As education institutes across the nation are learning how best to manage COVID-19, arts professors at the University of Alaska Fairbanks are finding ways to connect with their students.
Music professor Bryan Hall noted there were two main reasons spring break was extended at the university: to keep everyone safe until CDC determined next steps and to allow professors to put courses online and develop alternative delivery methods.
“So actually, in a way it helped, because for us to kind of figure out how to get in touch with elearning on campus is a really, really great resource,” Hall said.
Hall mentioned one of his viola students actually works with information technology at the university, so he helped him transition his courses online. Hall teaches five classes, which had to be brought online. One of his colleagues had to move six courses online, so Hall said that week was really essential to just give them time to prepare.
A difficulty he mentioned was that all of their ensembles hold a very important part of our culture here in town, but groups like Northern Lights Orchestra, UAF Wind Symphony and Fairbanks Symphony Orchestra can no longer meet.
“So that’s a hard hit just because, and I think a hard hit for the community, because it’s like sports you know? You can’t go to hockey or an NBA game right now, just like you can’t go to a concert,” Hall said.
They’re still planning to let student recitals happen, as they only involve one to two people, and can be delivered via Skype.
“The other part that is really great about what we can do is with modern video technology: We can offer lessons to our students via Skype and Facetime and Zoom,” Hall said.
He’s giving video and recorded assignments to students. They’ll be able to play, record their lessons and type with him in a Google Doc.
“The drawback of it is the sort of visceral and raw experience of looking one on one with someone, and of course a performance is live,” he said, adding that with no audience there for the performer, they’re missing that aspect of it.
Some of the music department students, in leaving the dorms, also had to leave Fairbanks, which Hall said is hard.
“The thing about the music department that I consider important to mention is that we’re on of the departments on campus that interfaces with hundreds of people every week via concerts, ensembles and our classes available,” he said.
The faculty works not only with university students, but also with school age students, music educators, youth orchestra and other parts of the community.
“So we are constantly, I think, we serve that position in the community to keep contact with the North Star Borough via offering music and music education for lots of people every week,” Hall said.
He said that’s not as easy when you can’t congregate, but they’re still making efforts to reach out and keep people engaged, which he thinks is important.
Also adjusting to the new delivery methods is Sean Walklin, assistant professor for the culinary arts and hospitality program from the UAF Community and Technical College. At CTC he notes they’re focused on workforce development, so they’re thinking about that in making all of their decisions.
Some parts of the transition online come easier than others.
“About half of our classes are kind of lecture-based classes, so those ones are pretty easy to transition to online, then of course our complicated classes were our lab ones,” Walklin said.
The labs are where they do hands on work, but that’s not a possibility anymore.
“So we’re trying to be creative about what we’re going to do and how we’re going to do it,” Walklin said.
Bringing cooking classes online will involve, as one example, live and recorded cooking demonstrations so Walklin’s students can watch him cook things, with accompanying tasting notes worksheets if they cook with him.
“We’ve got some students that are from out of town who haven’t been able to come back,” he said, adding that he doesn’t know if those students will have all their ingredients, so he won’t require people to cook along. Instead, that might become an extra credit option.
Walklin noted that chefs around the world have been using Instagram and Facebook to post cooking tutorials from home while self-isolating.
When staff were video conferencing last week talking about how to move forward, Walklin said the idea was to work with what they were comfortable with. If things change, getting tighter and more restricted due to the pandemic, he noted they wanted to give students some normalcy.
“We just really wanted to focus on doing the best that we could with what we had, and not swinging back and forth and changing every week,” he said.
Students will be brainstorming this week on what kind of final they’re going to have, since they can’t have an in person cooking test. The test, alongside the student run restaurant and the department’s annual scholarship dinner, had to be canceled.
Walklin said he knows if he was a student, he would want to have some say in things and input into the changes that are made.