Singing art professor adds creativity to motivate students during pandemic

MINOT, N.D. – "You can’t critique a batik . . . not on TikTok or Instagram,” sings a puppet on a YouTube video prepared for art students studying the artform of batik at Minot State University.

For Minot State art professor Micah Bloom, transitioning to teaching online classes, in a matter of one week’s forewarning was a significant challenge. Having no previous experience, he wondered how best to translate hands-on art experiences into the virtual realm - and still hold the attention of his students. What are the tips and tricks of online instructors regarding ways to connect with students?

When classes resumed after Spring Break, Bloom noticed this new isolation was difficult for his students, physically and emotionally. He decided to experiment with some creative approaches to engage his students and keep them moving forward as the lockdown set in.

“In this new format, I knew I had to work more diligently at getting the students motivated, so that’s where the singing, the puppets, the lighthearted attention grabbers, etc. came into play,” he said.

“Wicked Corona” was the first song Bloom wrote for his students.

"It was in the first week of lockdown, and I was wanting to express my frustration with the situation, and also give my students something to smile about," Bloom said. "The song uses humor to get at the inconveniences of not being able to experience ‘normal’ life... or get toilet paper.”

In the weeks to follow, Bloom added in other creative surprises. “In one class we took a minute for everyone to run around the house and get back to the camera wearing a fun hat. In another class I whipped out my ukulele and within seconds several students showed up on screen holding their ukuleles.”

A few weeks into the lockdown, his art methods for elementary education course was working on making batiks for an assignment. He thought if he made a silly, nonsensical song and video it might help get them motivated to learn.

“Using my daughter’s ukulele, I put together a tune, and then I started playing with some puppets to share the content,” he remembered.

That’s where his own children wanted in on the fun. They ended up doing most of the puppets, and as they were filming, the older girls wanted to make the video into a love story, so, alas, it got sillier still.

In another art demonstration video, Bloom employed some unexpected guest lecturers.

“Well, when I asked two of my children if they wanted to help teach the lesson, they were ecstatic. But when they got in front of the camera the girls decided they wanted to film a make-up tutorial like celebrity YouTubers," he daid. "So my students get a few seconds of that before the girls launch into the art lesson. Of course, everyone thought the girls were adorable, but for my aims – my students watched the whole video (some of them multiple times) and picked up the content.”

To pull students into a potentially dry subject, he created a hip-hop beat on his computer and used it in an intro to one of his live lectures about the Visual Art Education Standards. (which included live puppets.)

“I was delighted in a following class when I asked students to recall the lecture, and one student quoted content from the hip-hop song!” Bloom stated.

As finals week finally came, Bloom thought he needed to compose a song for the art graduates. Composing a song for Minot State’s graduating art majors, just minutes before their final, virtual class, Bloom sang it live online. Later, he recorded the video and added some pictures of his students having fun in the art department, etc.

“It's been a struggle for me to not give a hug or high five to these graduating students. At Minot State we have a close-knit art department, and my colleagues and I have worked with these students for the past four-plus years," he said. "They are spread across country now because we went into Spring Break with, ‘See you in a week’ and now this present reality of ‘maybe never see you again.’ There’s definitely anticipation that builds to graduation, and since we can’t be together to celebrate, I thought that these students deserved something personal and special.”

Reflecting on the semester as it winds down, Bloom comments, “I know that my students and I, struggled, feeling stressed and emotionally drained, so I guess that’s why the ukulele came out; it’s just a cheery, funny instrument, and it helped to chase away some pandemic blues. All in all, during this pandemic, I learned that I had to care for and about my students in a new way.  By using some creative approaches, I was able to break through some of the barriers created by little virus, a big distance and a sudden, prolonged isolation.

About Minot State University
Minot State University is a public university dedicated to excellence in education, scholarship, and community engagement achieved through rigorous academic experiences, active learning environments, commitment to public service, and a vibrant campus life.

Published: 05/28/20   

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