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Transforming Visual Arts Instruction with Better Online Discussions

Instructor Spotlight: Kathy Haddad, Professor at Chaffey College

kathy haddad instructor spotlight

The arts have always relied on presence–of students, instructors, and created works. But today, higher education demands new ways of providing arts instruction. Even as students begin their return to campus, many will opt to keep at least some of their courses online or hybrid. And this poses a challenge to instructors in the arts who rely heavily on visual critiques of their student’s work.

So what are instructors to do? How can they adapt traditional, in-person instruction and critiques to a virtual space? The answer is simple – use Harmonize. And Kathy Haddad, Professor at Chaffey College, did just that.

How Kathy Transformed Her Photography Classes

Even before the pandemic hit in 2020, Kathy began to take her photography classes online. But she quickly discovered that traditional learning management system (LMS) capabilities were not built with the fine arts in mind. The workarounds were clunky, time-consuming, and not intuitive, requiring multiple screens and clicks just to upload one image. Further, the discussion platforms in these traditional learning management systems failed to deliver a visually-appealing communication channel that enticed students to actively engage in true online conversations.

But with Harmonize, all that changed.

From a visually-appealing online “gallery” of posts to social media-style discussions, Harmonize changed the way Kathy delivered content and engaged her budding photographers. Better yet, Harmonize works directly from the LMS, so set-up is a snap and grading is simple.

A Visual Approach to Works in Progress

One essential element of art instruction is critiquing works-in-progress. Harmonize helped make this process seamless for the students – and simple for Kathy. “Harmonize is an invaluable tool for art instruction because its visual display so brilliantly supports work in progress,” said Kathy.

Through the intuitive drag-and-drop interface, students can easily upload images, videos, and other types of media to a single post in just one step. From there, Kathy used the annotation capabilities to provide feedback directly on the student’s work. She, or other students, can also add comments to the post for further critique and guidance. And because the experience mimics social media, students naturally engage in online conversations, not just with Kathy, but with their peers as well. The result is a vibrant exchange of critique and feedback that feels authentic and familiar.

Rich Media for Richer Responses

Kathy also flipped the use of Harmonize, inviting students to initiate discussions with her. Early on in her photography courses, students often have questions about their cameras. Kathy encouraged her students to pose their questions to her through Harmonize. The social media-like experience made it easy and intuitive for students to initiate a discussion. And through the use of rich media such as links, images, and videos, Kathy was able to respond to her students in a way that was familiar – and engaging.

A Seamless Experience for Students

What do the students say about Harmonize? Nothing at all! They just get it. It’s like Instagram or the camera roll on their phone. It’s a seamless part of their online learning experience. “To them, it’s as transparent as water,” said Kathy. And the fact that students do not even realize they are using it is the best compliment yet.