How Hands-on Majors Take on Virtual Learning

By Juliana Walter

With uncertainty looming about the 2020 Fall semester at college campuses all over the country, most departments at The University of Tampa have prepared their classes for the possibility of transitioning back to online learning.

Last Spring brought many challenges to education on all levels. Hands-on arts majors, such as film and art design, had to find ways to continue their projects digitally. With the chance of reverting to online classes later in the semester, classes such as film, animation, and art design, have prepared for yet another transition.

For film, animation, and new media majors, accessing the appropriate equipment to finish their projects was a challenge in the Spring semester. Usually students have access to The Cage, a service that provides film and audio equipment to UT students for their projects.  

Since UT is currently holding in-person classes for the Fall semester, students will still rely on The Cage to access their equipment. But if classes return to online, the plan remains the same as last Spring, according to Dana Plays, professor and chair of the film, animation and new media department at UT.

“In the event of a school closure, students would need to utilize equipment available to them,” said Plays.

After UT announced that the remainder of the Spring semester would be online, students had to use their own equipment for filming. Many students had to use their own personal DSLR cameras, iPhones, and microphones while working on their projects at home.

I feel like [my experience] was a little different from other people’s since I was in the middle of shooting a documentary,” said Tamsen Simpson, a senior film major. “The entire film had to be modified to fit the situation, basically I had to sit down and evaluate my options for how I wanted to continue the film.”

When Simpson’s film class was interrupted by COVID-19 last Spring, she had to make some big changes to her production while finishing the filming from her home.

There were a few obstacles with some of my courses when it came to anything digitally,” said Simpson. “I couldn’t run some of the programs I’d usually be able to have access to on UT’s lab computers.”

For film and animation classes, students were provided software for editing their videos and digital imaging work through their personal laptops. Most students at UT had appropriate internet connections at their homes to complete their online assignments as well.  

“It made me think outside the box for more innovative ways to complete my assignments,” said Simpson. “But I’m very fortunate that we were given remote access to Adobe Creative and a few other resources.”

But some students, like senior studio art major Chandler Culotta, had more difficulties getting access to the appropriate tools for their classes after transitioning to fully online.

“Most of my photography classes were focused on using film. With the school going online, I and the rest of my class were no longer able to develop our film for our assignments and projects,” said Culotta. “And much of my supplies were still left in my drawer in the studio, and I wasn’t able to go back to retrieve them.

Although some students struggled with adapting to not having UT’s resources, Chloe St. Aubin, a sophomore art major, believes that art design classes still maintained successful online classes through the Spring semester.

“I felt that despite everyone’s efforts students lost some feeling of collaboration with their peers and professors,” said St. Aubin. “The professors went out of their way to make our classes as close to what they were in-person as possible. They adapted their curriculum to accommodate students’ needs and kept communication open.

Many professors at UT allowed as much leniency as possible, while still providing a high standard of education, after many students could not return to campus after Spring Break. Professors, like Plays, encouraged their students to use the limited resources that they had available to them while at home.

“I allowed students to complete the filming of their senior thesis films with their iPhones,” said Plays. “Fortunately, by Spring break most of the technical training related to the film courses had been already covered – such as lighting design, proper use of microphones, and cinematography. Students therefore could put that learning to practice with tools they found to be available. Some ordered special lens kits for their iPhones.”

Although most students would not prefer online classes, some students, like Simpson, understand the need for virtual learning during this time.  

“It is a little worrisome thinking about the concept of modifying a film degree to be online. But with all the resources we’ve been given, I think it’ll be a challenge to our creativity to modify films to fit the circumstances,” said Simpson. “It’s a scary time but also an exciting one.”

Plays also believes that another transition to online learning will provide students with more opportunities to test their creativity.

“Many of the animation, film and new media lend themselves to creative problem solving and students working and learning through virtual means,” said Plays. “We will continue to use the pandemic as a means to a creative end. Students are very willing to adapt necessary parameters and find solutions.” 


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