Art and dance courses adjust to a 2-D reality

Whatcom Community College’s Visual and Performing Arts courses have been functioning online this quarter for the first time due to the state’s stay-at-home order, according to Whatcom’s visual art discipline lead Rob Beishline.

Beishline has been working at Whatcom since 2001 running the 3D art classes. In his time at Whatcom, he said has never taught online.

“We did have to cancel a couple of courses, [such as] the real throwing classes,” Beishline said, “but the other ceramic classes are still running, the drawing classes, and there are some design classes. They are all still running and being taught online.”

Beishline describes the transition to working from home and online as a “learning curve” for both himself and his students.

He said he understands that students are learning along with him this quarter to adapt to taking art classes in an online environment, so he’s been giving extra grace to students with the hope of reciprocated patience.

Beishline said he has been able to keep much of his curriculum the same this quarter, making only minor adjustments to create assignments that are more friendly to smaller work environments.

“I’ve reduced the size and complexity of some of the assignments because they don’t have all the tools at home that they do in a ceramics studio,” he said.

These adjustments have also allowed courses to be more easily accessible to international students who have returned home.

Beishline said he was able to put together materials kits for students this quarter, and through Whatcom’s bookstore, he was able to have them distributed to students working at home.

Whatcom’s summer classes will be held online and Beishline said he plans to continue to make art supplies available for students through the material fees they already pay.

 “For the summer, and probably for fall, if we do go online, we will use money from the materials fee to put together really basic kits,” he said.

Beishline said one of the only major differences in the online curriculum is the students’ lack of access to glazing and surface decorating tools and their ability to have their work fired in  the proper industrial oven, which are the steps that finalize a clay piece.

“I would be hoping to get a few pieces fired for them at the end of the quarter if the state moves into Phase 2 of their plan to reopen,” he said.

Beishline said ceramics is messy and transporting items makes them easy to break. He would previously have discouraged students from trying to work on their projects at home, however, he is reevaluating his view after seeing the success his students have achieved under the unplanned circumstances of spring quarter.

“I could envision in the future having a couple of online options every quarter for studio classes,” he said.

For Beishline, having to figure out how to organize these classes online while continuing to support students has shown him that more might be possible for Whatcom’s Visual and Performing Arts courses than he had thought in the past.

“That would be a big curriculum change and I think it would really help out a handful of students that are trying to work their classes into the evening or into online options because they have full-time jobs,” he said.

 Along with thoughts to implement a more permanent online option for students interested in taking 3D design courses, Beishline also said he wants to make future on-campus classes more sustainable.

 “A lot of stuff gets thrown away in the ceramics studio at the end of the quarter, a lot of fired clay, and it makes me want to rethink some of the assignments,” he said. “Maybe not everything has to be fired, maybe students choose a certain number of pieces that are fired and the rest can be recycled.”

Beishline is hopeful to get back to teaching physical classes again, and says he misses certain aspects of student engagement that teaching online lacks.

“I look forward to being able to talk with students and see them working,” he said. “Just having dialogue with them about their work as they’re working.”

The same could be said about the dance courses, which naturally thrive in an in-person environment.

However, dance faculty instructor Juliette Machado said she has found some advantages to the online shift. She said her curriculum has been modified to better serve the needs of an online platform and help students comfortably work from home.

“The movement exercises are designed with small spaces in mind and aim to inspire students to move in new ways at home,” she said.

Machado said she has been pleased with how well her students have adapted to online classes and said Whatcom has made the few resources needed for her class, such as internet access and a way to record and send videos, readily available.

Machado’s students are not the only ones she has noticed who have responded well to the rapidly changing circumstances. Machado said she is impressed with the way dancers have come together during the pandemic.

“The global dance community was quick to respond to this new physically distant reality,” she said. “It was heartwarming to see people come together in new ways to offer support and ideas for adapting the art form to keep it relevant to the current times.”

Despite this quarter’s successes, Machado said she is looking forward to returning to campus as soon as it is safe to do so.

“There is no substitute for the type of learning and growth that happens in a class where dancers of all levels are moving together in the same space,” she said.

Like Beishline, Machado is also anticipating the lasting impact the pandemic will have on the art form.

“I am curious how this worldwide crisis will impact the ways we move together and the types of dances we want to create,” she said.

For both instructors, they say they have less concern for what they have lost in this temporary situation, and are more focused on how it will positively transform and broaden their future in-class experiences.

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