Visual Arts Programming in Distance
Curriculum Development, Keeping Pace in a Changing World.
Thomas F. Morrissey
In presenting this paper, I have given thought to both the global application,
general view and the specific application, local view. It is necessary
in developing meaningful curriculum for visual arts in distance education,
that both a global and local perspective be taken so that theory remains
practical and doable, while providing an experience which is truly global
in scope. In a recent address at the Chicago Art Institute, Florian Bachleda,
Art Director, "Village Voice" made the following remarks which were published
in the Institute's 1996-'97 catalog: "Traditional education may get you
good grades; practical education will give you a good job". "Practical"
education is, I believe the root of distance education, often outweighing
traditional residence education in many ways. In a global view, the mainstream
(gallery oriented) visual arts, to a large degree, is inbred, and this
can be traced for the most part to the academic environment in which artists
are molded. In a local view, distance education programming in visual arts
is a way in which the inbreeding of the visual arts world may be broken
down, opening channels for artists and artisans throughout the world to
learn and redirect the art-world to new and exciting heights.
There is an increasing need for quality external learning programs in
every field, in particular, the visual arts and related crafts media. Distance
Learning is the current and future growing trend in all education, particularly
post secondary education. Currently, there are but a few opportunities
to pursue a degree program in the visual arts or art education offered
by respected external degree granting institutions. However, technology
and the global educational situation is at the intersection point at which
successful visual arts programming in a non-residence program is the appropriate
next step. There is a large population of individuals who would benefit
from and be interested in entering into an external degree program in the
visual arts, related crafts media, and art education. The student body
for this program would include those rural artisans in remote, hard to
reach areas who have had little or no opportunity to study their medium
of expression, amateur and professional artists, art educators, those interested
in establishing a second career. Professionals from other fields and/or
students studying business, science and health, or enrolled in any number
of other programs may have an interest in studying visual arts courses
in desktop publishing, photography, design, etc. What is needed are institutions
with the infrastructure and vision for the future necessary for this program
Need for flexible, evolving programs in education.
Education is at an unprecedented crossroad resulting from economic,
demographic, educational and technological changes. For example, the college
bound student has, in the past decades changed from that of the upper class
Caucasian male in his late teens and early twenties to that of a totally
different and unique student body with totally unique and different needs
than the traditional white male "teenager" living in the developed countries.
But a few decades ago an unprecedented cross section of the population
began to enter the ivy covered halls in growing numbers. The beginning
of this transformation in the traditional student body included women,
followed by those of various ethnic groups, minority women, and now more
and more experienced professionals representing a sampling of the worldís
population never before represented in the walls of academe. Those living
in remote areas of the less developed corners of the world, including those
with little or no formal education at any level are now reachable and have
become a viable portion of the potential student body. This evolution in
student body makeup which began only decades ago has placed new demands
on the educational system, at all levels... not just the post secondary
level. Demands for flexible educational programming with the ability to
adapt "on the fly" to the differing needs of individual students from these
nontraditional groups, responding to developments in educational technologies,
and staying true to traditional educational standards. Demands which, unfortunately,
traditional educational institutions seem unable to cater to due to their
rigid parameters designed for a decades past student makeup.
These changes demand that we, in post-secondary education as well as
K-12 and community based "noncredit" programs, reconsider what, how and
to whom we teach. The demographics and physical description of the traditional
classroom have dramatically changed during the last three decades as these
nontraditional learners accompanied by new technologies like the world
wide web and the internet enter the academic arena ready to work in a flexible
environment. These students often bring with them years of knowledge and
expertise in their fields, which, at times, goes beyond the knowledge and
expertise of the very professors who are hold up in the ivy covered halls
of traditional academe. These students are the "learners" of the world,
looking for guidance and mentoring to enhance their lives guest for knowledge.
I often discuss with students and fellow educators alike the difference
between those looking to "be taught" and those who wish to "learn". The
passive state of being taught verses the active state of learning.
The students entering a quality distance education and experiential degree
situation come from the latter group, the active learners of the world.
At this crossroad in education history, we as educators, must embrace this
new frontier and these students with open-mindedness and a willingness
to revamp and renew our own minds, our curriculum and its delivery, accepting
the role of "practical education" in the fulfillment of academic degree
Many questions arise with regard to the educational crossroads at which
we find ourselves. The pressing questions are outlined below. This paper
proposes to address and answer these questions and issues in distance education:
Is there a need for a distance degree program in visual art and art education?
Does a market exist for this distance education degree program?
How large is this market?
What are the specific needs and interests of potential distance degree visual art and art education students?
What is the mission of the program?
What is the goal of the program?
What is the programís relationship to the institution of which it is a part?
How does the program define its audience and its understanding of their needs?
