By Susan Badger Booth
Hongik University, South Korea
Eastern Michigan University
By Elena SV Flys
Eastern Michigan University
The Impact of COVID19 in Experiential Learning Activities: Challenges of an Online Setting
As COVID19 advances, the uncertainty of teaching and engaging with the arts grows. This short paper highlights the experiences and challenges that both teachers and students encountered when their world was reduced to technology and access to the internet.
Both professors SV Flys and Booth came to teaching careers in Arts Management after practicing Arts Management. It was only natural that we would use our applied experiences as models for the theories we are teaching students in our classrooms. Thus, both of us use experiential learning in our courses for students to develop knowledge from direct experiences. Moving these theories into practice entails crafting hands on projects where students are the decision makers. As suggested by educational trailblazer John Dewey (1997), experiential learning allows professors to move from only delivering knowledge, to facilitating learning (Dewey, 1997). Likewise, David Kolb describes this method as the cycle where students move through active learning including concrete experiences, reflective observation, abstract conceptualization and active experimentation (Kolb, 1984 as cited in Cherry, 2020). As a consequence, this problem-based learning can motivate students to engage with their professors and each other in surprising ways. For example, peer assisted learning is a proven pedagogical method that pushes students to test the very best methods of collaboration and teamwork (skills well valued by employers as stated by NACE ). However, how did we maintain these practices when COVID19 striked and university campuses shut down? Or when our role as a facilitator or coach is developed from a far distance? In addition to the stress and struggle that this situation created for everyone, this paper will describe the different activities we developed in two countries (US and South Korea, where Booth is teaching), the reception from students, and the final outcomes engaging audience members.
Teaching in a proximal space where faculty can measure the nuances of student participation from body language and emotional responses is lost in this new online environment. Moreover, for many students education becomes inaccessible overnight. For example, at EMU, many students faced losing their jobs and had to return to their family homes with the challenges of not being able to pay their rent or internet access fees. Thus, besides experiencing the additional burden of adapting our classes (Booth had two weeks, where SV Flys had to pivot to an online platform over a weekend) we were both concerned on how to maintain both students’ engagement and the quality of our programs. In fact, we had to assess the situation of each student to make sure our courses would be accessible. For example, SV Flys used a survey to ask students about their resources before shifting her courses (access to a computer, to the internet, space to work, etc.).
Another challenge that professor Booth encountered was that while experiential learning is commonly used as a teaching pedagogy in the United States, it is less common in South Korea. Moreover, the classroom in Korea is a large power distance culture (Park, Lee, Yun, & Kim, 2009). The power distance dimension describes how students and professors interact. Hence, in small power distance cultures, teachers and students are equals, and education is student-centered whereas in large power distance cultures classes are based on teacher-centered instruction (Ghazarian, Youhne, 2015). In practice both Susan and Elena’s classrooms are more closely aligned with small power distance cultures.
With this context set, we both have written this short response to the following research questions: what strategies can we use to involve the students acknowledging the challenges and diversity within our own classes, culture and teaching styles? As arts administrators, how can we use experiential learning to connect with our audience/clients? What challenges and outcomes did we encounter? And last, what platforms were more effective for our purposes? To do so, we both selected different courses and replied to those questions providing examples and results. In short, we wanted to share how we have incorporated experiential learning in this “new norm” of teaching online during the COVID19 pandemic.
Marketing in the Arts at EMU
The first course we will talk about was taught by SV Flys. The course starts with audience development and engagement entering progressively into marketing mix, media mix and wrapping up with social media and experiential marketing. One key element is the experiential learning component where students work for specific clients (analyzing their current and potential audience, their marketing strategies and proposing new effective steps). The first challenge with COVID19 was that students didn’t follow us to the online course. Based on the results from the survey, SVFlys decided to continue the course through zoom meetings with students, providing them with opportunities to not only interact live, but also to watch the recordings and interact via online forums. The possibility of offering synchronous and asynchronous learning helped students re-engage and stay in contact with the course material. In addition, SV Flys accepted assignments that were hand-written and photographed with cell phones; or video discussions sent via text messages. Another challenge when attending synchronous classes was to maintain students’ engagement. The break out rooms of zoom became the best tool for such a practical course. As a class we discussed ways in which audience members could be reached by their client during social distancing. In addition, students submitted images about marketing, audience and confinement to be posted in an online gallery created specifically for the class with these submissions (artsteps.com). This activity turned out to be very significant in how students engaged with the course as well as in trying to deal with what was going around our world (see figure 1).
