The Challenge of Remotely Teaching Classes That Usually Demand Hands-on Learning and Collaboration
COM and CFA faculty find innovative ways to help their students adapt
Maura Smith’s film production classes are all about hands-on learning. A College of Communication master lecturer in film, Smith is used to helping her students figure out how to use film gear, how to shoot demos in class, and how to collaborate with actors, screenwriters, and others. But what do you do when a pandemic sends your students across the country and the globe for the remainder of the semester? For Smith, it’s about teaching her students how to improvise, how to adapt. That means figuring out how to shoot a film on their iPhone, how to work without the benefit of studio lights—in essence, turning remote learning into a teachable lesson.
“When you take away all that gear, you’re still left with what makes a good story,” Smith says. “Here’s the constraint you have, what can you do?”
It’s a challenge Yo-EL Cassell, a College of Fine Arts assistant professor of movement, has had to grapple with as well. His students are used to engaging together in exercises that help them discover how movement informs play and how to communicate emotion through movement and dance. His solution? To create a Facebook page for each of his movement classes, where everyone can observe—and celebrate—one another. For Cassell, that can mean something as simple as launching into an improvised dance from his living room along with his wife and eight-year-old son that recalls those exercise videos of the 1980s. “In honor of Jane Fonda and Richard Simmons tutorial videos, we just want to jam!” Cassell says as he moves across the room.
Cassell says he has tried to help his students realize that holding classes remotely offers an opportunity to teach—and learn—through a different lens.
“In the beginning, my students would say, ‘It’s not going to be the same,’ and I would say, ‘It’s not going to be the same, but it’s going to be just as enriching if we just allow this experience to bring to light everything we’ve celebrated, everything we’ve learned this past year, and try to find that silver lining of joy.’”