Andrew Kozlowski headshot
Andrew Kozlowski | Assistant Professor

Art in the Age of Distance Learning


In studio art courses learning outcomes are evaluated through the creation of artworks. My area, printmaking, relies on shared space, heavy equipment, hand tools, inks, and assorted chemistry. Since the Spring of 2020 printmaking courses at UNF have been offered as Remote Instruction courses to accommodate safety guidelines during the COVID 19 Pandemic. Immediate needs focused on providing materials and support to students. What materials could they use in a home studio safely? How could projects be formatted to keep costs down but work at a high level? How could discussions be used? Assignments collected? Demonstrations shared? While each of these needs in course delivery were considered, the biggest challenge wasn’t access to equipment or space, but engagement. The Fall semester saw students fall victim to fatigue. Too many mini assignments, growing to-do lists, requests to post on endless discussion threads. Engagement slowed in the face of digital tools meant to foster it. For the Spring of 2021, I worked to simplify and strengthen student engagement, to rebuild what we missed about our classes: working together. This essay is a reflection on teaching studio art online, what worked, what didn’t, and what the future of these tools might look like in my classes. From the pragmatic considerations of limiting contact in the studio, to pedagogical shifts in teaching students the power of creating a home studio, to understanding the engagement that makes studio art unique in an online environment. Art in the age of distance learning.

In studio art courses learning outcomes are evaluated through the creation of artworks by each student.  My area, printmaking, relies on shared space, heavy equipment, hand tools, inks, and assorted chemistry.  The printmaking studio at UNF serves 90 students a semester through six courses taught by two professors.  Classes run from 9 am-6 pm four days a week with the studio open nights and weekends for students to complete their projects.  Given the high traffic of the studio, and the necessity of sharing space and materials, social distancing was unrealistic, even with a hybrid approach.  Printmaking classes shifted to remote instruction for the 20/21 academic year. 

Projects were redesigned to consider methods safe to use in a home studio of limited space. What materials presented the widest range of use for minimal cost?  What would be the best way to demonstrate techniques, review assignments, and provide feedback? Some answers proved easier than others.  Techniques better suited to working with limited supplies could become the focus.  Some inks and supplies could be provided.  Demonstrations could be conducted via Zoom.  Assignments collected through Canvas. 

However, through my experience in the Fall of 2020, I found the biggest challenge became not access to equipment or space, but engagement.  As outlined below I’ll discuss what I learned from my Fall semester teaching studio art remotely, and what I adapted for my approach to the Spring 2021 semester with a focus on my Screenprinting I and II courses.

andrew in home studio
andrew in home studio
andrew in home studio
andrew in home studio

Live demonstration in progress, Spring 2021.  Students in Screenprinting I and II watch via Zoom as I demonstrate making monoprints during class.  The videos are captured using my iPhone logged into Zoom as an overhead “demo view”.  Starting and stopping the recording allows for basic edits and can also divide longer sessions into unique videos.  These videos are posted after class on Canvas as a reference tool for students as they work in their home studio. 

Working remotely promised an opportunity for students to learn how to set up a home studio.  While students enjoy printmaking, continuing to print after graduation without the support of a well-stocked studio makes it difficult.  Not requiring any hazardous chemicals or ventilation, water based screenprinting is ideal for a home studio, and this became the driving idea in working remotely.   I stretched our lab fees to provide students with ink, basic cleaning supplies, and printing bases made from inexpensive materials so they could set up their own home studio.

Supplies ready for pick up Spring 2021: Cleaning buckets (from old containers of ink), ink filled in plastic deli containers, and printing bases. Students living on or close to campus could come in to pick up supplies during the start of the semester.
Printing bases were made for each student. Large pieces of melamine (shelving material covered with a waterproof laminate) were cut and fixed with cabinet hinges with their hinge pin removed. One half of the hinge pair is fixed on the printing surface, the other half on the frame of the screen. The hinge pin is replaced with a removable wire creating an inexpensive DIY printing station. Each base costs approximately $6 to make. The small scale (16”x24”) was economical and could fit in a range of small home studios.

The techniques covered: monoprinting, cut stencils, repeat printing, and reduction screen printing, offered a range of approaches utilizing the same materials, and don’t require any specialized equipment.

Drawing on the screen with water soluble materials such as markers and watercolor pencils is a quick and inexpensive way for students to begin exploring their new home studio. The results are immediate and satisfying. Many of the assignments in these classes are similar to those completed in face to face classes, a reduction in scale to accommodate the home studio being a main difference.
Self adhesive vinyl sheets, available at craft stores, are a great material for creating stencils for screen printing. They require no special tools (beyond a sharp blade and some tape) and no special chemistry. I was sure to test techniques using the same set up as my students.

