Q&A: PNCA’s Fall 2020 Plans

July 10, 2020

PNCA's Fall 2020 Approach to Art and Design Education Q&A with Kate Copeland, Vice President and Dean of Academic Affairs

In March 2020, PNCA joined colleges and universities across the world in transitioning to a remote learning environment due to the COVID-19 pandemic, shutting down physical spaces and facilities in favor of kitchen tables and Zoom sessions. The PNCA community worked hard to make the rapid transition to new circumstances positive for PNCA students, and students demonstrated their resilience through creative excellence and deep commitment to each other.

While this pandemic still presents many uncertainties, we have prepared tirelessly for Fall 2020 semester and will continue to respond to the changing circumstances. We recognize that our current and future students want to know what it’s going to be like to attend PNCA this fall. We recently sat down with Kate Copeland, PNCA Dean of Academic Affairs, to discuss how 20 PNCA faculty members came together to develop a new hybrid approach to providing an art and design education that continues PNCA’s hallmark ability to prepare students for lives of creative practice.

Overall, what is PNCA’s approach for Fall 2020?

This fall, PNCA is going to offer students the ability to choose the type of educational model that works best for them. Students can choose from either remote or in-person options; we anticipate that many of our students will want to come onto campus regularly to use our amazing facilities, so we will be activating the Arlene and Harold Schnitzer Center for Art and Design (our main campus building) as a massive maker space and ensuring access to the Glass building as well. Students will be able to reserve access to use facilities such as Animated Arts, Printmaking, computer labs, editing stations, Cintiq Lab, Make + Think + Code, Ceramics, Woodshop, Darkroom, and much more.

So, for students who really want to come onto campus and use facilities, they will absolutely have the ability to do so. We’ll have scheduled signups for facilities so we can maintain physical distancing at all times, but we understand that there may also be students who will be uncomfortable coming onto campus. For those choosing a remote option, they will still have access to pathways that allow them to work towards their graduation from any location.

Can you touch on the hybrid model some more? What will that look like?

As faculty were constructing this, we worked hard to focus on keeping the core of a PNCA education experience intact. That required some conversation - what does it mean to have a PNCA education? Of course, a PNCA education is about the skills necessary to graduate and succeed in our BFA, MFA, and MA programs. But also at the core of a PNCA education is building relationships between faculty members and students, and between students and their colleagues. We knew that we needed to maintain PNCA’s focus on mentorship and personal attention, maximizing one-on-one time with faculty, and building relationships in various ways with students.

Our new approach to providing a top-tier creative education centers around flexibility. In terms of what classes a student can choose, we’re first going to show them the type of class they’re signing up for and its instructional delivery model (remote or in-person); if a class they want or need for graduation isn’t the type of engagement they’d like, we’ll make sure that we waive any requirements and substitute them with ones that are more appropriate for that student.

Within classes, there will be smaller cohorts of students. A lot of demonstrations will be pre-recorded, and some will be in person in very small cohorts, and then the instructor will be available for a lot of personalized attention and one-on-one feedback, either in-person or remotely.

For students who aren’t comfortable coming to class at all, they can have the same personalized attention via Zoom meetings, threaded discussion forums and other communication tools.

How is PNCA addressing class size and who can be in the building?

PNCA’s class sizes are small in normal times; they average out to around 15 students per class. So we’re starting from a very small size, and then dramatically cutting that down to groups of around 7 students. By using strategies like pre-recorded videos and giving students the option to not attend physical class, we’re automatically dissipating the number of people who will be in the building at any given time, and we have other ways to ensure small cohort sizes to maximize safety.

We’re also really focused on air quality. PNCA has medical-grade filtration in our HVAC system, windows in most classrooms, and we’re working with our facilities team to make plans for sanitation of surfaces and create systems that prevent unnecessary contact when walking through the building.

Will I still have the same educational experience as students who attended pre-COVID?

While the value of a PNCA education is going to be the same this year as it previously has been, it will be a different experience. Our continuing BFA, MFA, and MA students will notice the differences and might need a bit of an adjustment period, but I think that there are so many good things about this new system, and that we’ve prioritized the important parts so well - like facilities and mentorship - that it will feel natural by the second or third week. There are actually a lot of advantages to the new methods we’re using, and I think those will become clear right away.

For new BFA students, what we’re about to engage in is radically different than any high school online art education system they’ve experienced before; this is a brand new system of remote delivery in which we’re really focused on the students’ personal experiences, relationship building, and the facilitation of creative knowledge.

Our hybrid model accounts for many different learning styles, and it also makes space for people with various life circumstances in a variety of ways. It can function both synchronously, where everybody is together in real-time, and asynchronously, where people are participating on their own time and from their own space. As one example, working parents who only have short windows of time in the day will absolutely be able to access a PNCA education.

Can you distinguish between online and remote delivery?

A traditional online educational system is one in which a student has access to course material, but their experience is very individual and potentially isolating. The difference with our trajectory this fall, which is going to be a hybrid delivery system including remote components, is that there will be so many opportunities for students to build community, connect with their colleagues/teachers/friends, and build relationships that will last a lifetime. Even if a student decides to access their education without ever setting foot on campus, they’re still going to be interacting at a level and a manner that engages their need for human contact.

How is attendance going to work in this model, and will it factor into grades?

One of the new things that we’re doing this fall semester is making attendance non-mandatory. It’s unusual, as that’s never happened before at PNCA, but we decided that we need to emphasize the outcomes of the course and focus on students building the skills necessary for a scaffolded education, so that every step of the way they’re always progressing in the manner that they need to in order to leave PNCA as amazing professional artists and designers.

In light of that, attendance (whether remote or in-person) is encouraged, because it really will enhance the student experience. This also means that attendance will not factor into the grading process whatsoever. Instead, grades will be about outcomes.

For our liberal arts classes, grading will be done on a basis of “high pass,” “pass,” and “no pass.”

Is PNCA’s curriculum shifting in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement and recent social uprising?

Yes. PNCA faculty have heard, very clearly, that we are not yet meeting the needs of our Black students, our Indigenous students, and our students of color. While there have been lots of individual faculty members working individually towards positive change, we have not yet seen a holistic and systematic approach to modifying our curriculum. Now is the moment for that systematic work to dismantle systemic racism. Faculty are supporting each other and holding each other accountable to create new curriculum for this fall semester and beyond.

In some cases, this involves updating existing curriculum through an anti-racist and critical pedagogy lens. In some cases, we’ll be offering new courses that haven’t existed at PNCA before. So there’s a lot of excitement and opportunity around this process and it’s one that is in a constant state of development.

Each Department Head, Program Head and Chair is also creating an Equity Plan for their respective area, which will also help us frame and focus on a diverse, equitable and inclusive curriculum. This is an all-school effort led by a group called ESJAC, the Equity and Social Justice Action Committee.

Find more information about PNCA’s hybrid approach this fall.