In what geographic area will the program be offered?
Through the years many attempts have been made at designing nontraditional
academic settings. These attempts, usually presented as "correspondence
courses" at times paled when compared to their traditional counterparts.
Match-book cover art schools and doctorate degrees had, unfortunately,
made a near indelible negative mark on external and experiential learning
which has, at best, only been dimmed in traditional academic thought. A
result of the student body make up, the social-economic times, the makeup
of the work place of past decades, and the lack of technology available,
distance education while sometimes successful, was in its infant stages.
My first educational experience in distance education was one of these
sited above. A pilot during the Vietnam War, I decided to enroll in "distance
education courses" which were just as I have described,... fill in the
blank mail in forms. However, today, we have a different set of circumstances,
creating new opportunities in education delivery and participation.
In 1984, I had my first opportunity to gain experience in education
at a distance. Working as a volunteer with the Partners of the Americas
while on sabbatical leave from teaching, I found myself consulting with
rural artisans in Sergipe, Brazil. I was amazed at the level of communication
I had with these potters, these artists working in clay, I was impressed
by the desire these artisans had for learning more about their medium in
a technical and business sense. I realized that there was a need for the
development of educational programs at a distance at all levels, not just
the post secondary level.
While there are still many in the developed areas who graduate high
school, proceed directly to college, enter the work force and begin their
careers and families, there is a growing number of potential students who,
for one reason or another, are in need of self improvement, career change
or advancement, or who live in remote regions as I have outlined above.
In rural areas of developing countries where traditional "walls" of education
are not readily in place, nor is the funding available to build and maintain
visual arts programs, distance education programing is the only viable
solution. These individuals are often location or time bound due to economic,
family and or work commitments. These students do not fit the mold which
has been traditionally placed over those we have known as college or even
elementary school students. With them, these nontraditional students bring
with them life experience, motivation, maturity and a desire to apply themselves
in the advancement of their own goals. They too realize that they must
complete their educations in their own time-frame and setting, applying
their life experiences to their distance educational program.
Hand in hand with this emerging group of learners have come many highly
motivated faculty "mentors" who see their role in this broadening context,
ready to meet the challenge of providing an environment where these individuals
might participate in the educational process, prepared to grow with the
evolving technological advances in communications technologies which make
meaningful education delivery and the needed academic support available
to those not able to be present in a classroom environment. As a result
of these three forces ( students, faculty, delivery media) coming together,
there has been a dramatic expansion of methods and processes which make,
what has until now, been termed "nontraditional education" not only possible
but, perhaps, the most desirable method of instruction as we approach the
As the world shrinks due to the electronic and communications era, the
"classroom" is expanding as the traditional "walls" we have placed on the
academic setting melt away. Education can now be available to those in
even the most remote areas of the world. Placed in the proper context as
mentors, professors and educators from most every discipline can design
an individualized meaningful and deliverable program of study which transcends
the four walls we have grown accustomed to teaching within, providing a
flexible learning experience which works with the time-frame and setting
constraints outlined above. These programs and curriculum have the ability
to work with developing attitudes, experiences and technologies, able to
flow and embrace new options and technologies as they become available.
In addition to the traditional forms of education delivery, faculty
with interest in developing nontraditional "distance education" learning
situations in this age need to become familiar with many of the new and
emerging technologies available to us as educators. These technologies
provide a welcome compliment to the traditional educational media such
as textbooks, attendance at seminars, workshops, and professional conferences,
work experience, apprenticeships, etc. Among these emerging external education
technologies are digital interactive courseware, educational television
programing, videotape, satellite communications and broadcast, computers,
virtual reality, CD ROM, audio tape, and the internet including the World
Wide Web and communications technologies such as video conferencing and
email. Matching the appropriate technologies and learning situations in
a planned individualized system of educational delivery with the right
student/mentor combination is the basis and foundation for successful distance
education curriculum in visual arts.
Mission and Goals of this Program:
Utilize multiple methods of education delivery, using various technologies
for mentoring, teaching and advising students in the pursuit of a visual
arts art history and art education.
Until recently, flexible and rapid interactive elements in education
were virtually unheard of. Today, many means exist for students and faculty
to communicate easily from disparate, even rural undeveloped locations.
Furthermore, these available technologies do not necessarily operate independently;
they may be combined to reach the greatest possible number of students,
independently or in groups, regardless of their location, time availability,
and level of academic involvement. There are basically two types of delivery
systems in which students either access the instructional material directly
from the television, satellite, computer, radio, facsimile machine, telephone,
mail, or by using information storage systems in which the student receives
some media, such as a computer disc, videodisc, videocassette, audiocassette,
or more traditionally, a printed text. These technologies even reshape
the traditional residence educational environment, supplementing lectures
with technology based "remote" presentations. Their application in nontraditional
as well as traditional education is evident. Visual arts students in all
levels of programing could find meaningful information delivery systems
in any number of these delivery systems. The availability and general use
of telecommunications technologies have enabled colleges and universities
to greatly increase the amount and manner of faculty-student interaction
in distance learning courses.
