Physical distancing in a university setting has been challenging in general, let alone for programs requiring hands-on interaction and close proximity for classroom demonstrations. Jina Seo and Kevin Hughes, professors in the Art + Design Department, have incorporated video cameras and large monitors as a solution to this problem which allows for professor-student interaction but from a distance.
In metalsmithing and jewelry making, the discipline Jina teaches, Zoom calls or physical distancing in the classroom wasn’t really an option. “The nature of this intricate work requires strong attention to detail due to its compact size,” Jina explains, “Thus, it’s necessary for students to gather around me very closely while I do the demonstrations, as well as pass around small pieces of materials.” Obviously, these interactive presentations couldn’t happen as they had in the past, especially since the materials Jina and her students work with are the size of mere millimeters.
Much like a cooking show, Jina facilitated the use of cameras to closely film her detailed work, with large monitors relaying her skills to students. “The digital camera was installed on my demonstration bench with a flexible-legged mini tripod,” shares Jina, “Then, the camera gets connected with the TV screen that’s installed in the middle of the studio. The camera broadcasts what I do on a huge screen, allowing students to see all the details while keeping the distance.”
As for students’ reactions, there has been a lot of positive feedback, with some even saying it’s much easier to see the work on a bigger screen–and some liking it more than the class set-up pre-COVID. “It’s also been very handy for creating video content for at-home coursework,” says Jina.
Kevin Hughes, associate professor of Ceramics, experienced a similar dilemma. Akin to Jina, his demonstrative aids consist of cameras and monitors. Kevin explains it best: “The technology is rather simple as it consists of a straight camera feed to a monitor. We have a 50-inch Sony monitor and two Canon video cameras. One is mounted on a tripod and the other to a boom stand.” The two video cameras allow for alternative viewings of whatever is being worked on, both from the side and centered overhead.
Prior to determining the best practices for his classes, Kevin worked with Vonda Yarberry, Department Head of the Art+Design Department, to research how other ceramicists have broadcasted their processes in a way where multiple views could be shown. The camera system decided upon and described above had “also been used fifteen-plus years at the annual conference of the National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts,” adds Kevin.
In the classroom, the monitors are easily seen and cameras remain out of the way, as Kevin demonstrates “hand building” or “wheel throwing” techniques. Before COVID, students would normally gather around the potter’s wheel. A positive result from this change of perspective ensures all students get the same viewing experience; Kevin describes this as “leveling the viewing field.”
Although tremendously helpful, this altered teaching strategy adds extra time and effort to professors’ already full schedules. “Drawbacks is that it takes time to set up and break down before and after class,” shares Kevin. “You also have to position the camera on the boom so that you don’t show the back of your head when [leaning] over the potter’s wheel. The students really enjoy that sight,” he jokes.
Kevin acknowledges the help he receives from students when technology gets foreign for “a 50-something-year old.” Not only is this technology-centered teaching process completely new, but it’s also a completely new way to visually communicate. “Students are great at troubleshooting the problems since they have grown up with this tech,” shares Kevin.
Thanks to the hard work of professors–with a bit of help from external technology–students are continuing to discover new things with fresh perspectives in innovative, creative ways.