Minneapolis College of Art and Design's Distance Learning Initiative creates online design education courses that retain the essential elements of traditional studio courses.
How this practice supports access: Since 2001, the goal of MCAD's Distance Learning Initiative is to follow the traditional studio-based model: small classes, visual language, making, creative problem-solving, and peer critique. MCAD has developed practices which enable the re-creation of the studio-based model in online design education courses: Maintaining the "sage and guide" role of the instructor in the studio model -- This requires using well-formed, guided, direct questions and instructions, particularly on how to participate in visual critiques. Although this is done differently in each course based on faculty preference, the common intent is to create a sense of community and a shared vocabulary, which are necessary for successful online visual outcomes. Modeling visual literacy on a commercial learning management system (Blackboard) -- Commercial LMSs are often criticized for unduly restricting the amount and quality of visual content. However, MCAD has come up with a variety of creative ways of using visuals (pictures, diagrams, schematics, clustering, concept maps, etc.) to enhance content and model visual literacy in the process. Visual examples of past student work are also used to set standards for work level expectations. Online sketchbooks and portfolios -- Besides providing a complete documentation of students' work throughout a course, these online sketchbooks and portfolios can be viewed throughout the semester. Access to guest artists -- MCAD has brought in guest artists to some of its online courses (e.g., comic art, illustrating) from far away locations (e.g., California)whom MCAD's students could not access. Other keys which MCAD have identified thus far for successfully re-creating the studio-based model in online courses include:
Visual critique is still a "special challenge" in online courses; however, this is more than compensated for by the potential for online/distance education courses to transform teaching and learning in ways that we can't even predict.
Degree seeking students who take online classes like the flexibility it offers and will often take at least one online class each semester once they begin taking online courses. Anecdotal evidence indicates that students still are able to undergo a 'trial and error' learning process and have epiphany or 'aha' moments in online courses, both of which are seen as crucial to the learning experience in art and design education. The experimental offerings, as well as a solid core of online courses, are intended to appeal to a diverse audience -- degree seeking students, high school students interested in attending art school, arts professionals, arts educators, and other life-long learners. Increased access for the existing learner population especially in the post baccalaureate certificate program and in several of the majors (e.g., comic illustration) has occurred. Instructors in other parts of the country who have specialized skills (such as Digital Lettering for comic artists) that our students need in order to enter their profession have increased the course offerings available in some majors. The program is still small and evolving. A student evaluation form is used at the end of each course to measure learner satisfaction and to get feedback from the students. The added advantage of the relatively small size of the program is that MCAD is able to give students personal attention and feedback. Students on campus have easy access to distance learning staff (housed in a very visible space near the main campus entrance). During the summer term, many newly admitted students who will be on campus in the fall, take classes to get a head start. The telephone (a toll free number) and email as well as a student orientation class are all used to make strong and personal connections during this time. By the time students arrive on campus in the fall, they have a group of faculty and staff that they already know --more importantly, they have already established relationships with a group of peers.
There are no added costs, at this point, to the practice of good studio teaching online. Increased use of visual interactive teaching tools may at some time necessitate another server. Movie files and other more expensive teaching and learning delivery modes will also drive up costs as would the addition of an instructional designer. At this point, interaction between the faculty and the students, the student and the material, and the students with each other can establish the environment for good online studio critiques without added staff and/or equipment. Promoting online courses to existing students has been accomplished mainly through faculty advising and appealing course descriptions. Promoting online courses outside the college consists of specialized email list serves to art and design professionals, a printed catalogue that includes other on campus continuing studies offerings as well as a web presence. These costs have been low to moderate but should be increased.
Many higher education professionals believe that visually or interactionally intensive pedagogical models such as the studio model are impossible to do effectively online. Although there are issues remaining to be resolved and more to be learned, MCAD is demonstrating how art and design education can be done effectively online. [-- John Sener]