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Collective Brainstorm: Creating community despite physical distance

In the face of COVID-19, many of us are having to pivot, evolve and develop new methods to use in our studio art classrooms. Here at, we wish to brainstorm collectively for what's ahead, so we asked this of our community:

Creating community is going to be a challenge as we head into our next term. How can we introduce students to each other and get them excited about our courses? How do we create social connections even with physical distance?

Below are some responses we received:

“I teach photography, and my first day I do a get to know you assignment. It can be completed with their phones if they don’t understand camera controls yet or their cameras if they have one already. It’s 5 photos, a photo of themselves, of themselves without them actually in it, something important to them, a place important to them, and a photo that represents the way they see the world. Then they post to a discussion board and they all can get to know each other a little as well.” - Brennan Booker

“Pictionary on zoom is pretty fun and you could personalize it by having students submit something simple like favorite food. And you could always have the student introduce themselves once their object was guessed.” - Elizabeth Hamilton

"I like to get students to put some of their own work behind them as backdrops. Then everyone can

comment (like to see a close-up, how about changing the background every 10 mins. etc.). It also helps people feel comfortable sharing their work, and it helps everyone to get to know each other, because we associate each person with their work.” - James Elkins

“I’m considering some kind of open coffee hour with surprise guests.” - Hyla Willis

“For a life drawing class, I am planning on having students go into breakout rooms on zoom and do blind contour portraits of each other. I do this in person and it is awkward at first, but gets the students talking, laughing, and getting to know each other pretty quickly. Hoping it will operate similarly on Zoom! I will repeat this a number of times so they get to know multiple people.” - Evie Woltil Richner

“I'm not exactly settled on my first day of class yet, but I'm trying to come up with something that matches the ridiculousness of our situation but could also playfully diffuse the situation. I may start on a serious note, reminding students of Bruce Mau's "To design for all the senses: start with a blindfold on." but in this case reflect on how the blindfold may be similar to face covering and other barriers like the screen in our Art & Design classroom. Then I may roll out a cheap karaoke machine and make a fool of myself doing some mad lib adaptation of a pop song... maybe something like "dancing with myself"Billy Idol? Amplifying the voices of ourselves and others whether F2F or online is going to be a challenge this year. Why not set the tone?! Maybe from there, I'll challenge students to change the words of one of their favorite songs and share in a way they feel comfortable with.” - Stacy Isenbarger

“On the first day of class, during full pandemic, I asked my grads to stop for a moment, look around, and grab something that expresses where they are ‘at’ in that moment (either physically or emotionally). Students shared stories evoked from objects, the vista, sheep, and pets from Portland and Cali, to Colorado and Pennsylvania! Opened a great intro... and set the stage for checking in with each other throughout the 10-week term.” - Michelle Illuminato

“I am not teaching in the fall (sabbatical YAY) but what I WOULD do is ask students to introduce themselves with a Flipgrid or Google Jamboard and post to the class site.” - Carole Loeffler

“I haven’t done this yet online but I had a thought to lead a discussion about color and color theory. Give everyone a set amount of time (2 min?) to go get something where they are, that is the “most red” thing they can find (“most blue”, “most yellow”) compare what everyone brings. Could start a discussion about color and be fun to get up and move around.” - Sarah Dolan

“I like the introductory/ice-breaker discussion board (name, pronouns, where you're joining from, and a fun fact - maybe last gallery/museum show you went to or would like to go to, or favorite recipe link, etc.). - Ellen Mueller

Jen Delos Reyes did a lovely workshop recently and had all sorts of great ideas: She's been reading the newspaper for signs of happiness and cutting out the words. Beforehand, we also gathered a pile of beans or small stones. She asked us to make a numbered list of sadness in our lives and a numbered list of happiness. We added a stone to separate piles for each item on the lists. Then, she suggested burning the list. At the beginning, she did her version of an Allan Kaprow exercise and asked us to sit for 2 - 5 minutes and think of someone. Who comes to mind? And then afterwards, call the person and tell them you are thinking of them now. She also did a series of polls/raised hands: asked questions like: Raise your hand if: I cried this week, I wake up in the morning and feel like I have a sense of purpose, I believe a better world is possible, I am loved, I know the best is yet to come. ” - Naomi J. Falk


Whatever you end up doing the first week of class, we hope you have a good start to your school year. #teachingjoys #littlebylittle #allthisisnew


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