Ringling finds a way to teach art in pandemic era

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Photo courtesy of the college

When the pandemic largely shut down Ringling College of Art & Design in 2020, it created a number of technical challenges for the nation’s most technologically advanced art school.

“One of the biggest fears our students had about remoteness was how to carry out our projects,” said Dr Larry Thompson, President of Ringling College. “We have what I call Ferrari computers because they run at that kind of speed and cost about that much.”

For majors in motion design, computer animation, and other high-tech fields, these allow for processing speeds not available on a laptop or personal computer. The students couldn’t just take this work home. Ringling therefore turned to NASA to find solutions. Internal tech support mimicked communication techniques similar to those used to communicate with rovers on Mars. Basically all data processing could be handled by machines on campus while the students had pixel screens showing what works of art were being produced. If engineers at Cape Canaveral can operate machines on another planet, why not use the same long-distance telecommunications to help students from another state (or continent) access work in Sarasota?

Today, the college has seen all of its students return to campus for in-person learning and a much shorter connection to library servers. But at the start of the year, the college was concerned about the number of students, especially international ones, who might return. In the end, virtually all of them did.

“We ended up with the most registrations this fall that we have ever had,” said Thompson, “which really shocked us as most colleges have suffered steep drops in enrollment.”

Jason Good, vice president of enrollment management and marketing at Ringling College, said the college has prepared for some issues in terms of access to travel, especially with the 21% of students in the school who come from other countries. But in the end, only one or two students encountered significant difficulty returning to the United States.

No longer any student is distant full-time, but some classes are. Approximately 70% of classes at Ringling College this term are offered in person and the remaining 30% are virtual. This is in part to allow for better social distancing for art classes in the space once used for general education classes now taught virtually.

“We thought the experience would be so much better if (the students) were here in person,” said Thompson. “Teaching art and design online, especially in fine art, was difficult, if not impossible. Partly because when it comes to inspiring creativity, students gain as much from working together as from technical direction from instructors.

Photo courtesy of the college

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