B y teaching virtually over the spring semester, Rick Caughma was able to gain a new perspective on his students.

Caughman, a professional designer and illustrator, is an adjunct professor who teaches art history and studio drawing. He said that interacting with his students online provided “a little bit of humanity you don’t see in the classroom. It’s another window into how they live and what they go through, and it helps you understand part of their story that perhaps you didn’t know before.”

When students enter the classroom, they look at that as the teacher’s domain, but through online learning, “you’re basically coming into their place instead of them coming into yours,” Caughman said. “By doing that, you hope that they’re comfortable in their own skin, comfortable in their own environment, and have a willingness to engage.”

In an art class, students are there for a variety of reasons — some want to hone certain skills and others are looking for enrichment or to fulfill a liberal arts credit. Knowing this, Caughman had to make sure he was able to keep students evenly engaged, which “heightens their productivity” and gives them a “learning experience that works for them.” For studio drawing, his goal was to “have as close to the workshop experience as I can,” knowing that it was important to have students “willing to participate and take ownership.”

 Before the switch to online learning, Caughman spent his office hours holding workshops with a handful of students interested in learning different techniques. They wanted to continue meeting via Zoom, and Caughman teamed up with Dr. Mandi Batalo, the Art Department chair, to present an online open art studio.

The virtual studio “creates a sense of community,” Caughman said, and gives students of all abilities a chance to review their drawings, paintings, and photographs and talk about them with other artists.

“This lets the students know the Art Department is alive and kicking and the doors are open,” Caughman said. “It’s truly so much fun and we are having a blast.”