching using two separate rooms, and monitoring studio hours differently in efforts at dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Aug. 17, while the majority of campus was settling in on Zoom, a select group of Edinboro students found themselves back in the physical classroom. The majority of these in-person offerings hail from the art department (48 different courses), according to Edinboro.edu.   

In order to better understand what these classes look and feel like, The Spectator spoke with both art department faculty and students.  

Many of the art professors who decided to hold their classes on campus did so in order to give their students access to tools they would otherwise not have access to. Professor David Martin, who teaches sections of both “Design-3 Dimensional” and “Sculpture I” face-to-face, said, “my classes require the use, especially in sculpture, of power equipment tools,” and that going without these tools would subtract from his students’ learning experiences.  

Professor Cappy Counard, who teaches “Design-3 Dimensional” and a combined class of “Metals I” and “Metals II,” also chose to hold face-to-face classes due to equipment. She explained: “With my 3-D design and my metals classes, it’s very equipment intensive. We use a lot of tools; we’re doing things like casting silver and we need tools that they would have a difficult time replicating at home.” 

While equipment was the main thing pushing professor John Bavaro, who teaches both “Drawing I” and “Digital Drawing and Painting,” to return to campus, he gave an additional reason behind his decision to meet face-to-face this semester: he wanted to give his students a sense of normalcy. 

“It was a pretty hard decision. I wanted to go back, but I was also nervous,” he said. Bavaro believes that even though isolation is ideal for helping curve the impact of the virus, it is not helping students’ mental health. “Some people are just in pain for not having normal situations; I’ve been there, and I’ve felt that pain. It feels never-ending.” 

In order to minimize both their students’ and their own risk for contracting COVID-19, the art department professors have been establishing several safeguards. Both Martin and Bavaro have found technology to be helpful in the past few weeks. They’ve been able to split their classes up between two rooms through the help of Zoom and the Edinboro IT department; the professors set up screens to livestream into one of the classrooms while providing a demonstration in the other. “I have a mobile microphone, a speaker and headphones, and I have two TVs so I can teach in both classes at once,” said Bavaro.  

Martin has also applied this method to his face-to-face classes, and while helpful, it has been a challenge to set up. “It’s still a little difficult. Everyone’s still adjusting to wearing a mask. I’ve got three different [computer] screens I’m looking at. I still have to run upstairs to help those kids and then come back downstairs to help those students, and go back and forth,” he explained.  

Martin remains hopeful that these obstacles will diminish with time, especially given how the class progresses. “Once we get projects up and running, we won’t have to Zoom every day. They’ll just be working, and I’ll just move back and forth from class to class.” 

Counard doesn’t have the ability to split her class between two different rooms, but she’s still innovating. “I’m projecting my demonstration[s] on a big screen so students can maintain their social distance across the classroom. Normally when you do a demonstration, everybody crowds around as close as possible. In the process of projecting it, I’m also recording it, that way I can send any of my students a recording of my demo if they need to be absent.” 

Other professors, namely Karen Ernst, who teaches “Wood I” and “Wood II,” have chosen to divide their classes in two. Ernst’s room was too small to allow the required 6 feet between workstations, and remedied the problem by instructing half of her class for 70 minutes, and then dismissing them to allow the other half to come in. “Normally, I have about 15 students in each class, but now I meet with about six students at a time.” 

While this method certainly benefits her students and minimizes risks posed by COVID-19, it also comes with drawbacks. “It’s tough. I end up giving my demos twice as much as normal, so it’s been a little bit exhausting,” said Ernst.  

She has also increased her office hours in an attempt to make up for the class time lost due to her method. “Normally, faculty hold five office hours a week, but since I’m only meeting with my students for half of the time, I’ve been trying to hold some extra hours in the evening when I’m here. So I’m doing somewhere around seven and a half hours outside of class.” She also has young children that she helps homeschool, on top of her full schedule at the university. 

The professors have also decided to take advantage of the summer weather while they can, holding classes outside. Bavaro has chosen to hold several of his sessions in a unique location: “I’ve been teaching at the Edinboro cemetery for the last three classes. As long as I can go outside, we’re going to go outside.” 

Like the other methods, this approach also has drawbacks. “There’s always the rain,” said Bavaro. Edinboro is not exactly known for its good weather, so each outdoor class has the chance to be reconvened indoors in case of particularly nasty weather. 

These art classes are currently face-to-face, but many professors in the department have also rearranged their syllabi in order to account for the possibility that the campus could be shut down at any point in the future.  

“There are some techniques like stone-setting that I don’t usually teach until the second project, but I wanted the students to get that experience, so I kind of made the first project longer, and I added the stone setting to that,” said Counard. “I’m trying to put things that would be easier to do at home toward the end of the semester.” 

In addition to the actual classes, the art department also has to worry about studio hours. Because of all the equipment art classes require for their projects, many students need after-school hours in various classrooms called “studio hours.” In order to make these hours as safe as possible for the students, the department put together a safety committee headed by Martin.  

“We’ve been working on protocols and guidelines since the middle of July,” he said. “We have a system that has been approved by administration.”  

Precautions they have taken to help keep these hours safe include, restricting the time these workspaces are accessible, and requiring students to sign in and sign out for any visits lasting longer than 5 minutes. That logging process is intended to help with contact tracing, if needed.  

Martin says these precautions seem like they’re paying off, but it’s still too early to know for certain. 

One thing all the interviewed professors agreed unanimously on was that Edinboro students have been respectful of all these new rules, and have been diligently wearing their masks.  

“I’ve been very reassured at how careful the students have been and how low the numbers have been,” remarked Counard. “Nobody has tried to take off their masks or challenged me in any way with that, so it’s been a very careful culture of keeping each other safe.”

Hazel Modlin is the Arts Editor for The Spectator. She can be reached at ae.spectator@gmail.com.

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