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Distance Learning

Art and Science at Home: How Art, Drama and Physics Students Switched to Online Learning

Date published: June 26, 2020

While students mourned the sudden switch to online schooling and the abrupt end of in-person gatherings with classmates and friends, the online portion of the semester also led to surprising creativity. Annie Marcolin, BA ’21, dug, processed and then made pinch pots from the native clay in her Maryland backyard for Intermediate Ceramics. Peter Hedlesky, BS ’21, made a hologram of a Lego figure for his Optics class. Isabel Bishop, BA ’21, used polymer clay to make a stop-motion animation video of an alien takeover.


What about that spring rite of passage for drama majors: the senior studio that students choose, produce and direct for a live audience?

“I picked my Senior Studio because I could not immediately understand how to solve its challenges,” said Anna Nguyen, BA ’20. 

That was before she suddenly found herself facing an entirely different set of challenges, namely long-distance rehearsals and a completely new performance venue: Zoom. 

Nguyen, who directed a production of Here is Monster by Brock Norman Brock for her capstone project as a drama major, had focused during the first half of the semester on physicality and rigorous training in in-person rehearsals with her cast. Her work in person did not translate seamlessly to a video conferencing app, but she is happy with the ways she found to adapt.

“The most surprising and wonderful outcome of developing a virtual performance was the intimacy that the actors were able to have with the audience. Their direct addresses, which if onstage would be taken far and wide to encompass the whole audience, were now spoken closely and intimately to the camera,” said Nguyen. “One of my favorite scenes began with a character whispering close to the camera. This would not have been possible on stage.”

Jacob Moldenhauer, assistant professor and chair of physics, was faced with the challenge of continuing to train upper-level physics students in his optics class in how to design, troubleshoot and conduct research in a lab. 

“Advanced labs are supposed to be hands-on training for real-world jobs or research,” said Moldenhauer. 

So he decided to send his students each their own hologram kit — this provided materials for a lab they could all do together, as well as equipment that could be repurposed for a final optics project. 

“Several of the labs the students came up with could be labs that we may add to the course in a future semester, and what’s amazing is that they did them by themselves,” said Moldenhauer. “What better way to prove that a student has mastered the material than by designing, building and performing their own optics lab?”

Samantha Garza, BA '21, and Gianna Milton, BA '21, used a thin membrane, a mirror and a laser to create Lissajous curves using the sound waves in a number of popular songs. The sound waves vibrate through the thin membrane, creating the curves. 

Kelly Rae O’Briant, assistant professor of ceramics, gave her students a choice of projects in order to accommodate for everyone’s different access to materials and workspaces. Students made stop-motion animation videos out of clay figures, four-piece tableware settings out of paper and, most challengingly, murrini images by layering different colors of clay within a tube shape and slicing the tube crosswise to reveal the image. 


The tableware project got creative with students using elements they had around the house such as LaCroix boxes and their siblings’ math homework.

“The most challenging thing was, of course, not getting to work with clay and in person,” said O’Briant. “The ceramics studio is such a communal experience. Before we knew about COVID-19, one student described this semester’s Ceramics 1 class as a "hive brain," where they all learned so much more because they could watch and learn from each other. The class dynamics were enriched by having Robert Wood, distinguished professor emeritus of philosophy, in the class.”

The sense of community returned as students adjusted. In addition to working on their independent projects, students also had the opportunity to participate in progress critiques where they exchanged their experiences and asked questions virtually.

“It was beautiful to see that sense of community continue, even though we were all over the country,” said O’Briant.


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