When Hannah Brown found out she wouldn’t just be teaching art, but making videos and using technology to teach art online, she knew she’d found a dream job that fit her artistic and techie skillsets to a T. She didn’t even realize there were online art classes for K-12 students until she saw a job opening at ECOT (The Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow). Now that she’s been teaching high school art classes full-time through ECOT since 2011, Hannah says she’s found her “home in education.”
Still, when people hear what she does for a living, they have plenty of questions about online education – particularly, how it works for a subject like art. So we sat down with Hannah to ask about her experience teaching art online, getting an insider’s look at how it stacks up against traditional brick-and-mortar programs.
Q: What are the biggest questions or misconceptions people have about ECOT’s art program?
A: When I meet anyone and I tell them what I do – I teach art online – they look at me like I have two heads and then they say, ‘You teach art online? How does that work?’ Actually, my Master’s thesis project, which I wrote during my first full-time year at ECOT, was titled something like: ‘Teaching Art Online – How Does That Work?’
A lot of people just can’t wrap their heads around doing a subject online that isn’t based on writing papers or taking multiple-choice quizzes. It’s hard for them to understand how we would do a class like art or gym online. I tell them that I present the lesson, I have videos of myself demonstrating the lesson, and then students work independently – which is really a lot more similar to what happens in a brick-and-mortar classroom.
People’s biggest misconception is that teaching art online is somehow impossible or more difficult; that it’s more different than it really is. The online environment really lends itself to art better than people think.
Q: How does the online format help you teach art effectively?
A: Teaching online allows me to work with each of my students individually in whatever way they prefer. Some students prefer to attend my weekly interactive lessons; others want to work one-on-one or completely on their own. One student might prefer creating artwork on their tablet, and another using watercolor and pencil. Teaching online allows me to offer all of these options and more, which makes my art classroom a place of self-discovery. I am able to provide students with what they need, when they need it, in the way they benefit most.
Q: What does a typical art class look like at ECOT, compared a brick-and-mortar school?
A: I use Collaborate, ECOT’s synchronous learning tool, to let students be in the classroom with me as I present artistic lessons and interactive slides. I can also show them things on my webcams, so if I want to do a live drawing demonstration, I can use an IPEVO camera, a document webcam that points to my desk so I can put a sketchbook under that and demonstrate techniques.
Students can also talk on the microphone, and I can have them work on the board with me, where they can write and move things around. We use that tool for not just class, but also Art Club. I’m one of the teachers for Art Club this year, and we let students all draw on the board at the beginning of every meeting so they create a collaborative piece together.
Art students can choose to come to that synchronous art class, but some students prefer to work independently instead. So every art project that I offer also has a plethora of asynchronous resources, so if a student enters the Art 1 classroom on their computer, they basically have all the information they need. They can read about the concepts of the lessons or watch videos of me and other art teachers demonstrating different techniques. We have alternative assignments, too, so in Art 1 we offer students the option each week of either creating traditional art or creating artwork on their tablet.
I have lots of resources, so students can do whatever works for them. That’s perfect because I have students who can’t come to a session at 9:30 on Monday morning because they work. More students seem to like the asynchronous method, but I have a good core group of students who come to the live session every week.
Q: How does ECOT’s online format help students tap into creativity?
A: The interesting part about teaching art online is that we don’t have students sitting next to each other in a classroom collaborating on a project – but the result is, because of that, students are all presenting very unique ideas. When they’re all sitting independently in their homes working on art projects, they all have different surroundings. They live in different areas across the state, so my students have a more diverse approach to art because they are getting inspiration from things that are around them.
A really good example of that is a project that students do in Art 1 where they have to set up a still life of objects that are meaningful to them, draw it and shade it. If I was to do a still life in a traditional brick-and-mortar classroom, they would all be drawing the same set of objects. But because students are in their own homes and they can construct their own still life with things they would never probably bring to school, especially if it’s something that’s really meaningful to them, students get to incorporate a lot of inspiration that they wouldn’t get to incorporate if they were in a brick-and-mortar classroom.
ECOT gives students the comfort to work in their own homes, without the added pressure of peers looking over their shoulder. That can paralyze some students. They are so worried about the person sitting next to them making fun of their drawing – and so many of our students came to ECOT because they were bullied – that it scares a lot of students away from art.
I comfort them by saying, ‘You and I are the only people who are going to see it, unless you want me to share it in the gallery.’ That’s really comforting to a lot of students.
Q: How do you promote collaboration and interaction when students work independently from home?
A: Every week, I make an art gallery that students can watch, compiling the artwork that was turned in on time that week. Everybody can see everyone’s artwork, so that allows students to see what else is out there and how other people did the assignment. It creates dialogue on the discussion board between students who might not have interacted with each other otherwise.
We do at least one art museum field trip per year, and we try to rotate what part of the state it’s in each year. The Art Club offers a lot of opportunities for interaction, too; we’re having an event at the ECOT main office where students are coming to help the Prom Committee make decorations. We’re also doing a collaborative project where we assigned each student a particular size of paper and they’re going to draw eyes in any style they want, then send them back to me to mount in one big composition that will hang at ECOT headquarters, called, ‘Eyes as a Self-Portrait.’
Q: What’s your favorite part about teaching at ECOT?
A: I love this job. I love working from home; who wouldn’t? There are only so many hours in the day, so it’s great when you can choose how to use those hours and still be successful.
My favorite part about teaching at ECOT is getting to know my students one-on-one. At ECOT, I have the time to learn about my students as the individuals they are, and cheer them on to take risks and grow as artists.
I enjoy the flexibility and the freedom I have to adapt my lessons to individual students without having the pressure of 25 pairs of eyes on me, trying to be in 18 places at once. It’s great online; you don’t have to be 18 places at once! I have the time and flexibility to work with students individually throughout the day, so I never feel like anyone gets left behind. They’re not going to be forgotten or get lost in the back of the classroom because they’re quiet.
Q: What’s the biggest strength of ECOT’s infrastructure when it comes to the art program, overall?
A: At a lot of brick-and-mortar high schools around Columbus, art departments are shrinking. At most, you might have three art teachers in a high school. At ECOT (The Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow), we’re growing all the time. I think every single year since I was hired, we’ve hired at least one new art teacher in the high school – and that’s unheard of.
We are rapidly expanding our arts program, and I’ve never been in a school where I felt so supported by administrators. When I come up with some crazy art idea to do with my students – like the collaborative project or new contests – my administrators are always ready to work with me and make ideas reality.
ECOT’s administrators are super supportive of expanding the art program, and that’s a real strength for us. They don’t let the electives department get lost as insignificant or unimportant because we’re not a “core” subject. That’s a great strength we have – we’re growing, we’re not shrinking."
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