Thursday, April 02, 2020

UIS Ceramics, kneading to find a new way

Until the COVID-19 pandemic shut the doors to on-campus learning, Associate Professor of Ceramics Shane Harris had never taught an online class.

His ceramics and 3D art classes are hands-on and require studio space and materials.

“It was a challenge just thinking about it, how was I going to adapt,” Harris said. “I had to think on my feet. I didn’t just want to assign them a paper on the history of pottery based on the pottery wheel.”

Harris had to get creative, and fast. He and a few of his student workers  met to box up tools and pug the clay. Pugging is the process of removing the air from clay to make it usable.

Harris then contacted each one of his ceramics students to find out where they would be living during the shelter-in-place. He hand delivered or shipped 25 pounds of clay, tools and instruction cards to each ceramics student in his class, including one living in Florida, so that they were prepared for online learning.

“The pottery wheel is just a tool,” said Harris. “Their hands are their most important tool.”

Those students will be creating a set of six cups and bowls for their grade.

Then, Harris had to equip his home studio for remote learning. I had to get an extender to reach my home studio, then get an extender for that extender, in order to have Wifi for the Zoom conferences,” Harris said.

Harris is meeting with his classes through Zoom and has found online videos and even pottery wheel apps for students to throw clay. For his 3D art students, Harris found the online design tool Tinkercad.

The highlight of the 3D art class is creating multi-dimensional cardboard art and then using those pieces in a live-action performance. Students will still work to create their pieces,  which will be 3D printed at the end of the semester, and Harris has promised to glaze and fire all of the ceramics projects brought back to campus this fall.

“We are adapting to not being in classroom, but I think the biggest challenge I face, is not being able to teach them the hand-on tricks that will make them better as an artist,” said Harris. “I also miss seeing their confidence grow. That is one thing I love about teaching that you can’t see online.”

Harris also had his own art show cut short by the shelter-in-place. Information on Harris' show Convergence, can be found on the UIS Visual Arts Gallery website.