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Our New Reality: Hands-On Learning Done Virtually

Our New Reality: Hands-On Learning Done Virtually

In this podcast episode, host, Samantha Collins, explores what it’s like to take and teach hands-on courses such as Engineering, Art, and Theater virtually over Zoom. Students and professors from Loyola Marymount University share what it’s been like to adjust to online learning, be a part of virtual theater productions, and participate and teach hands-on courses online.

Transcription:

SAMANTHA COLLINS, HOST: As the Fall 2020 semester quickly comes to a close for students around the world, for many, that means their first semester of doing school completely online is coming to an end as well. And with that comes planning for the Spring 2021 semester. Students at Loyola Marymount University are currently preparing for another semester of fully online courses, but some are still hanging on to a bit of hope that a few classes might be offered in person. 

For some students who are majoring in very hands-on subjects like engineering, art, and theater, taking another semester of fully online classes is a bit daunting and frustrating. But for others majoring in the same things, online classes aren’t as bad as they may seem. 

Today we’ll hear from 3 LMU students who are majoring in engineering, art, and theater and are finishing their first semester of fully online classes. These students reflect on the ups and downs of the fall semester and give us a deeper look into what it’s like to take classes that are normally very hands-on and classroom-oriented, through a computer screen. We’ll also hear from 2 LMU professors, who teach theater and art classes, about what it’s been like to teach their students over Zoom, and put on virtual performances. 

I’m Samantha Collins and this is Our New Reality, 

~Music~ 

ASHLEY SALISBURY: I’m Ashley Salisbury. I’m a sophomore mechanical engineering major in the Seaver College of Loyola Marymount University.

COLLINS: Salisbury, has taken all her classes this semester from home in Morgan Hill, California. From calculus, to choir, to a circuits class with an accompanying lab, Salisbury took a wide range of classes this semester. Some of those being very hands-on. Her circuits lab for example, was completely hands-on, and taking it over Zoom was a completely new experience. 

Audio Clip from Circuits Class: From V knot you can solve for I knot.  So this I knot is the current that is coming out of this [inaudible]. And what we know is that this current coming out of the [inaudble] is going to be equal to the current going through this tin nano [inaudible] capacitor.  

SALISBURY: They sent us, little packages that had like this little like breadboard that we basically like put wires in and like connect to our computers to prove different theorems which has been really fun. And I think having the lab on a smaller scale made the most sense to do and it was nice that they were able to, you know, send us equipment, and it wasn’t anything like dangerous, so I felt safe doing labs and everything. We basically did it live, we didn’t do every step together but you know I was like on Zoom our cameras had to be on and my professor was there like explaining how to do the lab before, and we also had like 4 TAs in the Zoom as well. So if anyone had any trouble like connecting anything or like getting, like the program to run she would just send us into breakout rooms with them and it was really easy to just show them like my circuit on the camera to see if everything was working out but I think I’m just glad that I didn’t have to take any like super like abstract lab, because that definitely would have been harder to learn.

COLLINS: LMU and Salisbury’s professor, put a lot of procedures in place to make sure the students in Salisbury’s circuits class were able to complete the assignments and learn all the material in the course. However, there were still some downsides to the course being online. 

SALISBURY:  You know I was able to like complete the projects correctly and I think there’s definitely that in-person aspect that I was missing of just it being easier to ask questions like actually like have a conversation and build a relationship with my professor.

COLLINS: While Salisbury’s experience taking engineering classes online has been pretty successful so far, she does think that moving forward, taking engineering classes virtually will not be a very good experience, and completing an engineering degree online, isn’t very feasible.  

SALISBURY: I think I was just lucky that like all this, chaos is happening pretty early in my career, or like in my like curriculum, because I really don’t think that I would be qualified to build things if I’m not building things in person under the supervision of certified engineers. I think if I were to continue for like the next two years of my education online I definitely like wouldn’t  know the things that I need to know. I just don’t think that it’s possible to like be a good engineer and actually prove that you can apply what you’re studying if you’re not doing that in person. 

