Interview: Joseph Gibison

Designing for Remote Learning

image of brain and abstract connections in rainbow colors

I first encountered Joseph from social media posts he was sharing of elementary student artwork created remotely during the pandemic. As I continued to follow Joseph's work in his new position teaching high school art in the Virtual Learning Program in Baltimore County Public Schools, I came to see that not only was he a gifted artist, he also had an amazing way of connecting with learners working from home, inspiring them not only to do the work, but to do it well. So, I asked Joseph to share some of his secrets to help the rest of us improve our asynchronous lesson designs.

What inspired your move from the classroom to virtual learning?

When I was working on my Master's at Towson University, I was exposed to Khan Academy and the idea of Flipped Learning. The idea of being able to not only access video tutorials, but pause and rewind to learn more and at my own pace inspired the start of my journey and I began recording myself as I created a work of art so that I could share my process without having to be next to each student in my classes.

Like most of the country, Baltimore County Public Schools, moved to distance learning the pandemic, and then transitioned to a hybrid model before going back to fully face-to-face learning. When the County began its Virtual Learning Program I decided to teach art virtually full time.

What was your experience teaching art virtually?

Teaching art virtually has been great. There are so many creative apps, like Wixie, that make it fun and engaging for every age and skill set. Learning management systems also allow teachers to create lessons that supply students with a plethora of resources that support learning.

The art looks great, prints nicely, and the coloring or designs are easier and cleaner with features like a paint bucket tool, shape tools, and digital brushes and pencils. If students choose to work with low-tech materials, they always have that option and then we focus on presentation: like good lighting, picture is in focus, and cropping.

All work is submitted virtually so it lends itself well to portfolios with Wixie books or folders. I create virtual art shows through a webpage using Adobe Express and secondary students use this tool for their portfolios. No matter what they use, all students are learning 21st century skills.

I love that I can give feedback asynchronously too. In the face-to-face classroom you have to try to give everyone some feedback during class which means you don't have a lot of time to think and clarify. Because I can review their progress and share comments digitally, I can provide feedback when I have more time to reflect and clarify.

What are the most challenging parts of teaching art virtually?

All these different digital and tangible options can make it challenging to support all learners. I try to use small groups and student- led workshops to help facilitate and make the criteria about the project and the vocabulary/techniques on display. The means for how they get to the destination is up to the students.

During virtual "studio time" I put on music and model the lesson so they can watch or work on their own. Sometimes I will ask for "proof of life," but whether the students work with me during class or do the work asynchronously for homework, they still have to get the job done.

Sometimes it gets a little chaotic as I jump into a second Google Meet so I can explain different tools to different students. It's always a balance as I try to get creative and give them as many options as I can without going crazy.

What have you learned teaching art virtually that works no matter what you teach?

I still utilize the flipped learning techniques I learned ten years ago, and everything I do today includes a range of resources and supports for students to use when they aren't with me, such as descriptive vocabulary, sample work from students and teachers, YouTube videos and other instructional resources, and of course my own recordings.

I also monitor student progress using Go Guardian, an app our district uses, that allows me to look at screen time, websites being used or misused, and annotate their screens to help them navigate any particular app or website.

Designing for virtual learning is similar to face-to-face instruction in that you have a goal in mind, and backwards map from there. There are many factors that go into learning and like my face-to-face classroom, I start every class with a mindfulness activity and talk about the importance of self-care.

The difference is that you have more time to focus on your students and curriculum. You are not tasked with bus, hallway, or lunch duty. You do not have to cover other classes all the time. You can message parents, students, and design high-quality lessons with the extra time.

What should teachers consider when they design lessons for virtual instruction?

  1. Ask "What do I want the students to learn?""
  2. Follow that up with "How do I want them to demonstrate their learning?"
  3. Focus on vocabulary and designing your assessments.
  4. Create and share resources students can use to strengthen concepts (be sure to utilize imagery).
  5. Collect, create and curate high-quality examples to use throughout the lesson. This is obviously important for the visual arts, but this sets expectations for work in any subject. This works beyond student, teacher, and professional examples.
  6. Record video tutorials for asynchronous learning opportunities.

What virtual design considerations would you take back with you if you return to the face-to-face classroom?

Asynchronous resources and opportunities make it easy for me to differentiate and easily build small group activities. In Baltimore County where I teach, all students have devices, so this provides a great opportunity for both acceleration activities and reteaching.

Because I can't just drop in and have conversations as easily in the virtual environment, I work hard to provide individualized feedback that connects to the criteria and rubric. This way, even if I am not there, my students can understand why they got the grade they did. Extensive feedback combined with clear expectations benefits learning, no matter where it is.

I will continue to allow my students to revise work and resubmit. My philosophy towards teaching and learning is a "growth mindset." Just because students did not complete an assignment to match up to the criteria, directions, or deadline, doesn't mean that they can't or that that ship has sailed. When I allow my virtual students to revisit their work, utilize the resources and myself, and resubmit to better their grade, they almost always show a higher level of understanding of the techniques or concepts. This is the goal of teaching, no matter where it takes place.

Joseph Gibison

by Joseph Gibison

Joe Gibison is a dedicated educator, graphic designer, and instructional technology leader. He currently teaches art in the Virtual Learning Program at Baltimore County Public Schools.

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