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Virtual Visionaries

After laboring online, art teachers meet face-to-face


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In the video above listen to Mark Fisher (CFA’10), Kate Chawula (CFA’10), Megan Radocha (CFA’10), and Autumn Britt (CFA’10) talk about their experiences in the Online Master of Arts in Art Education program through the College of Fine Arts. Photos by Vernon Doucette and Kimberly Cornuelle.

Mark Fisher spent the last week of June searching for inspiration, and found it in a can opener.

An art teacher from California, Fisher was rooting around Goodwill, trying to find an object to re-create in sculpture class, when the mundane implement stirred his creative imagination and brought him one step closer to earning an Online Master of Arts in Art Education at the College of Fine Arts. Fisher (CFA’10) is part of the inaugural year of the program, which now has about 180 students. After studying at their home computers since last September, 42 of the students arrived on campus from around the country in late June for the studio program, a week of intensive study. Another 20 students are set to arrive at the end of July.

“This week has been reinvigorating,” Fisher says. “I feel like I have so much energy to put toward art, and teaching.”

Fisher flew in from the West Coast a few days early to participate in a joint exhibition with students in CFA’s Gallery 5. His can opener accompanied him all week—from wired sculpture class with Batu Siharulidze, a CFA associate professor, to printmaking with CFA lecturer Aithan Shapira.

Fisher is already thinking of ways to use object re-creation for his lesson plans in the fall.

Autumn Britt (CFA’10) also arrived in Boston a few days before the program started, “which I’m glad I did,” she says. “We haven’t had a lot of time to walk around.” The students woke up early, snagged some breakfast, then were in studio classes most of the day—choosing two from printmaking, wire sculpture, digital photography, with Amy Lithimane (CFA’09), or book art, with Lynne Allen, director of CFA’s School of Visual Arts.

“We’re hard at work—it’s all art, which is great,” says Britt, who is also certified in language arts. “The best is meeting everyone, because I knew their writing online, and now we’re making wire sculpture together.”

Kate Chawula (CFA’10) wanted practical knowledge, since what she teaches ranges from finger-painting to two-point perspective. As the only art teacher in her K-8 school in Denver, Colo., she instructs more than 600 students. She decided on book arts and printmaking for her studio classes.

“I wanted to learn something I could take back to my classroom and actually use day-to-day,” she says.

Chawula found that the online community helped her through the solitary study of a distance education program. “There were ups and downs, with a few breakdown moments, head on the kitchen table, wondering if I could do it,” she says. “But you just have to manage your time well.”

It’s not unusual for those enrolled in the online program to be the only art teachers in their school, says Judith Simpson, a CFA associate professor. For her, the program affords not only the opportunity to provide an education, but also a support system for teachers when they return to their classrooms.

“Our teachers are an island in their schools, alone,” says Simpson. “Artists and teachers both need the right vocabulary to advocate for themselves. My goal is to equip them with that knowledge.”

Megan Radocha (CFA’10), who teaches high school art in Portland, Ore., says she benefited from that support system over a year of online communication around the virtual water cooler, but the studio program allowed her to finally put faces to names.

“It becomes more personal once you’re here,” Radocha says. “I can walk up to someone and say, ‘I’ve talked to you a hundred million times online!’”

Kimberly Cornuelle can be reached at kcornuel@bu.edu; follow her on Twitter at @kcornuel.

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