Figure 1. Drawing from Erik Harp “Euchre Night”
Source: Eric Harp (2020).
Originally, Booth’s semester was planned around a Fulbright Grant, but the program was canceled worldwide three weeks into her trip due to the pandemic. Instead of returning back to the U.S. she accepted a position as a visiting international professor and continued teaching her classes. Booth’s Cultural Planning Class included developing a Cultural Plan with a local group of English-speaking immigrants. As Cultural Planning demands working collaboratively with the community, the problem was that the university would not allow face-to-face meetings. Booth was fortunate to quickly recruit a small group of Hongik University exchange students, who were willing to help her model cultural planning methods using our new Cisco WebEx online teaching platform. The graduate students were assigned exchange students to interview. The exchange students were asked to complete a follow-up online survey. As of today, we are analyzing our initial data and getting ready to curate a conversation with these exchange students (online) about how to enhance their access to cultural programming in Seoul. Plans for this meeting include using both the WebEx platform and MURAL, a digital workspace for visual collaboration. Where as an actual cultural plan would involve multiple group meetings, we were only able to schedule one.
I prepared my class of both Korean nationals and students from France and China for this conversation with foreign exchange students with a discussion of arts, immigration and refugees. As Korea is a true monoculture, with a history of protecting their culture against forced imperialism, it was both a difficult and fascinating conversation. Most of the Korean nationals suggested that South Korea is still a developing nation, and was not in a position to take in refugees. I suggested that with infrastructures such as strong education and national health care in place, combined with the need for low wage, workers taking in refugees could be both ethically responsible and economically beneficial. Very little response was obtained from the students.
True small power distance cultures are very hard to emulate in the best of circumstances. With a group of students you know well, or even better graduate level students, you have the chance of modeling a peer to peer collaborative practice, but then you have to grade them and the power balance changes forever. Classes at Hongik University in Seoul started with a two-week “pandemic” delay, then they began online (originally for a limited period), but eventually would be extended for the whole semester. Although Susan had not originally planned to include experiential learning in her Culture & Arts Management class, she added an online arts event a few weeks into the semester. The students were used to a large power distance culture and were learning in a second language, so these two variables created very little student engagement. Booth felt that more student-centered learning could enhance engagement and learning.
As of today, OUI Artist, branded, planned and implemented by the students during the last 10 weeks premiered on June 16, 2020. The class was separated into seven groups. The response of the programming groups call to artists showed us that art students were also ready for experiential learning, as we had a surprising number of applicants. Once the artists were chosen we realized that they were mostly visual artists, so the operations group moved from using Instagram and YouTube as their event platform to Artstep.com, a virtual gallery program.
Some students are avoiding this project work, but quite a few continue to fully engage and move beyond assignment requirements to addressing the needs of the artists. For example, I have one student that is creating a digital catalogue for the show, when the artists requested one. My audience development group is inviting our artists to create “Gallery Opening” events where they pick a social media platform and invite their supporters to join them for some virtual wine and cheese and a virtual walk through their show.
Figure 2. OUI Artist Profile
Source: 히시가, OUI Artists Programming Group (2020).