~Music~ 

GABI AMON: My name is Gabi Amon. My major is multimedia. I’m in studio arts at LMU. I am a junior.

COLLINS: For the last few months, Amon has been taking 3 multimedia courses required by her major as well as 3 core classes. At first, adjusting to taking her color theory, photography, and typography classes online was a bit of a struggle, but over the course of the semester, Amon has begun to enjoy taking some of her courses online. 

AMON: At first it was a little bit of a rough start because I’m used to like being in class and having that interaction with classmates and professors and just being more hands-on especially because like I’m a studio arts major. But I think in general and things like painting, color studies, even photography with the phones that we have nowadays, I mean it’s it’s actually not too bad in the long run, at least for me. It’s actually been a little bit better because it gives me more time to work on my projects, if I’m not having to drive to and from class because I live off campus. It’s good cause you have the computer and you kind of get a little bit more of your own time to do your work and kind of just exist at home. I don’t dislike it. But I think that it has like ups and downs. 

COLLINS: Along with having more time to work on projects, Amon likes having the ability to do her work from anywhere, and feels that the flexibility allows her to produce better work. 

AMON: I do like painting, wherever I want. It’s kind of like a little mental health exercise and I can sit down outside or inside on my own time and work on my project. Instead of having to like go straight to the same place every time to paint, which I feel like is kind of a good thing. I like that about the class. I really like that I have more time and I can be wherever I need to be. I think that’s kind of good for my own sanity, at least, I think and it like clears my head and I do better work that way.

COLLINS: Along with that, being able to share her screen over Zoom during critiques has allowed Amon to get better feedback from her classmates and professors, which has made taking her art classes virtually this semester a very successful experience. There have still been some downsides to taking art classes virtually but for Amon, the benefits have outweighed the struggles. 

AMON: Things like that are on paper, or more hands on when you’re sharing it over the video. There’s definitely like shortcomings to not being able to hold something in your hand or all looking at something all under the same light, and the camera quality and things like that. But I definitely feel like it’s had more upsides than downsides, at least for the classes I’m taking that use a lot of like media work on the computer. I’ve definitely had more benefits than not. As far as the things that I’ve experienced, I think that I actually got better feedback, a lot of the time, because, because of the situation, the way that we adjusted was to do critiques pretty much every class. So you work on stuff on your own, which gives you like the time and space, you need to do that properly, and then you always come to class and everyone shows their work, which gets like everyone involved, not just the professor, which is nice.

COLLINS: After taking a few art classes online for a full semester, Amon thinks that it’s very possible for students to take art classes virtually, learn the material, and be successful, but like Salisbury, Amon doesn’t think that you can get the full education that students need and expect, through the computer. 

AMON: I think that art can be accomplished especially nowadays with phones and the cameras and everything that we have, it can be accomplished from anywhere. And personally, I’ve experienced that I get better results when, like I said when my head is clear and when I’m able to be somewhere that I want to be, but I think that there’s certain things that need to be learned like technique, and how to hold the pencil, how to use the camera, like learning the technique or physically like holding equipment in your hands that needs to be in person. I really don’t think it’s effective over Zoom.

COLLINS: Professor Han Dai-Yu, is an art and art history professor at LMU, and teaches a few studio art classes. He is currently teaching a few different drawing courses online as well as an Eastern immersion class that focuses on eastern art. Professor Dai-Yu has begun using different apps in addition to Zoom in his drawing classes, to help facilitate more interaction between the students and to provide feedback to students like he normally would if he were teaching in person. 

HAN DAI-YU: We use the Let’s Talk app. The app can use the conference function. Also it’s very easy for students at any time to use their cell phone to photo their work and directly to send it to the group. So sometimes I, I also can use the tool on the cell phone to give them some, like correction, or some like sign on the work, to let them know, you know, the problem. It’s like a feedback is very easy. And also I can post that in the group and students can just type in their comments. So, we use the student comments as like a critique, participating. So students always write something. 

