Ahead of switch to online classes, the future of hands-on curricula remains unclear


Daily file photo by Daniel Tian

Students from Bienen and other schools with hands-on majors are figuring out what online learning is going to look like.

Catherine Buchaniec, Design Editor

Following University President Morton Schapiro’s email announcing the switch to online classes until further notice, many students with hands-on majors said they were confused as to how the transition will take place.

Unlike lectures for humanities classes, which can be held more easily over Zoom, the lesson plans for many music, theater, dance and art classes, as well as STEM classes requiring labs, remain unclear. Few students said they have received concrete plans from their schools and professors yet.

Bienen, Communications students have to get creative

Bienen sophomore Josh Kuhn said he wasn’t surprised by the University’s choice but he was disappointed with their decision to cancel classes. For Kuhn, a voice major, online instruction poses a major problem.

“All of us — voice majors, instrumentalists, orchestra, band — we are all here for the specific lessons with professional teachers and we’re here for the ensemble,” said Kuhn. “We can’t take those online.”

The Bienen School of Music announced the cancelation of all concerts and chamber music activities scheduled through April 27 on their coronavirus site. However, individual lessons will be taught remotely through Zoom, according to the website. If the University decides to allow students to return to campus for the later portion of Spring Quarter, the major ensembles will offer one concert each, as currently scheduled.

Still, Kuhn said the decision to host individual lessons concerns him.

“You can’t hear the sounds correctly for individual lessons — it just isn’t going to work out,” Kuhn said.

Moving onward, Kuhn said he is going to talk to his parents over Spring Break about what to do but that he is considering taking a quarter off school and then re-enrolling during the summer.

Kuhn is not alone in his confusion. Other students taking Art Theory and Practice studio classes will also have to contend with new online learning requirements.

Within the School of Communication, students in their second and third years of study are required to take a two-year acting sequence — classes that are expected to be particularly impacted by the transition. The school has yet to announce a detailed contingency plan on their coronavirus website.

Communication junior Saidie Stone is registered to take the final class in that theater sequence. However, she said she doesn’t know how students are going to put any of their skills into practice.

Stone explained that her concerns largely depend on whether students are coming back for the second half of the quarter — a decision that won’t be reassessed by administrators until April 17.

“From my perspective as an actor, I can work by myself — it’s not like I won’t be able to grow or learn new things — but I think the process would be stunted and not as efficient,” Stone said.

Previously, Stone had spent Fall and Winter Quarters studying Greek plays and Shakespeare productions, and she said she was supposed to focus on works by Russian playwright Anton Chekhov during the spring.

“I think we’ll gain an analytical background but it’s impossible to get the same thing out if we’re having the entire quarter online,” Stone said.

In order to address the concerns of theater students, the acting faculty have asked students to email their professors stating whether they can access certain technologies or have the space to move around while remote so they can formulate remote learning plans, according to the School of Communication coronavirus website.

Acting faculty will then use this information to create a learning plan, which will be emailed to students before Spring Break ends. However, some School of Communication professors have already started brainstorming ideas to deliver instruction and performance feedback online.

“I think the camera work will be very exciting, especially since many of the available acting jobs will be on camera,” wrote Theater Prof. Cindy Gold in a news release statement. “I’d say at least 50 percent of my own auditions in the last year were video submissions, so it’s terrific that our undergraduates will get early experience with this.”

In regards to Checkohv, Gold also described her excitement of seeing intimacy and a focus on subtext closely on camera.

The STEM dilemma

The switch to online classes also poses specific challenges for students in STEM classes with labs as well.

In a Friday email to neuroscience majors, Director of Undergraduate Studies in Neurobiology Valerie Kilman said all spring neuroscience classes will operate online, with the exception of Neuroscience 399, a credit earned through independent research.

“Faculty will be working busily over break to adapt their spring courses to online learning platforms,” Kilman wrote. “Expect to be contacted by your instructor(s) to explain how things will be run.”

Still, Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences has yet to send out detailed information to students regarding the format of hands-on classes, despite launching a website dedicated to coronavirus information, and has left individual departments to make announcements.

Similarly, students participating in the final class in the Biology 222 laboratory sequence received notification from their professor Friday morning.

According to the email, students in the laboratory sequence will watch videos of the professor and the lab manager performing the initial steps of the experiments. If students return to campus, they can pick up where the lab manager and professor left off, completing the experiments for themselves. The email did not include a contingency plan for the experimental portion of the course if students do not return to campus.

Medill students face in-person reporting restrictions

Specific reporting-based classes in Medill are also working toward overcoming the challenge of not being able to meet in person. Students in Winter Quarter reporting classes have already been impacted by the ban on all in-person reporting put forth by the school ahead of finals week.

This ban is expected to continue into Spring Quarter as classes transition to being conducted online.

In line with other schools, Medill dean Charles Whitaker said in a Tuesday email to The Daily, “The faculty who will teach reporting classes in the spring are working as a group to develop a framework for conducting those classes and guidelines for acceptable reporting techniques that do not require face-to-face contact.”

Despite these limitations, students will be expected to do reporting, according to the email.

“We are in a field where the professionals are doing the same thing,” Medill Professor Patti Wolter said. “We are dealing with this in class but they are reporting in the world — some places going out and putting reporters in hazmat suits; we’re not doing that.”

Wolter explained that Medill had already been discussing digital learning before the University made their universal announcement and continues working on adapting to the situation at hand.

McCormick dean Julio Ottino’s Saturday email to The Daily reiterated the theme of considering each class on an individual basis.

“No single approach will work across the board,” wrote Ottino. “We all understand that some courses will provide unique challenges and we are working through those issues now.”

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