The program mission and goals include:
Academic availability: making this quality programing available to students regardless of time or location restraints.
Low cost: develop a program which makes the achievement of educational goals within the average personís budget.
Interactivity: utilize available technologies to make student/faculty
interaction available similarly to the availability one would expect in
a residence degree program, utilizing real time and time-delayed communication.
Delivery and Evaluation:
Typically, academic residency rules require some percentage of a studentís
coursework to be taken on campus in order to accomplish a post secondary
degree. The visual arts curriculum which I am envisioning would have a
versatile structure based on the level of study and accessibility to the
"art world" available to the student. Many institutions require anywhere
from one week to one year of residency to satisfy various degree requirements.
A post secondary visual arts program should dovetail with existing degree
programs currently offered by universities and be integrated into current
curriculum and course offerings. Community development, noncredit, k-12
level courses can have much more in the way of flexibility. Post-secondary
course offerings in the visual arts area should be taken in a mentoring
tradition, building in a systematic program of study commencing in an associate,
baccalaureate, or masters degree level degree. What may have been a hinderance
to higher education in the past can now be deemed an asset. Taking advantage
of a concept I call "International Workshops", post-secondary students
in the visual arts, art history and art education programs would have the
opportunity to travel abroad to view, experience, paint or photograph the
roots of civilization, observe and learn from international models of art
education, and study in urban and rural environments, learning a mixture
of folkloric, traditional, and contemporary art concepts and techniques.
Additionally, students who are business travelers would be able to incorporate
the cultural aspects of the countries they visit into their studies. Experiential
learning would include image-making, exhibition development, basic and
advanced design concepts, color theory, etc.
Those entering into a more practical educational format, such as potters
in rural settings, could now be exposed to safety practices, materials
hazards, visual arts history, functional design, marketing and product
design, via televised broadcasts or videotaped presentations.
Todayís visual arts classroom and studio can be anywhere. A distance
education program in the visual arts is a very logical step as artisans
and students in the visual arts especially at the post secondary and graduate
levels often work in the isolation of their personal studio, void of interruption
and/or unwanted influences. Many high quality programs in several electronic
presentation media as discussed earlier, exist on every topic in the visual
arts that one can imagine. VCRís make it possible for students to access
videotaped and televised programs and view or review course material at
times which are convenient to them, even in the most remote regions. An
educational video program I co-produced in Sergipe in 1987 is still in
use today. The videotape "Saude Sergipe" was created to be shown by rural
outreach healthcare professionals in rural artisan communities where schistosomiasis
parasites were, at the time, a problem. In Brazil with the development
of programs the likes of TV Escola, the development of Virtual Universities
such as the project I am aware of through the Federal University of Santa
Catarina's Distance Learning Laboratory, programs at all levels of visual
arts education can, must and will be implemented.
Worldwide, many educational video programs are available at public libraries,
for rent or sale through mail order catalogs, and may be made available
through individual universityís lending libraries. While there may be,
for as short time more some language and translation difficulties with
much of this programing being in one language or another, technology will
not be far behind in solving this difficulty. Students may also participate
at seminars with other students world wide, with faculty, and attend workshops
via computer conferencing, email and the internet as well as utilize more
traditional forms of communication like phone and regular mail. There are
a growing number of internet services which make collections of images
from major museum and gallery collections available for in-home viewing,
and an expansion of available courseware on the educational market. For
now, much of this is limited due to language availability, however, with
evolving technologies, multilingual programs are not far away on the horizon.
Programs in visual arts embrace a multiple delivery system utilizing
the vast array of technologies and resources now available to us. Students
will need access to a minimum of equipment such as a television and VCR,
however, computer access with an email account ( which may be provided
by the institution during the studentís term of study), fax and modem capabilities
and the ability to create videotape and photographic reproductions of works
in progress and completed are desirable.
Distance learning degree programs typically use a variety of instructional
approaches and delivery systems to offer a full range of options to students
for the completion of degree requirements. Visual arts programs will not
depart from this proven established tradition.
Two types of interactive course and delivery structure are now being utilized: Synchronous and asynchronous. I will briefly discuss these two modes of education delivery for the sake of clarity:
Examples of synchronous or real-time communications are: telephone conferencing,
two-way video systems, certain computer conferencing systems, audiographic
conferencing systems, picture phones, keypads , and potentially, conversation
Asynchronous or time-delayed communication allow interaction wherein
individuals converse without simultaneous communication. Among these are;
regular mail, voice mail, fax (facsimile machines), voice mail, video and
audiotape, and more commonly, electronic mail. Facsimile machines, the
internet, and electronic mail deliver to students such material as articles,
assignments, and other text material. Students may use facsimile machines
to send in assignments.