COLLINS: While incorporating more technology into his classes has been extremely beneficial, Professor Dai-Yu, still feels that theres are a lot of struggles that come along with teaching his drawing courses online. 

DAI-YU: So sometimes it will in one hand it’s harder for them to understand something like the size, the real situation when they look at demonstration for example. Even the camera, good camera, the quality, probably not as good as watching the real thing. So, also, when we use the camera to record a demonstration there’s something like a little bit distorted, because of the lens. So, you know, they always have some little problems. And also, another problem is some students need some help to encourage. Sometimes they need a suggestion directly on their work so that, so that they can compare. 

COLLINS: Like Amon, Profesor Dai-Yu thinks teaching art classes online can be very successful, but he also thinks that completing a full art degree online and only taking virtual classes is not a good idea. 

DAI-YU: I think if they completed the whole program for example for a bachelor degree, I don’t think it would work, workable with the same quality. But I think the whole course, whole class will be okay. But, at least as they need to have some semester to have some studio art class in, on the campus. I believe so. 

~Music~ 

BRIAN REYES: I am Brian Christopher Reyes. I’m a junior at Loyola Marymount University. I’m a theater arts major.

COLLINS: This semester, Reyes has not only taken a few different theater classes online, but he’s also been involved in a virtual performance that was put on in October. Taking a few of his acting courses virtually, has prevented Reyes from learning certain things that he would normally learn if he was taking his classes in person. However, he’s shifted his focus a bit and has enjoyed the fact that he is learning a new set of skills that he wouldn’t of learned if he wasn’t taking his classes virtually. 

REYES: It’s like a give and take, like you like I’m learning other things that I wouldn’t learn if we were in person. But also when you’re in person, you learn different things as well. Classes like acting for the camera, like, and especially social media, for the actor, those classes, and like directing, they said, like, if we were in person, we would be doing this. But since we’re online, we’re doing this. So it’s like it’s a weird balancing act of you’re not really getting what you would be getting but you’re still getting something that’s beneficial.

COLLINS: In October, Reyes was a part of the production The Haunting of Hannon, which is a spooky show that happens each year at LMU around Halloween. This year, doing it virtually, was a completely new experience that had it’s up and downs. 

REYES: I love Haunting of Hannon. I did it my freshman year, and I did it again this year, I love it, it’s so much, it’s so much fun. When you’re in person. And doing this sort of spooky show you can read the room. If one if one group was really jumpy, you can mess with them a bit more. If one wasn’t super jumpy, you could try to like try to get them to, to jump and get spooked. Doesn’t really happen on zoom. You know, you do it, and you just do it and hope that it has the effect that you want. And I think it’s different especially with something scary you can still make it effective but I think the atmosphere of in-person with this makes it creepier.

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COLLINS: Although there were some technical difficulties during the show, Reyes and the rest of the cast were still very happy with the final product, and enjoyed the experience.

REYES: I think it was really good. So I think in terms of, in terms of Corona sort of theater and shows, I think it was successful. The best part about it was is that it wasn’t, like, it was made for Zoom. Every scene was specifically made to work for Zoom. That’s why I think it was more successful than, you know, doing a Shakespearean play would be. Each scene was like, someone would call you like, it was like a phone call, or like a FaceTime, but it was like done through the modem of Zoom. So I think for that reason, is why it worked.

COLLINS: And although the show was successful, Reyes still feels that because it was online, he missed a lot of the social aspects that come along with being in a production. 

REYES: There was no like, sort of cast party. And like we didn’t get to like really truly hang out and get to know the people we’re working with. So the social aspect and sort of that community was lost a bit. The work itself I did and it was good. The online just takes something out of it. You know, if you’re there for the work and doing it for a job, it’s perfect. No no issues. But when it comes to education and social, sort of just networking, it’s not really I mean for me I guess it wasn’t it didn’t work out that well. 

