To challenge on online classes at GAP
―in response to the COVID-19 pandemic―
GAP, now five years since its establishment, is a course half of which consists of international students. As a collective body of people with diverse geographical and cultural backgrounds, we have been experimenting, developing and challenging an innovative curriculum of a graduate school with international collaborative partners, exploring how arts and artists in global society should be. We carry out a number of programs in collaboration with various artists and researchers invited from within Japan and abroad. These programs are especially intense with waves of new experiences delivered within a short period of time. Novel perspectives arising from these interactions among people have been providing great inspiration for both students and faculty.
Due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, it has become impossible to travel overseas for a while. Not only that, it becomes prohibited to enter the grounds of the Tokyo University of the Arts thus impossible to hold face-to-face ‘real’ classes. This is a shocking event particularly for GAP characterized by various forms of encounters. However, we readily shifted our thinking to consider this pandemic as a chance to explore the possibility of online classes.
We decided to remain committed to GAP’s principle that values the actual encounter between people and stick to ‘online face-to-face classes’, not on-demand. Employing assignments as a way to gain feedback on the online classes, we are constantly adjusting our teaching contents and methodology in response to feedback from the students. Four months passed quickly while all the faculty and staff, eager not to turn our online classes into simply a replacement of face-to-face real classes, embraced the challenge to seek a unique angle within the online environment.
GAP had introduced to the classes some elementary online tools such as Instagram, but hadn’t built up a program making full use of Zoom or Google Classroom. Our challenge started with trial and error, and as of July, all our classes were being delivered online, including ‘Global Art Joint Project’, ‘Social Practice Seminar’ and also practical classes, some of which have just returned to face-to-face. Combining both online and face-to-face, we see a potential for the future, discovering something new and sensing an enthusiastic response from both approaches.
The pandemic isn’t yet showing any signs of an end, and from now on, it seems University education will deliver classes in combination of online and face-to-face. Here we can see not just an obstacle but also an unprecedented possibility. Our challenge for the first semester 2020 is just the beginning. We would like to share our challenge with prospective students who are interested in studying at GAP or University teachers who are tackling online classes every day. We hope we will overcome the current situation by working together in the search for a new horizon.
At the end of July, 2020 GAP
◆The outline of the online classes held in the first semester 2020.
For more detail on each class, please follow the links on the menu ‘About Curriculum’.
・From the middle of March, faculty meetings were shifted to online. We also started online support for the students, especially the international students and the new M1 students, checking on the status of their arrivals in Japan and visa applications in addition to their living and health conditions.
・Guidance for the new M1 students (7th April): This was rather a one-way communication through a screen.
Prior to the start of the first semester scheduled on 11th May in the adjusted academic calendar, we started the online face-to-face classes with the new M1 students.
・Show Case: Finding an effective use of screen sharing in combination with slideshow.
The M1 students gave a self-introduction by Zoom. We found that sharing through slideshow on the screen made it easier to concentrate on looking. Students improved their online communication skills as they learned more effective (real) ways of sharing, for instance, by showing their hometown on a map, and so on. We noticed that some students were disconnected in the middle of the session due to their unstable internet connection. From this point we decided to record all sessions, to observe and reflect, and to share the contents afterward.
・Plaza: Setting up a chatting space.
In order to ease a feeling of loneliness among the students, we set up an online space like a café. It is a free space where faculty and staff always welcome whoever wants to have a chat. The aim was to provide support for any problems and concerns that might arise. As we improved the content of our online classes, and as the students got used to the online living environment, naturally Plaza became less necessary and frequent.
→We are considering to reactivate it as ‘What’s up! Salon’ in August when there are less classes.
・The start of the online course meetings
We set up the online course meetings for each grade once a month. When we used to hold this meeting physically on the campus, the attendance sometimes went down as low as 50 percent. After shifting to online, nearly everyone attended the meetings. We gave the students support and advise for our online classes, listened carefully to their concerns and complaints, and followed up the class schedules that weren’t articulated enough or went through a number of changes. One of the most heated discussions revolved around the M2 online exhibition. Thanks to the online environment, we could organize these meetings readily and appropriately in frequency.
