FDU Visual Arts Profs Draw on Innovation to Teach Virtually

By Nancy Sanchez-Diaz

Entertainment Editor 

Without in-person classes, university professors are working to deliver meaningful learning experiences in a virtual setting.

It’s not going well in some places. MFA students have filed a class-action lawsuit against Columbia University as students complain about the loss of studio access, studio class and mentorship as a result of the pandemic. 

At FDU, art and computer graphic design professors are dealing with the changes brought on by the COVID pandemic by innovating in their teaching methods online and finding ways to get the students supplies to use in their homes.

Professor Marie A. Roberts, who teaches drawing, life drawing and painting courses on the Metropolitan campus, told The Equinox that one of the hardest teaching challenges is translating the feel of art tools and materials into the virtual world.

“It’s hard to translate the sense of feel with the material that I have,” Roberts told The Equinox. “Even if you show somebody the picture of the tool, it’s not the same as the student grabbing it and feeling it and making an informed decision.” 

To accommodate this, Roberts said she tries to provide her virtual students the experience of being in a real art studio. 

“I use postures and I show them to hold the tool loosely,” Roberts continued. “We’re taught to hold our pencil carefully and tightly, but if you hold your pencil tightly to draw, you are not going to do a good job. I try to show them how to loosen their arms via camera and I can tell when they aren’t. I’ll stop them and encourage them to roll their shoulders and stretch a little bit.” 

For the course, students have to bear the cost of purchasing materials, like Sharpie pens, Lyra crayons and ballpoint pens. 

Fahrney’s Pens, a pen shop based in Washington, D.C., has donated pens.

“We were fortunate to have received pen donations this semester,” Roberts said. “I have also sent [students] some paper. Everyone had to get their own supplies, but I really cut them down in the classroom and made the options as flexible as I could. If the issue of no money came up, I encouraged them to hit me up privately and we would figure out the details properly.”

Another challenge in the classroom has been accommodating to the scale of work. 

“Normally, I would buy large paper so we try different scales, but that’s hard when everyone’s at home,” Roberts said. “Now, I have them do their homework in a small book. I have them photograph their work with their cellphones and they email it to me. Then, I can work on it with my pencil and show them where they hit the mark.” 

Roberts said she has been inviting artists such as Mariah Lopez to talk to her students. 

“We have an art gallery and as part of the art gallery we’ve always brought in guest artists to speak,” Roberts said. 

Roberts hopes that those who can stick with the postures, the techniques, and the materials are learning to enjoy drawing — and more. 

“You don’t always just want to make art. I try to help my students get over that,” Roberts said. “I think if we can learn in class how not to be afraid of making a mistake, that’s half the battle. The goal is to have them work without fear.”

Computer Graphic Design Professors

Just like art professors, FDU’s computer graphic design professors have also 

worked hard to deliver the lessons and techniques crucial to the learning experience. 

In a special Zoom event for digital art students on Wednesday, April 7, Florham professors Janet O’Neil and John Cinco and Metro professor Yelena Aronson, highlighted some of the solutions they’ve created. 

One of them has been to focus on the fundamentals of computer graphic design. 

“I used to require a book, but now I do a lot of exercises in class for students to master a technique,” Cinco said in the meeting. “Those that can do it while watching the Zoom demo can submit it right after. Otherwise, they have a week to work on it and submit it.” 

Anthony Fatuzzo, a junior graphic art and design major, said that taking a hands-on course online was intimidating at first.  

“Learning new programs and techniques can often be a challenge, but our professors are there for us and continue to provide the necessary tools to accomplish each task,” Fatuzzo told The Equinox via email. “Recording our class Zoom sessions has been beneficial, as we’re able to revisit the material as many times as we need to. They’ve created a constant learning environment for us.” 

The department has also worked to keep students engaged by holding contests, showcasing students’ work on the FDU graphic design website and hosting visual art shows.  

“We have exhibits that we’ve put online. We also try to have a poster contest for students, and now we’ve just finished a [graduation cords] stole contest,” O’Neil said. “In the past, we’ve designed Zoom backgrounds and uploaded them onto the website. They used to receive [gift] certificates to the FDU bookstore, but now I send them graphic design books.”

If there’s anything the pandemic has shown these artists, it’s that everyone needs the joy artistic expression brings. 

“The most important thing is realizing that it’s not the consumption of art that we should care about. It’s the doing of it. Art is something that we should always practice,” O’Neil said.

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Art by Nancy Sanchez-Diaz