COLLINS: After taking a few theater classes virtually and being a part of a virtual performance Reyes feels that theater can definitely be done online and theater classes can be taught online as well. However, he doesn’t think students can get the full experience out of virtual performances and classes. 

REYES: I think learning acting can happen in either medium because whether you’re on stage or in front of a camera it’s still acting. You can learn the techniques, you can read the books, you can learn the plays, you can study how to do the job. You can get what you need as a baseline, but you just might not get the experiences and the understandings that are more unique and fun. You know you’re going to college and you’re getting an education and the education will be education, and even if you have to do a professional show out of college and you’ve done online classes for theater your whole time you can still get that eventually so I don’t think it’s a deterrent necessarily it’s unfortunate more so than anything. I don’t know there’s something different that doesn’t feel full because like you’re not in a theater you’re not you know learning what you would be doing inside theater. Like if I’m doing a Zoom show and I would be backstage quote-unquote I would just mute my mic. I can still talk as loud as I want because my mic is muted. When I’m backstage I can’t, like you can’t talk. It’s a different sort of atmosphere and if you want to learn the sort of professionalism of theater specifically you have to be in the space. But there’s something about being in a show, there’s something about being in the crew, there’s something about being hands-on with what you’re learning that sort of solidifies it. 

COLLINS: Professor Katherine Noon is Chair of the Theater Arts Department at LMU and this semester she is teaching a few acting classes and directed a virtual production. Although her classes are usually very hands-on and classroom-oriented, Professor Noon has been able to teach most of the same material that she does in person, over Zoom. 

KATHERINE NOON: It’s a slightly different experience but it’s still the same thing. Acting is acting is  acting. You know it’s about listening, it’s about being in action, it’s about understanding the character and the script and everything that you’re doing so, in many ways, my class didn’t change a lot, but certainly, the venue changed in the fact that we’re not in the room together. 

COLLINS: Although putting on a theater production over Zoom was never really done before the pandemic, Professor Noon, like Reyes, felt like the production she worked on was very successful and that the students gained some great experience from it. 

NOON: It’s not optimal for them. It’s not what they’re used to, but they absolutely made the best of it and they discovered a lot of new things about their own performances. One huge advantage is, they had to listen so closely to each other, that they actually got to be very, very solid performers. I think they got the most out of the experience that was absolutely possible to get out of it.

COLLINS: Professor Noon, does, however, think that virtual theater isn’t something that can continue to be done for a long period of time. 

NOON: We’re gonna reach a point where trying to emulate live performance as much as we can via Zoom is not going to be sustainable. Performing live shows via this, this format is not sustainable. I don’t think it’s that sustainable. You know, have one more semester of this, and I think that we may have hit our limit, at that point

COLLINS: While the adjustment to doing theater and teaching online has been fairly successful for Professor Noon during the Fall 2020 semester, she believes that theater needs to get back to being done in person, to allow students to get the full experience from it. 

NOON: I think we can absolutely do, teach acting, teach voice, teach movement, teach design, do all of these things online. It’s doable but it’s not the same thing that I was used to, and I don’t think, ultimately, it can replace being in person. But I don’t think you, you should throw it out, because we’re on Zoom, there’s absolutely a lot to be gained from it. But in the end, we need to get back to being in person because there is that aspect that is missing. 

~Music~ 

COLLINS: For students and teachers everywhere, adjusting to doing school online has not been the easiest thing to do. And adjusting to teaching and learning subjects that are very hands-on has caused some additional challenges for both students and teachers, but throughout the fall semester, new practices and methods have been put into place fairly successfully. And I think it’s fair to say that even hands-on and classroom-oriented subjects like art, theater, and engineering can successfully be taught online. However, at the end of the day, both students and teachers are anxiously waiting for the day when classes can resume in person. 

From Los Angeles, California  I’m Samantha Collins, and this is Our New Reality. 

~Music~

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