Art in public places — planning the digital experience

Posted by Martine Durier-Copp, PhD., Academic Dean

We know from the 2019 pre-COVID Canadian National Online and Digital Education Survey, in which NSCAD University took part, that approximately 75 per cent Canadian post-secondary institutions offered some form of online learning, with the majority of them expecting to see enrollments grow. It’s been a year, and COVID has certainly helped realize that expectation! What is less known is how art, craft and design universities, which require face-to-face studio-based instruction, approached technology-enabled teaching and learning, and how they are approaching online teaching and learning during the pandemic.

We continue our discussion and analysis of Professor Kim Morgan’s journey in designing and teaching her online course – ART IN PUBLIC PLACES – MAED6410/MFAR 6410 in Fall 2020 at NSCAD University.

Kim Morgan’s course has as its fundamental objective the creation of an enriched experience for her students in understanding art in public places. She wants to empower her students and give them agency to imagine and animate the public place in terms of what is important to them, be it COVID, #BLM,  Indigenous issues, or climate change.

The challenge, as Kim sees it, is to make the Learning Management System (LMS) — Brightspace at NSCAD — a dynamic place of interaction for her students. During our conversation, she avowed that she was not confident she would be able to meet this challenge.

Kim’s reaction is not unique. Educar’s ECAR Study of Faculty and Information Technology, [2017] reported, at that time, that fewer than half of faculty agreed that online learning helped students learn more effectively.  University teaching today presents instructors with a bewildering — and forever augmenting — array of highly complex and sophisticated technologies, which require time, effort  and training to understand, learn and apply. For educators in the art sphere, the challenges are even more complex.

All instructors wish to achieve — if not a ‘transformational’ learning experience — at the very least a dynamic, rich and engaging experience for their students. Kim refers to “wanting to get to know” her students, to work with them in walking around Halifax,  observing, seeing what kind of public art exits, together imaging what  could be, and then having her students make an “intervention.” Will the online platform provide her with that space and environment to engage, observe, critique and create?

“Not being physically in a classroom with students will be the greatest challenge,” says Kim. “There is nothing that can take the place of the conversations that happen in real time.  The technology gets in the way of this happening, as well as being able to move around the city together as class and look at the work in the physical space as a class where there is a natural communication flow.” She wonders how to replicate that energy in her online classroom.

Kim has recently been joined by Digital Media Intern Brittany (Britt) Moore Shirley, who is confident about creating a digital experience to engage students in a completely different way. An innovative app — MAPHUB — is an interactive geo data site that will be used to facilitate photo hosting, dialogue and discussion as the students undertake their work (more about MAPHUB in next week’s blog).

When done well, “online pedagogy does offer a form of intimacy and intensity, and even a ‘transformative’ experience” [Bessette, 2020]. In fact, blended learning — that strategic combination of online and face-to-face — has been demonstrated  to achieve stronger learning outcomes than either online or face-to-face instruction alone. [Educar, 2017].

Can this be true for art education?

Cornwallis statue removal image from The Star, Jan. 31, 2018. Photo credit: Andrew Vaughan/THE CANADIAN PRESS