US Art Teacher Creates Online Teaching System Using Out-of-the-Box Thinking

By Lucas Walters

This year at Oak Hall has seen many new hurdles for teachers to face, most of which stem from having a class of students that is split decidedly in half. In most all classes at Oak Hall this year, there is a group of the attendees who sit in the classroom, and there is a group who sit at home. This situation will of course present challenges for the instructors that have to navigate through it, especially in the case of art teachers. Robert Ponzio, Chair of the Fine Arts Department at Oak Hall explains how he designed the online system he uses in all his classes today, despite the lack of examples of what an online art class should be.

“I realized it wasn’t working, right, and the way I had always done things had always worked great for all these years but I figured this online thing isn’t gonna go away and you know I need to know more. So, I started looking around, I don’t know, online just for some way of figuring this out. I started looking at other online art classes and I realized there’s like nothing out there […] So I happened upon a link to a course at this university that’s specifically to get a credential to become sort of an online teacher, right. So, you take this – You know hundreds of hours of class […] It basically gave us all sorts of theory behind it, it gave us research behind it, and the main project of the course for me was to develop a course – an online course.”

After developing a model class setup to work off of, Ponzio saw first-hand the benefit of using new online technologies to organize his classes. Using familiar tools like Canvas, our school’s learning management system, as well as new ones like EdPuzzle, a video annotating system, Ponzio began to update each of his courses to the new standard.

“The whole idea is that the – Canvas is the course. Okay, everything is there, and whether you’re online or in person it’s beneficial to both because everyone is equalized […] Right so I’ve been just busting butt for, I’m not even kidding hundreds of hours to try to get these things up. Right so I focused on my new classes which was Photo, Advanced Photo, and the Engineering class, this semester. […] The year-long courses I have is Drawing and Painting. Right well I can only – Once those other three courses were done then I started focusing on that one first and then the last one was AP [Studio Art] […] At this point now I think we’re – I’m kind of more or less one hundred percent online-able with all the courses and then I gotta still develop the first part of the year of Drawing and Painting for next year, the first part of AP [Studio Art] for next year, you know.”

Being fully online-able, Ponzio explains the ideas behind the system, and how he intends for students to navigate it.

“Okay so when you’re in the Photo class this is the course and the idea would be is whether or not I’m around or you’re around, you should be able to know where we are and keep moving forward […] We’re up to this point now. This one, you see it’s not ready. I mean it’s ready but I’m not opening it yet because I don’t want people getting too far ahead, right. So I’m trying to keep things open to where if somebody’s ambitious, they get this one done, they can start on this one, but I don’t want them finishing and finishing and just finish the course real fast. I want everyone to sort of stay together.”

Ponzio further elaborates that within each of the sections of each class, he has had to change not only the organization of the content, but also the presentation.

“So again, how any one of these works – If I click on the first one, the history, right this is just setting the context […] and then here are all the tasks of this […] So what am I gonna do, show slides and have a webcam and you’re looking over my shoulder in the classroom to see a dimly lit screen if you’re an online student? It’s stupid, right? Plus, how do I give you a quiz, right? How do I know anybody is, you know not cheating or – It’s not really fair too […] So what I’ve had to do is then pre-record my slide lecture like I would normally give you. So, you know I do this kind of fun stuff with the music to make it as interesting as I can.”

Each of the videos are well produced, with music, cuts, transitions, narration, and premade slideshow presentations all wrapped together.

“But with this I’ve had to become a film editor, right. So, I’ll do a slide clip like this, I’ll say the things I want to say, make sure I do it right. Maybe I mess it up, but I’ll go back, do it again, and then I edit it all together and then what this does is allow you to add questions along the way, right. So you get to this point, the video stops, and it asks you a question. Right so this then becomes your quiz and the slideshow all rolled into one, and the nice thing I think about it is you could do it in your own time.”

Although Ponzio regards this transition to a new teaching style as challenging, frantic, and still in progress in some aspects, he acknowledges the benefits that the change has shown.

“So, I’ve been kind of, you know running and scrambling still but I feel a lot better about sort of getting it and what I see now is the benefit because the online kids and the in-person kids at least are working from the same place. Right and we have one kind of common sort of meeting place and seeing the projects in the same way, so that’s, you know – Of course still gotta work out the bugs, I’m missing little things here and there in Canvas. I’m always trying to – Like a new assignment today, I had one part of it unpublished, right? I’m like, ‘What the heck is going on? I gotta find that little check-off.’ So, it’s still you know, working out the bugs and the kinks, but I feel a lot better about it now that I’ve done this.”

Despite the ups and the downs, it is apparent that Ponzio is making headway in not only transitioning his own classes to cater to all students, but also helping to pioneer a blueprint for other instructors to replicate and add to. It’s often said that necessity is the mother of invention, and over the past year at Oak Hall we’ve had a lot of both necessities, along with a lot invention to meet it. For the Talon, I’m Lucas Walters.