Co-curricular activities & MA Projects
At EMU we have a very active student organization (AMP!) linked to our major. This semester students were working on two big events: an interview with Tim Jennings (executive director from the Shaw Festival) & Java Jam (coffee house). Thus, when EMU’s campus closed we decided to do the events online. AMP! members interviewed Tim Jenning on Zoom, 24 students joined the interview and it was posted on the student’s social media, where it has had 398 views. Part of this success was that AMP! students created several social media posts with key moments of the interview. The second event was a live stream coffee house with all the original artists. The first challenge was to reach out to all artists and tell them that we would put their social media links and hashtags on the screen so that people could follow them afterwards. Some artists didn’t have resources to record themselves, so we offered them the possibility of showing a video that they already had. We reached out via social media to our audience letting them know that Java Jam and its artists were expecting them. We had AMP! Board members introducing the artist, providing information about AMP!, resources available online for the arts, and we included some sections of self-care with advice from a counselor. Although Zoom worked for our previous event it became a concern due to streaming and connection issues, so we ended up having a recording video of everything. We posted on social media the video and asked people to connect at the same time. The results were 125 comments during the time of the “live stream”, and 452 views.
As for our MA student, the project she was working on was the creation and curation of an art exhibit in relation to women’s representation. The exhibit was supposed to open 3 days before the campus was shut down. In order for the student to showcase her work and the work of the artists, she photographed everything and created an online virtual gallery exhibit: Wom^n. The platform used was artsteps.com, the online gallery received 289 views and was featured at the Social Distancing Festival. The result was an excellent experience for the student, who had to learn about new platforms to make sure she could access her audience.
COVID19 has exposed the inequalities between students and the differences between teaching models. As professors we have learned how relevant the applied work and the relationships we establish with our students are in our field. The challenges we experienced show us the importance of carefully designing online instruction, keeping in mind how the large and small teaching cultures affect our work. This design will make sure that all students can and will have access to the content and can continue their work independently of the resources they have and their learning assumptions.
Questions for further discussion
- How can we continue with experiential learning practices if we continue to be online?
- What other platforms can be used to create more engaging content?
- How do we avoid inequality based on technological resources and internet access?
- How do we address online the differences in learning styles that students expect from us?
- How do we create real collaborative and trusting relationships, like the kind that are needed in cultural planning, online?
CHERRY, K. (2020) The Experiential Learning Theory of David Kolb. Verywell Mind, Theories: Cognitive Psychology, Available at: https://www.verywellmind.com/experiential-learning-2795154
DEWEY, J. (1997). Experience & Education. New York: Touchstone.
GHAZARIAN, P,, YOUHNE, M. (2015). Exploring Intercultural Pedagogy: Evidence From International Faculty in South Korean Higher Education. Journal in Studies of International Education. 19(5), 476-490
NACE (2018). Employers Want to See These Attributes on Students’ Resumes. National Association of Colleges and Employers. Available at: https://www.naceweb.org/talent-acquisition/candidate-selection/employers-want-to-see-these-attributes-on-students-resumes/
PARK, H. S., LEE, S. A., YUN, D., & KIM, W. (2009). The impact of instructor decision authority and verbal and nonverbal immediacy. Korean students. Communication Education, 58, 189-212.
Professor Booth is the Director of Arts Management and Administration Programs at Eastern Michigan University (EMU). Susan traveled to Seoul, South Korea on a Fulbright Grant this semester, where she planned to teach and do field research with a group of graduate students at Hongik University. Due to COVID19 the Fulbright program ended prematurely, but Booth chose to stay on at Hongik to finish her teaching and research as a Visiting International Professor. Susan’s research interests include the scholarship of teaching and learning, arts entrepreneurship, creative thinking and creative community building. Booth recently was a guest editor for the Journal Artivate, where she curated conversations around the impact that artists have had on the recovery of Detroit.
Dr. SV Flys is an Assistant Professor in Arts & Entertainment Management (Arts Administration) at EMU. Her research focuses on accessibility, audience reception, social integration and community building. She is interested in the questions of how we reach new audiences, how we make the arts accessible for all, and how this further accessibility might encourage social integration. Her belief is that social issues, such as embracing diversity or dealing with economic and environmental crises can be addressed through the arts, fostering community development. Her most recent publication “Using Thermography to Study Audience Engagement during Theatre Performances” was published in AJAM this past April.