Not long after TC moved to remote teaching in March, Richard Jochum tried to start class on Zoom one evening by doing an emotional check-in with his students.

The Digital File

“I said, ‘How are you, how do you all feel?’ And a student burst out: ‘What are we doing here!’ I was surprised because he’d written to me earlier that he was fine. When I spoke with him about later, I said, ‘You’re frustrated,’ and he said —‘Yeah, I don’t know if I’ll be alive in two weeks.’”

For Jochum, Associate Professor of Art & Art Education, the moment was a cautionary tale on several levels.

Ultimately, I believe we’ll look back on this time and think: We became better teachers, too.

— Richard Jochum

Jochum and other instructors in his program have literally taken that approach when it comes to teaching the College’s studio classes in painting and sculpture. Holding these classes online would be challenging under the best of circumstances — but it’s even tougher when no one, including the instructor, has access to essential materials and tools.

“I realized, ‘One needs to cautiously balance these types of explorations in class,’” he says. “But also, in general, ‘Don’t try to everything right now. Be generous to yourself and your students, because we’re still in an emergency mode here. It’s important to scale up slowly.’”

Still, Jochum says, “even in sculpture, we’re doing great stuff. We can’t do welding or use our workshop, but we can still give assignments that require students to apply and refine core principles — for example, by using a cardboard box to create an installation, uploading a photo of it, and then playing with the proportions.” 

Students are often more at home in the digital medium than instructors, but for Jochum, there are two essentials task in teaching — regardless of the medium and its constraints: to “create a story line from the get-go” and to provide students with a sense of community.

In his seminar this semester on Creative Technologies, he initially sought to do both by tasking his students with planning a symposium on interconnectivity in the arts. With artists everywhere now self-isolating, the topic has become even more timely, but of course, the staging an actual event isn’t possible. Nevertheless, working with Flipgrid, the class has gone ahead with creating posters for the symposium with fleshed out topics and potential speakers.

“I’ve organized one or two symposia per year since I came to TC, and I think it’s a very valuable experience for students to learn to do it,” Jochum says. “You need a strong brief and a strong call that attracts people, and when you’ve got that the rest happens on its own. So again, storyboarding is key.”

More recently, Jochum gave himself an intriguing assignment. At the suggestion of a colleague, and working with technology provided by ODL, he’s recreated TC’s Macy Gallery as a three-dimensional online space. (Click here to visit Jochum’s online 3D Macy Gallery.) Instructors can use it to post student projects and deliver end-of-semester critiques — but it can also be used for a full-on exhibition, and in July, the Art & Art Education program will do just that, with a show devoted to student work.

“I think the trick with technology is to leverage what you know, proceed slowly, and continually stretch yourself just a little bit beyond your comfort zone,” Jochum says. “Teaching online gives us a new lens for thinking about our teaching in the classroom. Ultimately, I believe we’ll look back on this time and think: We became better teachers, too.”