No. 16 • 2020-09-02

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Back to School

How is it September already? Many of us are scrambling to get ready for another most unusual school year. For me, that will involve teaching online (again). I do miss teaching in the classroom, much like I miss singing together with other people. I’ve also seen many professors, teachers, and students struggle with online classes, particularly last spring when there was little time to prepare. It’s actually quite similar to musicians attempting online collaboration for the first time. But we all get better at it, and as with virtual music ensembles, I’ve also witnessed enormous creativity in methods of teaching and engaging students online, towards a different, but not lesser, learning experience.

I firmly believe remote learning offers unique opportunities for creative instruction and learning. The first mistake many made, especially in the quick transition last spring, was to try to simply replicate the in-person experience. Online learning is different, fundamentally, just like a TV show is different from a performance staged in a theater. We must embrace those differences and adapt to incorporate the best features of the medium (see local efforts by Opera Philadelphia, the Wilma Theater, and others to produce new digital content).

I find it helpful to lean into the differences between in-person and remote instruction to identify the elements that that can be enhanced through online instruction. Here are some thoughts:

  • Different kinds of student engagement: Some aren’t comfortable speaking in class, but are happy to engage in text questions / conversations. We can also use messaging to keep conversations going outside of the class period.
  • Authoring new media: Rethinking textbooks and slides is long overdue. Experiment with new learning media, like U. Penn Prof. Robert Ghrist’s video textbook for calculus (above image).
  • Alternate modes of sharing and communicating: Online, we can easily share writing, documents, media, sketches, and code. These are the tools of the modern workplace, and we should embrace them for our students.
  • Special guest presenters: Speakers I couldn’t normally bring to campus (distance, cost, etc.), I can invite for remote presentations.

Ultimately, I believe remote teaching (and learning) makes us better instructors and students, whether in person or online. Most are past the angst. Let’s focus on the opportunities to make our classes this year into truly engaging and creative learning experiences. 

Visit Prof. Ghrist’s website for his amazing Calculus Blue project materials. More on the philosophy behind this work in this Twitter thread.

(Socially) Distant Creations

  • 2020 Grand Finale Concert [Vox Virtual Online A Cappella Festival] A fantastic virtual concert featuring 10 international ensembles!
  • Philadelphia Fringe Festival 2020 [Fringe Arts] Fringe is going all virtual this year (Sept. 10-Oct. 4).   It’s an incredible lineup of events, exhibits, and more!
  • #RedAlertRestart [WeMakeEvents] I still miss live events. This is an advocacy campaign led by We Make Events to support relief for the live events sector, which lit up venues in red on Sept. 1. See also Save Our Stages.
  • B.PHL 2020 Innovation Festival [B.PHL] The second B.PHL Festival is all virtual with some amazing speakers and registration is absolutely free! (Sept. 15-17, more below.)

What I’m creating

Creative Conversations for a Changing World
Save the date: Tuesday, Sept. 15 at 4pm
Jessica Zweig (Play On Philly) and I are co-moderating a virtual panel discussion with David Devan (Opera Philadelphia), Valerie Gay (Barnes Foundation), and Melissa Talley-Palmer (Bartol Foundation) on innovating in arts and education through the pandemic. Registration is free!

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