Good News Stories - Online Artistry11-June-2020
We have been living through extremely challenging and unprecedented times. Measures implemented as an essential element of fighting against Covid-19 have prompted us all to re-think how we continue to deliver to the people we support.
Our tutors are our ‘frontline’ and throughout the pandemic, their efforts as well as those of many support colleagues has been critical in ensuring that our learning service continues.
Our tutor Peter Townend teaches art, digital literacy, and IT-related subjects to adults across South Wales and here, set against the context of Covid-19, he tells us of his experiences so far.
“In normal times my teaching would take place in a diverse range of locations including community centres, a teaching room in a railway station, conventional teaching spaces in a college, a Department of Work and Pensions office training room or in a trade union training room.
“During lockdown, I have been spending a great deal of time trying to get to grips with how to deliver my teaching on-line. I am fairly good at dealing with technology, but I have never actually taught students online, so it appeared at first, to be a big jump. But once the unusual became the usual, I started to explore how I might do this.
“After the first few weeks of lockdown there was more discussion and encouragement to explore how we might, as teachers, start to put our teaching on-line. Addysg Oedolion Cymru | Adult Learning Wales was quick to offer training, and I started to make plans to restart teaching, albeit in a small way at first.
“Before the training I began to explore the tools I would need to use to deliver this teaching, I was honestly quite anxious despite my experience of using IT in the past, and the thought of doing what I teach on-line just seemed insurmountable”.
“I attended the first training session with colleagues at a UNISON webinar, this was a great opportunity to look at the technology available, but I still felt pretty anxious. After that event I began to contact other tutors and we tried things out on-line with each other in a way that felt safe. I became more confident so decided to just get on with it and get my students used to the idea of working on-line. I pencilled in dates to start teaching and let my students know and I was surprised that all ten of my existing art class students wanted to continue on-line.”
The steps to take to get student up and running whilst not impossible proved to be challenging. Each student would be taken through device set-up so they could join a Microsoft Teams class; this was the platform chosen to support our online learning. With many of Peter’s students being mainly retired and possessing limited IT skills, the initial steps were much harder to do than expected and was made harder still as every student had a different device.
Peter recalls, “It was not just a case of click here and it will work! After two days of working at this I managed to get most of the students to set up and use Teams, but in the process for two students the whole thing proved too difficult and left; one student could not get the software to work and a second was not confident at all that he could manage to do it.”
A third student would highlight an issue which might otherwise get missed, but Peter found a way around this too: “Not having unlimited broadband threw up another issue. My student didn’t want to use up her data allowance or pay to top it up because she could not afford it, so I agreed that she could phone in to the class and I would provide additional videos on line for her to download each week.”
The first of Peter’s online art classes took place on the 30th April. He set up a separate camera away from his main desk to display the practical activity. The course focussed on colour theory and Peter explained this using colour charts with students then creating artwork which used that theory.
Peter supplemented the on-line class by creating videos of the exercises so that the one student who was phoning in had a visual reference too. These videos would prove to be useful for other students too to help them prepare and keep up if they missed class. Another student, with a disability, found the videos invaluable; these helped her online experience become ‘less stressful’ and helped her to prepare before the class with these providing greater insight into what she would be doing.
Learner Penelope reflects: “Having access to all the material posted was very helpful - dipping in and out multiple times to absorb and enjoy the experience with less pressure! When I missed a whole session, this method enabled me to pick up pace at a later stage as I could refer to the sessions material online - accessibility with no time restrictions 24/7!”
By Peter’s estimation, the classes since have become ‘easier’; now everyone is managing to get on to the online class without any help. However, the technology can sometimes prove problematic especially with student microphone sound and video quality. But crucially, the work produced has been very good and almost everyone has gone on to finish their artworks as homework before the next class. Unfortunately though, the one student who had been phoning into the class dropped out; she had found it too difficult over the phone and where she had run out of painting materials she was not able to afford to buy or get new ones. Funding options are currently being explored so she is able to continue on a future course.
Peter views his recent teaching experiences as valuable but not without its costs, as he explains: “The preparation and ongoing additional support for students has meant a huge increase in the time preparing for classes and following up with feedback and support; I probably spend at least 5 hours extra on top of the two hours I teach.
“The experience is less human and it can be difficult to understand how someone is doing in the class (this has to be done now verbally rather than through seeing the detail in the work and in expressions on students’ faces). On the plus side I saved a two hour drive there and back to the class, and we have a group of students who have really benefitted from the classes in ways we can only begin to understand in what are difficult times. I have kept myself occupied in a constructive way and developing many new skills learning new things about my subject too. I can see how I could use technology to deliver other courses and I can see the drawbacks so that I can adjust how I teach to mitigate these.”
Peter’s experiences while unique to his class and his learners are perhaps not untypical during times where teaching methods have been re-evaluated and re-worked to accommodate online platforms while responding to the individual needs of our learners. It also highlights that where we strive for learning parity and equal access to systems and resources, there are gaps which we should strive to address.
Where the challenge of art class resources has been spotlighted here, so too has the need for unlimited broadband. For those who do not have this, it means those learners are being excluded from many things including adult learning.
Peter reflects, “Learning can be a lifeline. I also think that art and craft related subjects need greater recognition in how they can add to people’s lives for all ages. There needs to be more availability, it is not a luxury it is an important and necessary part of the human experience.”
And for those learners attending Peter’s classes, their human experience has clearly been improved during a time which has been very bleak for so many. The pure love of learning has been maintained and nurtured, and spirits have been lifted. Moments of laughter have also featured throughout, such as the time when during a demonstration, Peter inadvertently washed his paint covered brush in his mug of tea – in full view of his online learners. ‘Yes’, he recalls, ‘That was a very funny moment!’.
Our thanks go to Peter for all of his ongoing work and his honest appraisal of his transition from face-to-face to online learning tutor. We wish him well for all future online ventures as well as his face-to-face learning once that returns.
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