Though versatile, Photo Emulsion requires additional investment in supplies and equipment rendering it unsuitable for the course.  However, I supplemented this loss with a series of videos covering the process with a home studio in mind and offering optional demonstrations to small groups of students in the studio for students who wanted to give it a try.

Stills from my video series on using photo emulsion at home. While the process can be done at home using the Sun to expose the costs are prohibitive enough and the learning curve steep enough to make it difficult for inexperienced printmakers to take on without supervision.

The techniques became four major assignments, split into modules, supported with smaller assignments including research projects, sketchbook assignments, visiting artist presentations, and critiques.  A structure analogous to my face to face classes.

Overall the projects proved successful, but for the Spring semester, I altered how smaller assignments are completed.  During the Fall semester group, Zoom meetings focused on lectures, after which students could use the remainder of class time to complete assignments.  Students were required to post work and feedback via Discussion boards, but as the semester wore on, these discussions suffered from infrequent posts as students struggled to balance making, documenting, posting, and commenting. 

With reflection, this pitfall became obvious.  Small assignments in online classes can increase student engagement.  However, in the Fall, the small assignments and discussions meant to increase engagement were lost in a sea of endless to-do lists as students struggled to balance assignments across their new online class load. Engagement dipped as fatigue set in.  Students naturally focused on their larger assignments but neglected to post updates or comments. Small stakes homework assignments were completed but rushed, turned in late, or not at all. A calculation that didn’t undermine their overall performance as the weight of their larger assignments outstripped these smaller pieces.

To remedy this for the Spring 2021 semester I limited homework to major projects.  Smaller assignments are completed and shared during class meetings, increasing engagement and timely completion.  Class time is better used as a way to focus students on their work, helping them with their time management. Shared Google Slides presentation are live edited by students in class to post and share work.  This format for posting work avoids image restrictions in Canvas while creating engaging collaborative presentations.

Spring 2021, screenshot of students working on “Monster Dance Party” a sketchbook assignment used to loosen up and begin the semester. Students draw monsters from a variety of objects around them. We play music for fun and as a timer during these work sessions.
Screen capture of students live editing a presentation for class. Students were shown the UNF library art and design databases and given 30 minutes to contribute 3 slides to the presentation. Afterward students shared the presentation as a class with each taking turns talking about their submission.
Class presentation from Screenprinting I & II “Monster Dance Party”. Students shared the results of their sketchbook experiments.

In the Fall I asked students their thoughts on what to improve for the Spring semester.  I noted my observations regarding time management, and they agreed.  Students remarked they missed the interaction with their peers in the studio.  Everyone agreed on the value of sharing work, but how students had difficulty keeping up with posting and commenting in a timely fashion as the semester wore on.     

Students were positive with the home studio setup, they appreciated the materials provided, and the pace of the projects. One student remarked that working remotely proved beneficial as they could continue to print in their home studio after class ended.  Several students spoke positively about the inclass sketchbook assignments. Students agreed that they learned a great deal of resilience working remotely.

There are a number of innovations I look forward to using in future semesters, like recording demonstrations using my Zoom setup.  It is simple to do and the archived videos will prove a valuable resource for each class.

A selection of the videos created for one class. Some videos can be repurposed for future classes, or recordings from class can be added to create a resource for students to review demonstrations.

Zoom has been useful for inviting virtual visiting artists, a great way for students to engage with working artists and hear new ideas.

Students watching a live presentation by virtual visiting artist Brook Inman, an artist and educator based in Richmond VA. Brooke shared her work and answered questions over her hour and a half presentation.

Collaborating on research projects and sketchbook assignments increased engagement with supplemental materials and added to discussions. 

Students listen to an episode of the podcast “99% Invisible” while working on a sketchbook brainstorming exercise. While this could be completed as homework, doing the assignment in class creates an opportunity to discuss the show, share drawings, and answer questions in real-time.

One of the biggest considerations for future coursework is how students present their final projects. Previously I had students submit a reflective writing assignment along with a portfolio of work at the end of each module.  Remote instruction transformed this into a “Time Capsule”, a PowerPoint presentation that expanded the formal reflective writing assignment, including progress photos, sketches, studies, and finished prints. This digital portfolio has become an effective tool for students to share their work and evaluate their effort.  The format is an excellent introduction to creating an artist talk, a requirement of all BFA candidates at UNF. 

Remote Instruction has required innovation and encouraged reflection on what I value in my classroom.  These challenges have tempered myself and my students.  The knowledge accrued through remote instruction has resulted in opportunities to further expand my approach to effective teaching, regardless of the format.   

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