In the United States, as in Brazil, several complete, pre packaged,
"telecourses are available for use in academic situations. Several visual
arts courses are now made available for use by academic institutions. Two
examples of these available videotaped "prepackaged" educational curricula
are the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) programs "Art of the
Western World" and "Our Own Image". In these courses students are encouraged
to take field trips, when practical, to various museums and theaters and
engage in other cultural activities such as local folklore, as well as
complete various projects, some of which also involve research trips to
local historic sites. Students, worldwide, will often have these options
well within their reach.
In many cases, using program packages like the ones mentioned above,
traditional university and college programs, worldwide, are already making
use of sophisticated interactive technologies in the delivery of distance
courses. This type of distance education course development enables colleges
to broaden student access to senior faculty and to address degree requirements
that are college-specific while enabling students to continue to pursue
degree requirements at a distance, gaining from their own personal experience
Through my experiences, this is the approach I have taken in developing
art and art education curriculum as a consultant for several degree granting
institutions. I have taken my knowledge and training in education and technology,
some twenty years of full-time college and university teaching experience
wherein I gained experience teaching at all levels from community college
through graduate levels, often evaluating experiential learning credits,
designing new programs and curriculum, and developed a new concept for
visual arts curriculum and a program of study which is becoming overdue
in the secondary and post secondary arena.
How can these programs be evaluated?
These visual arts programs may be evaluated utilizing both quantitative
and qualitative evaluation processes. As well, any evaluation process which
is already in place for existing programs the participating university.
Participation in the evaluation process would be faculty, administrators,
current and former students, providers of support services, e.g., librarians
and telecommunications professionals.
As outlined in "Going the Distance", a handbook published in the United States by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the Annenburg Foundation, (1), the evaluation process may include:
Academic evaluation of the content areas included.
Pedagogical evaluation of studies that build on a studentís background and incorporate experiential activities among the instructional options.
Technological utilization in terms of the media selected for various studies and the modes of ongoing communication.
Relevancy to needs and expectations of students.
Quality of program offered.
Long term longitudinal studies.
Comparative evaluation with more traditional programs.
Instructional level of course material (appropriate for and acceptable to institutions across the country).
Materials instructionally rigorous and effective in distance learning.
Courses have sufficient appeal to students to warrant continued enrollment and course completion.
Formats of the various course components are appropriate and effective.
Typically, accrediting bodies focus on four primary areas:
Definition of program goals resources.
Achievement of program goals.
A programís capacity to continue to accomplish goals.
Resources and support systems available to students.
It is important that a distance education program fulfill
all of these above listed criteria.
Courses I have designed build on proven academic experience with existing programs and have been developed from researching several national and international programs worldwide, participating in international academic meetings and conferences such as this, and have been in response to an informed needs assessment.
In the United States, one notable development in the evolution of distance education, also discussed in "Going the Distance" (1), as being researched by "traditional institutions" is found in "New Pathways", a nationally implemented program in the United States. Initially funded in l990, this Annenberg/CPB (Corporation for Public Broadcasting) Project introduced seven projects through "New Pathways" to a Degree initiative at institutions across the country. Many of the participating institutions have now either offered distance degrees or are well along in the planning process of offering the programs. The initiative tested the proposition that colleges can offer a new kind of academic program, made possible by new technologies, that is accessible, supportive, academically rich, and rigorous. The study proved that traditional education curricula could be met in a distance education program, operating on the four levels that traditional accreditation is based upon:
Institutional level - where the mission and social goals of instruction are set
Academic department level - where basic standards of breadth, depth, scope and sequence are established
Course level - where specific knowledge and experiences are organized and performance standards set
Delivery level - where issues of instructional support and technology
Finally, we must ask "how will distance students be
The extensive range of technologies being used by colleges involved
in distance learning has significantly broadened opportunities for faculty
to evaluate studentsí understanding of course content, progress in meeting
course objectives, and depth of knowledge. Students in distance education
settings must be evaluated in the same manner as traditional, institution
based, residency programs. On the quality of their work and their growth
as professional artists. This can be accomplished through person to person
contact or by critical review of works exhibited, presented in slide form,
etc. Additionally, those studying " at a distance", approaching the educational
process as an opportunity to enhance their professional ability to earn
an income as a practicing artisan / crafts producer, will as well, have
the added burden of proof expressed in their ability to improve their product
from a technical, aesthetic, and marketing vantage.