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Home School of Communications, Media, Arts and Design Blog 2020 July 14 Art and Design Programs Ready to Soar Online

Art and Design Programs Ready to Soar Online


The upcoming school year will certainly be the most unique yet, primarily due to its delivery. As you’ve seen, or first-hand experienced, at the end of our previous semester, the curriculum was moved entirely online. This undoubtedly took some time getting used to, but the semester came to a close with the same storytelling spirit it always has- just from a distance. With September around the corner and similar systems still in place surrounding social distancing and educational institution protocols, the new school year will be taught online. The way teaching at a distance is carried out depends greatly on the instructor’s method of teaching. Online learning can appear in various ways: asynchronous learning strategies occur when instruction doesn’t occur at a specific time, while synchronous learning strategies occur when a group of students are learning at the same time. Online learning can also be a mixture of both and will be very dependent on the type of program you’re in and the material that needs to be presented.

Dr. Chris Jackman, Academic Chair of Arts and Design at the Story Arts Centre, has been working in collaboration with program coordinators and other faculty to best move the school’s arts and design courses online for the fall. “When it looked like the COVID-19 crisis was coming, Dean Nate Horowitz posed the question to me- how much material do you think in the arts and design department can go online? My response to him was, are you serious- pretty much nothing! A lot of that was my own fear talking because I know that in arts and design industries, such as visual arts and performing arts, we’re so used to not just working in live spaces, but to come to understand this as being integral to the art form that we’re working with or the skills that we’re developing. In some ways, it was very challenging, especially at first, to think about how you can take a dance program and bring that online or how you can take a product design program and bring that online. Once that fear subsided and I actually started talking to my faculty members and my coordinator team, I had that wonderful experience of moving from uncertainty to acceptance. We began to explore what it would mean to bring these programming into learning at a distance,” he says.

Chris also wants to emphasize the beneficial aspects that will surface from learning at a distance. He says, “The fact of the matter is, all of our industries are not dying. In fact, in this time, people have turned more and more to media, to art, to performance, and arguably, these skills have never been in greater demand. While we’re looking at profound industry changes, if anything, I think we’re entering into a new age of high demand. There are challenges, of course- we see the leaders of our industries scrambling to adapt to a sudden drastic change in the professional ecosystem, but as an educational institution, inviting students to continue with us or to join us, we’re in a very unique position. Students who are coming in now are going to be equipped with the skills that they need in order to thrive in these transformed industries. Picking up essential competencies and learning objectives that frankly those in the profession are now trying their best to pick up ad hoc. While this is undeniably a challenging time for people in having to revise what their educational experience is going to be, it’s also a time when they’re in absolutely the right place to make sure that in this profoundly changed professional environment, they are work-ready, and not just ready to participate, but really learning to lead.”

When it comes to the various programs within our campus, Chris outlines some of the more creative industries, along with the positive and new facets for students to consider.

“In our dance program, Program Coordinator Celestine Eagle talked about the profound transformation of how that industry is doing with a drop in live performance. But also recognizing that we have a new opportunity to give our students the skills that are going to be universally applicable, while also training them to work more effectively for the camera, to design and produce that show their skills to the best of their ability, and to market themselves for a global audience, while at the same time, developing and crafting their skills as a professional dancer, under the guidance of some of the leading dance educators in the GTA.

In our music program, we’ve been looking at the changes in how musicians collaborate and how they’re adapting to technology and new platforms to create even more rich online experiences for their audience, such as collaborating with other musicians and producers from anywhere in the world.

Our animation, digital visual effects, and game- art programs, all rely on high-quality, professional-grade computers. Our IT team has been working to establish remote access protocols and software that will allow our students and faculty to operate high-powered machines from a distance, regardless of their home computer setups. 

In terms of our photography program, we’re looking at 3D modelling software that will help our students explore and experiment with new and diverse lighting setups for virtual studios and 3D models, giving them a critical literacy not just on how to work in a physical studio, but how to use technological tools to reduce studio time upfront, helping them to be more creative and to work more efficiently and effectively with a client.

Even in our theatre program, we’re considering the possibility of teaching playwriting, but towards a more contemplative and reflective model. Providing lessons through podcasts and potentially even sending instructions through the mail in order to really support the idea of slowing down and listening to your own creative genius.

Within the Museum and Cultural Management program, Dr. Phaedra Livingstone, Professor and Program Coordinator, says, “There’s a question of setting expectations and managing perceptions and there’s still sort of a black and white understanding of in-person as opposed to online pedagogy. Just because the pedagogical content is being delivered online, doesn’t mean that all of the learning activities associated with that lesson are going to be in that online environment. We are putting our classrooms online and the instructions online, but what learners are doing is going to be more diverse than that. We have many international students that join this program, so if they have to stay at home and not relocate, we can take advantage of the distributed nature of our cohort in an exciting way and make the most of that. Places are opening up and our students can go out and do, for example, informational interviews with museum professionals in their area of interest, or in an area related to a course topic, and share that back to the group through the online classroom.

We’re now exploding the classroom walls and taking advantage of the distributed nature of our cohort. For working with objects, we’ll do things slightly differently than we would if having people in the classroom, but it has never been a situation where we’ve had the whole cohort handling things all at once anyway. We’re still going to be able to adapt the skills practiced, it’s just going to look different. When a student doesn’t necessarily know what to expect in the first place, it’s going to be hard to take that leap, so we need to assure them that the learning objectives are not changing, it’s just the pedagogical strategies that are changing and for the better, I think- it’ll be more inclusive and it’ll be more exciting.”

Chris adds, “Having an understanding of what an online course is, emerges through the kind of online courses that were first developed twenty years ago where you can plug and read something and respond to something and it’s all fairly standard. Sure, that works sometimes, but frankly, we’re an industry and a department that prioritizes innovation and that very often begins when you hit the ground running. We model that with our students and we encourage them to do the same because online learning has transformed our possibilities, and we are only now beginning to realize the richness of the tools that we’ve always had at our fingertips.”

Teaching from a distance, although is different from what most of us are used to, definitely has its benefits, as it can allow for greater discovery into ways of doing things that have not been previously tapped into. To stay up to date on any new changes, you can follow @StoryArtsCentre and @CentennialCollege on social media, as well as check out the latest reopening news and updates, here.


By: Alexandra Few