Visual Arts Programming in Distance Education:
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 to succeed.

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 requirements.

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 coming century.

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 through email.

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 and direction.

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.

Program access.

Relevancy to needs and expectations of students.

Quality of program offered.

Learner outcomes.




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 are addressed

Finally, we must ask "how will distance students be evaluated"?

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.