・Online ‘face-to-face’ classes, not on-demand.
Instead of on-demand arrangements that provides a one-way flow of information, we decided to stick to a basic idea of online ‘face-to-face’ classes and deliver them in combination with offline assignments. It is fortunate to have a smaller number of students in total which made possible ‘face-to-face’ sessions. Especially because half of our students are international, who are likely to be socially isolated, we tried to encourage casual chat as much as possible, so as to catch up with their health and welfare concerns before/after the classes.
・Presentation in Art Communication: Giving support for the M1 students who are not confident with English.
We organized the online English intensive pre-sessions during the blank period before the delayed start of the semester. The sessions helped the students feel more comfortable with English, making a good start for the semester.
・The M2 online exhibition: It becomes clearer that the online environment requires good verbalization.
The M2 interim show, originally scheduled at the end of April at the Toride Campus, was held online. We set up an ‘exhibition room’ on the website as an entrance to the presentation. It was to offer an experience of a ‘studio visit’ in a virtual space, which was followed by the online presentation and critique. The students found out that in the online environment, it is necessary to train their skills to allow a verbalization of their art practice. Under the circumstance in which the use of online tools is inevitable, we could see more flexible and broader ideas and inspirations emerging, at the same time we felt a growing appetite for a physical (real) exhibition. This was when our fear for the first phase of the pandemic was growing, and we could see a shadow of the invisible fear casted onto their works, which we experienced every day.
・Introduction to Japanese Art: Reaffirming the significance of ‘many’-to-‘many’ relationships involving visiting lecturers and of an experience of ‘seeing’.
We invited a curator of the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo, to deliver the online classes in collaboration with the GAP teacher in charge. This course is usually only for the M1 students, however, since we are freed from a physical limit in the online environment, we opened it for the M2 students as well. We spread the period of the classes from May to July, and managed to involve a physical visit to the Museum in July. This museum visit coincided with the time when the physical classes started resuming. Precisely because we couldn’t have a physical experience of ‘seeing’ in self-isolation, this opportunity gave us an insight to elaborate the significance of ‘seeing’ from broader perspectives.
・Pre-sessions for the unit program: Starting the online classes by the lecturers invited from abroad.
Prior to the unit program, we organized the pre-sessions with the GAP students. Taking advantage of the online environment, we started inviting the lecturers from abroad, for instance, in early June, an artist unit exonemo gave us a lecture from New York.
・Social Practice Seminar: Classes and workshops by the lecturers invited from abroad.We organized the online classes to be delivered by a lecturer from Hong Kong. Thanks to the flexible nature of online scheduling, we managed to give effective responses to students’ researches or set up a reasonable timetable for mentoring.
・GAP Seminar 1-a: Challenging online practical teaching involving actual materials.We sent the students a practical kit containing materials and tools, asking them to make works of art and return them to us by post. The returned works were exhibited by staff in the campus, which followed by an online live viewing and critique. In July, we had an opportunity to enter the campus and view the works actually. In this process, the students shared an awareness of the practical skills not only of making a work of art but also of explaining it to others, or, of providing instructions on how to install it when one has to leave it to others.
・GAP Seminar 1-b: Experiencing synchronicity and simultaneity with remote locations. We developed the online classes with a sense of live-ness, turning iPhone into a document camera to share drawings online.
・Unit program: Discovering the possibility of sharing physical expressions as well as linguistic ones.Thanks to the online environment, we realized the first ever joint project bringing together three art schools in Paris, London and Tokyo. We were inspired by the possibility of the collaborative performance on the Zoom multiscreen.
◆After finishing the online classes in the first semester 2020.
GAP’s challenge for the online classes started with a concern: how can we protect our students from isolation? This is because nearly half of the GAP students are international who are living in the unfamiliar surrounding of Japan. As we went through numerous daily meetings among faculty and staff, we came to realize that we have increased communication among ourselves more than ever before. As a result, we have improved our teamwork skills. Without this teamwork, we couldn’t have had what we discovered or achieved in our challenge for the online classes.For the current students and prospective students, please feel free to contact GAP staff if you have any concerns or questions.GAP keeps going with the strength of our teamwork.