“Our faculty has been amazing in preparing for and launching our transition to remote instruction,” explains Peter Naccarato, Ph.D., Interim Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of the Faculty. “Professors have been creative and innovative in developing strategies for remote learning, and they are working hard to give our students the best experiences possible given these unprecedented circumstances.”
In early March, the College made the decision to postpone in-person classes for several weeks, before ultimately deciding to transition to virtual learning for the remainder of the semester. College leadership quickly organized workshop training sessions for faculty on how to effectively use Zoom and Blackboard, and to create spaces for reimagining their classes in a virtual format. “I am very proud of all of our faculty and know that our students appreciate their efforts on their behalf,” says Dr. Naccarato.
Below are just a few examples of how some departments and courses have adapted to remote instruction:
Faculty have set up Zoom sessions for classes and established private pages for students to share self-tapes. Accompanists have been making tracks for students to sing along to in their Musical Theatre Techniques classes, and have also recorded podcasts to enable Scene Into Song scenes and duets to continue virtually—similar to old-time radio theatre. Students and instructors meet weekly to discuss their reading assignments and work on songs together. For their final performances, students will record their songs as audition tapes.
In Professional Preparation: Musical Theatre Song Portfolio, students have participated seminars on how to create self-tapes, and they are coached individually via Zoom. As part of their lessons on professional preparation, faculty continue to hold mock auditions and are working with external guests to review student submissions and provide constructive feedback. Students are continuing to work on their working audition books and coachings, and the department is in the process of developing a digital senior showcase.
The Dance faculty have been extremely creative in making and sharing private YouTube videos of their floor warm-ups—and some have been giving each student individual attention on FaceTime complete with technique corrections for ballet.
Another faculty member is using Streamyard broadcasting to YouTube to provide technique videos and warm-ups, and students perform the movement in their own spaces. Students can offer comments and see the comments of their peers in real-time in response to the movement, and the professor is able to give running audio commentary to the students as well, as they watch technique videos or interviews with professional guests.
Acting faculty host individual coaching sessions and class discussions via Skype or Zoom. Professors share script analysis, provide monologue coaching, and create opportunities for new projects and collaborations between students and even among separate classes that, during our regular in-person semester, would be more difficult.
In Acting: Beginning Scene Study, one faculty member is expanding the monologue section of the course to take the opportunity to teach auditioning for the camera and self-taping. Students will tape monologues, then use sides from the material used for scenes in class, and present them as callbacks for summer stock opportunities. Professional actors are asked to do this all the time, and it is wonderful training for our students. It gives them a chance to practice using the technology, see what works on camera, and practice in the safety of the virtual classroom. Faculty can use these exercises to accomplish the learning goals for this course online, with the added benefit that it prepares them for booking work once they graduate.
Stage Management students have been gaining experience with many of the new digital tools that are now being introduced into the profession. For example, Stage Management I students work on cue calling through a practical lesson via Zoom, and reflect on videos of professional stage managers calling sequences to compare and contrast individual styles.
In addition to transitioning to remote classes and lab work, students and faculty in the Natural Sciences Department have also focused on their ability to positively contribute to the local fight against COVID-19. Faculty pulled together all of the PPE (personal protective equipment) typically used for lab work—including gloves, disposable lab coats, sterile swabs, and surgical masks—and donated them to Mt. Sinai West Hospital.
Communication and Media Arts
After several weeks of organizing and providing materials, equipment, and software to students, CommArts faculty are now hosting more one-on-one mentoring and tutoring sessions via Zoom.
One faculty member has seen an inspiring level of collaboration between students, many of whom have offered to share their services and skills—like video editing, color correction, sound design, and more—with their peers. Students will be able to work on pre-production through virtual simulators, like shot designing and storyboards. Faculty have also launched discussion boards so students can check in with each other for emotional and logistical support.
“The long game of production and being an artist is always about adapting and being flexible in the face of obstacles,” explains Erin Greenwell, MFA, Assistant Professor of Communication and Media Arts. “The experience of persevering through this semester with slow and steady consistency is as important as the movie students make for their portfolio. And the Gen Z generation, of any generation, is the most nimble at producing with their smart phones, through their computers, with their unique sensibility and creativity.This remote expression is already coming through in subtle ways—people changing their virtual backgrounds through Zoom chats, etc. This won’t be easy and they know it. But, if any generation is going to prevail, it’s this generation of media makers.”
Although this is not how any of us envisioned the spring semester, we are thrilled to see how students, faculty, and staff have risen to the occasion and developed creative and innovative ways to continue to achieve their learning objectives, despite the difficult global circumstances.