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Wednesday December 8th

'Necessity is the mother of invention': UNC arts education adapts to remote learning

<p>Senior Isabel Perry makes a vase using wire and beads for a ceramics class. The class no longer makes ceramics because it is being taught remotely because of coronavirus.&nbsp;</p>
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Senior Isabel Perry makes a vase using wire and beads for a ceramics class. The class no longer makes ceramics because it is being taught remotely because of coronavirus. 

Due to UNC’s cancellation of in-person instruction, professors of artistic, application-based classes have had to adapt their syllabi for remote learning.

These artists are using their creativity to identify new ways to approach their craft.

Tracy Bersley, dramatic art

Tracy Bersley teaches an undergraduate directing class and movement training for UNC’s Professional Actor Training Program. She said at first she was intimidated by the online transition, but found that it has inspired innovation.

“It’s forced me to be creative and find new ways of conveying information,” she said. “Fortunately we’re deep enough into the semester for all my classes where we all have a baseline of knowledge and vocabulary and so we can capitalize on what we already know.”

In regards to her graduate acting students, Bersley said the focus in her class has shifted to professional development.

“Once you leave school, you don’t have anyone pushing you, saying ‘Did you do this? Did you do that?’” Bersley said. “There’s something useful about teaching accountability and self-motivation.”

Bersley was very careful in avoiding busy work, and maintaining the educational intentions of the course.

In her directing class, Bersley has shifted the medium of the course to video, instructing students to work on their directing techniques using their phone cameras. She said she hopes this doesn’t frustrate students, and rather helps them understand that working through limitations is what inspires brilliance in artists.

“If it’s origami, the limitation is one piece of paper. If it’s acting, the limitation is your body,” Bersley said. “This is a whole new set of limitations, and there’s fun to be had in grappling with them.”

Bersley said her curiosity extends to other artistic media, and that she is looking forward to seeing the work that comes out of these circumstances.

“‘Necessity is the mother of invention,’ you know?” she said. “I wonder if people will make art that they never would have made otherwise simply because of their constraints.”

Isabel Perry, ceramics

Isabel Perry is a UNC senior studying art history and interdisciplinary studies (arts education). She is currently enrolled in an advanced ceramics studio course, which has been forced to alter its curriculum due to campus closures.

Perry said her professor, Yun-Dong Nam, has been great about helping students in the class with their needs during the transition, and is trying to keep the spirit of the class intact. 

“We’re in a ceramics class, but we’re not doing ceramics anymore,” she said. “But we’re still making the forms that we would be doing. We’ve been assigned to make two vases using things we have in our house."

Perry said, while it’s true she’s no longer learning ceramics, she does think she’ll get something out of the class and is excited to explore the alternative assignments.

“I’m honestly really excited,” she said. “I think it’s gonna be really fun. And, now that I have all of this time, I’ll probably get really into it.”

Qiao Zheng Goh, music

Qiao Zheng Goh is a vocal coach and collaborative pianist who accompanies voice students for voice lessons, rehearsals and performances. She said music is especially challenged by virtual education.

“So much of our performances are based on being able to breathe together, as well as sharing our musical thoughts while the singers are singing and I am playing,” she said. “Audio latency and the quality of internet connection have been forcing us to use other ways to work with each other.”

Qiao said accompanists have been making tracks for students to practice with and use for lessons with their voice professors, in order to combat audio delays. However, she said does not think this is sustainable for long-term training.

“There are nuances in voice and speech that get lost in the midst of audio transmission,” she said. “Online coaching will never be able to recreate the process of in-person training and bond-building.”

Qiao compared listening to music to watching a sunset or reading a book, in that the interpretation is dependent on who is having the experience.

“The sunset is never the same,” Qiao said. "We are always trying to recreate the sunset in the music, or tell the story that we think the composers want us to tell. Only by being together in the same space can we understand each other and the words that are not being explicitly stated.”

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