A Look into Virtual Classes Q&A: Art 100 with Mike Stack

By Troy Hutchison

For the past seven months, the world has been affected by the ongoing pandemic due to the Coronavirus (Covid-19). With business closing and schools moving to online only, it is clear that the effects are still being felt today.

In the state of Arizona, numbers have jumped up and down for months. At the beginning of the pandemic the numbers were low, with only 1,681 confirmed cases according to the Arizona Department of Health (ADH) at the start of the pandemic for the month of March. 

However, fast forward to June confirmed cases spike to 76,926 and continue to increase moving forward into July with 79,871 confirmed cases. 

These numbers have caused schools at every level to take action and come up with new ways of learning, moving classes from in-person to online virtual classes.

Locally, it has changed the way learning is done at Tucson Unified School District (TUSD), the University of Arizona (UA), and Pima Community College (PCC). While at TUSD and UA there are options for in-person classes for a limited number of students, there is no option like that at PCC. 

With classes strictly online or in a virtual classroom setting this can be a difficult situation for more “hands-on” learning types of classes such as Nursing school, Culinary, and Art classes. 

I talked to current Art instructor Mike Stack, who works mainly on the PCC east campus with students at all levels of art, about the struggles classes like his are facing with the ongoing pandemic. 

Q: Did you see the number of students for your class go down compared to last semester?

MS: Student enrollment has understandably dipped here and nationwide but my classes are as full as they have ever been. In fact, being that many of us are teaching virtually, we are able to accommodate more students and not be restricted by the size and physical capacity of the classroom.

Q: What has been your biggest worry when it comes to switching to a virtual classroom?

MS: In person instruction has a real time rhythm and flow that, at this point in time, just cannot be duplicated online. I like to pace and observe what my students are doing in the classroom as they are working on their projects. The amount of information one receives in this regard is priceless in assisting students improve and feel the confidence to take more chances. We are roughly three weeks into this virtual semester and not being able to see student work in progress without asking has been frustrating and a new reality I’m trying hard to navigate.

Q: Did you have to change some of the projects you usually do in your class? 

MS: In the arts, we tend to do this anyway depending on the strengths or needs we see materializing in the class, but, yes, and to some surprising and very positive results.

Q: Do you think not having that in-person class is going to affect some students? 

MS: I think so, which is why I think I’m over compensating by continually calling on students to show me their work in class, asking continually for the class to share their observation and opinions in class, and generally let them know I’m invested in building their confidence and success in the class no matter where their starting point was at the beginning of the semester.

Q: What do you see as a positive to come out of this situation?

MS: Covid-19 is a reality we will all have to wrestle with for sometime to come. For our students, faculty, and all of humanity, it has thrust us all into improving our computer skills, communication skills and generally understanding that adapting to new realities is hard but doable. Not perfect mind you, but if the support and general good will I see my student giving one another as their WiFi is interrupted, as open mikes squeal in feedback, as items missed when one does not scroll down far enough, or when an instructor does not know the screen is not being shared…I feel really good about the future and the empathy skills of our students to take these new and sometime demanding realities we are all wrestling …and make a very positive impact in their professional pursuits as well as being productive members of the community.

Q: Do you see anything that you would maybe take from this style of learning this semester and implement it into your classes moving forward?

MS: Great question and one I have thought about quite a bit. All faculty, in all departments, have worked tirelessly to update their material over the summer, adjust to the technology, for many complete a very thorough online teaching class the college has generously provided, and especially work to reformat and enter the mountains of class material into D2L we as instructors normally share with our students throughout the course of any semester. The big positive to all of this is if the realities of Covid-19 ever subsides and we are able to meet in the classroom again face-to-face,  the clearly delineated pedagogically resources every instructor has compiled for virtual teaching in D2L will have a major impact at the fingertip ready to assist a student even more when they are confused or needs extra assistance. This is and will be an invaluable resource for students and instructors alike. Certainly, a big improvement for me to up my game and assist my students in the future.