VMA’s Transition to Remote Academic Instructions

Since March 16th, Grand Valley State University has officially transitioned to online academic instructions to better ensure our public health and safety. As professors continuously work to better accommodate students under all types of circumstances, April commencement ceremonies have been postponed, residence halls and living centers have been closed, and housing and meal plan credits have been refunded. However, as the global pandemic presents us with new challenges in all aspects of life, the Visual and Media Art Department’s students and faculty find the importance in maintaining a supportive and understanding community.

Professor Kirsten Strom, teaching Survey of Art History II, Art Since 1945, and Issues in Art (Capstone) this winter semester, states that she feels good about how things have since been unfolding in the realm of teaching. Now conducted on a video conferencing application, Strom’s goal was to try as much as possible to replicate the classroom experience to an online format. However, she makes note of the common saying about the current student body being the ‘generation of digital natives’ and says that she has found this unfair assumption to be proven wrong with the recent difficulties that she has witnessed her students face. Strom explains that as a professor during these uncertain times it is important to lower your expectations. With this, she has managed to avoid sacrificing much due to the conversion of face-to-face classrooms to online formats. She reflects on the overall transition, stating, “it’s kind of what creative thinking is all about, looking at what you can do with the circumstances that you have been given.”

Assistant Professor Vinicius Lima, currently teaching Senior Project: Graphics/Illustration, Graphic Design II, and Graphic Design IV, also relies on live video conferencing applications to help his students obtain some level of “synchronous” learning. Along with other classes and professors, Lima has waived attendance policies to better suit the needs of his students and each of their personal circumstances that have arisen due to the pandemic. Although each lecture is recorded and made available after the session has ended, he still invites and encourages his students to “come sit and listen” to the video in real-time. In an attempt to help his students find the same sense of togetherness that used to occupy the face-to-face classroom setting, Lima tries to meet with his students online at least once a week. As far as adapting to this new style of teaching and learning goes, he states that “some students have been finding it hard to juggle this type of learning because they have to essentially shift their thinking, their practice, and their way of working together.”

Associate Professor Brett Colley, teaching courses in both drawing and printmaking, has found the transition to significantly hinder the productivity and fundamental learning that is an essential part of the usual curriculum. Due to the lack of accessibility that students have to the proper resources such as the materials and equipment that are provided on campus, he has found it difficult to simulate an equivalent learning experience online. For the time being, with tool kits of ink and rollers that have been shipped to their homes, his students have been working on wood carvings and linocuts—one thing that is typical of the printmaking class. As students pursue projects on their own, Colley has also been utilizing online platforms such as Facebook, Blackboard, and video conferencing applications, which he believes has been the most significant and valuable time dedicated to the class. He recognizes the importance of the classroom’s social component and notes that his students are grateful to see and hear from one another. Having some consistency in meeting regularly has allowed them to feel “grounded” and “level.” During his last video conference with his students, now displaced and scattered in and outside of Michigan, he says that he could “tell just how much they didn’t want the meeting to end even when nothing seemed to be getting accomplished.”

As their emails overflow with updates and continuous support from professors in the department, students have been faced with just as many new challenges. Colin Ney expressed, as a senior graphic design major, “it has been hard to adjust, to not be in an environment with people that are doing the same thing, and struggling to maintain motivation without people to bounce ideas off of and get that free-flowing feedback that I am used to.” Alexis Wethy, a jewelry and metalsmithing major, adds, “I have been adjusting as well as I can, but I have entirely stopped making things, which is not normal for someone in my major.” Due to the pandemic, both Ney and Wethy’s senior shows have been canceled and alternative ways of celebrating their accomplishments are still up in the air. Originally planning to have graduated this winter semester, Wethy has decided to push back her senior thesis to the spring and summer semester, stating, “As far as supplies and equipment goes, I don’t have as much as the school campus can offer me.”

Claire Bennett, a studio art minor, says that the transition has been difficult due to the inability for professors to be “hands-on” when presented with questions. Without the proper equipment and tools, her professors have been providing the class with materials, shipped to their homes, for alternative assignments that will keep them creating art in any shape or form. As for difficulties, Bennett explains, “The transition has been a challenge for everyone on different aspects. It depends on the environment as well, where some people are able to go home and others are having to stay at their apartments in isolation. Adjusting to everything outside of school has also been a challenge; in my mind, online learning is not the most ideal thing.”

As of now, Grand Valley State University will continue remote academic instruction until June 17th. As COVID-19 continues to progress, it is important to stay informed on the matter by regularly checking the CDC website. The website provides preventative measures that are essential for protecting yourself and others from the disease; such as washing your hands often with soap and water for at least twenty seconds, stay at home as much as possible to avoid close contact with someone who is sick, cover your mouth when coughing or sneezing, clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces, and avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth. Further information can found at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/prevention.html

However, more time at home means more time with our new co-workers and classmates—our pets. Amid the coronavirus outbreak and the stay-at-home order, pet owners have been reminded of the importance of companionship. While in social isolation, daily routines have been replaced with the company and the comfort of our pets. Owners and their fuzzy companions continue to bring each other much needed joy and support during these unusual times. It is important to take advantage of these times as our pets need us as much as we need them. Happy to have their own pets closer than six feet away, some of our students and faculty would agree:

Pictured below is Kirsten Strom’s five-month-old rescued puppy named Robbie. He is named after Robert Desnos, her favorite surrealist artist.

Pictured here are Brett Colley’s fuzzy companions. On the right: “Sunshine is a 12-year old greyhound, originally rescued from a racetrack in Florida. I’ve included a shot of her most blissed out sleep position, which we call ‘Sunny-side up’!” On the left:“Rupert Giles (foreground) is a rotund, the five-year old cuddle master. Khaleesi, is a four-year old half-demon fluff ball that tolerates us because we feed her.”

This is Zeppelin, Alexis Wethy’s pup who is described as “old and loves to sleep.”

Wednesday, Colin Ney’s cat, is said to be a “goofball” that is “very friendly and loves to cuddle.”

Here is Claire Bennett and her cat, “Shorty,” aka her “lil toasted marshmallow.” “She loves spending time with me and being involved in whatever I am doing. She is very curious about everything and loves to help with crafts!!”

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