Art and Design Professors See New Opportunities in Remote Learning 

WSU’s Art and Design faculty have gone above and beyond to plan for this fall semester and are looking at remote learning as a way to be innovative with curriculum, student projects, tools and methods. Here’s a glimpse at how three instructors are teaching this fall.


Katie MacDonald teaches classes in Sculpture and in Core Studio, an area in the department comprised of three foundational-level studio classes. She spent her summer collaborating with fellow faculty members Lauren Kalman and Allana Clarke, working on new ways to deliver Core Studio classes. Beyond that, she oversaw the assembly of supply kits so that students would have materials to work with at home.

The Core faculty assessed available online resources, including the WSU library system’s digital holdings, with the goal of bringing those resources to students, part-time faculty, and graduate teaching assistants teaching in Core. MacDonald sees this work as a way to create a long-term positive impact on students’ awareness of university resources. “Virtual instruction forces us to find other resources within the institution and outside that are meaningful so that we can round things out in terms of course structure and content,” she said.

Setting students up for success

Working from home presents unique needs for art students and MacDonald is working to provide her students with the right materials and information to be successful. For example, it is important for students to document their work, so she is advising them on how to create a home photo studio or area. She is also provided safety information for working at home as well as safer, non-toxic and less caustic materials that are safe for home use. “In a pre-covid classroom,” she explained, “we would be tailoring safety standards specific to the materials and equipment we are using. Now we are teaching about more universal safety and how to work from home safely, like making sure you have the proper ventilation and looking at what materials are safe to use in a home environment. For example, in Space Studio, we are providing students with petroleum-free air-hardening clay and high quality non-toxic acrylic paints. This is different from the materials that we typically use on campus where we have access to a ventilated spray booth.”

New opportunities for creativity 

MacDonald sees teaching art during Covid-19 as a unique opportunity. “With virtual instruction, I want my students to see what sculpture can be, beyond a free-standing permanent object -- to push into spaces that we don’t always take the time to explore within the structure of the sculpture classes.” Incorporating alternative types of spaces is key to this exploration. “I am thinking about ways for students to explore outdoor spaces and look more intentionally at places that are accessible to them for inspiration for the projects they complete this semester,” she added. She also sees that teaching remotely has forced her to momentarily focus more on concepts and less on a particular set of technical skills. “This is a time to stretch and to have an expanded experience, and I think that can be really meaningful.” 

Core studio material kits


Margaret Hull is area coordinator for Fashion Design. Like MacDonald, she assembled kits for her classes- including sewing machines, half scale dress forms, draping tape, a variety of fabrics, and fabric construction materials like boning. “It’s so important to ensure that the students have the materials that they need,” she said.

Design coursework that responds to COVID-19

Hull and her colleagues in Fashion have adapted courses so that students have more flexibility and independence. They have also adapted some of the projects to be more relevant for today, including a surgical face mask project. Hull is instructing on materials that have become more important during a pandemic, like the use of non-woven fabrics for medical use, and disposable vs. durable materials. She also wants students to think about the ways that people are dressing differently today because of COVID_19. People are either staying home more or they are out in the world more as essential workers. This time is an opportunity to make the design of clothes more relatable and attainable, she feels. “We are also seeing a greater increase in transparency in the fashion industry and there is more of an interest in the conversation about sustainability, human rights, and how the industry is being called out on these issues.” 

Overall, Hull is focused on giving students more agency in their learning experience and she feels that instructional videos are a great way to provide that. “With an instructor produced video, students can slow it down, pause it, re-listen or re-watch it, “ she said. “The students still get to learn through their instructor but they have more flexibility in the process of learning.” 

Margaret Hull handing out kits for a fashion design studio


Class Kuhnen, who teaches design and is the coordinator for the Interior Design area, sees virtual instruction as a natural progression and a way to experiment with Interior Design as a virtual major where students are getting a rich experience. “The transition has been relatively easy because Interior design is a digital major already,” he said. “Right now we are looking at how we are transforming Interior Design into an innovative and competitive area, growing our offerings in new ways, and providing an attractive remote learning environment. My goal is to make sure that the online design education experience isn’t diminished and that students feel that they are getting value - that they are getting what they signed up for.” 

Virtual learning is a new opportunity for collaboration

Kuhnen is collaborating with his fellow Interior Design faculty to make this transition is as streamlined and smooth as possible, leveraging online platforms bring continuity to the classroom and to recreate the feeling of an online studio environment where students can collaborate and critique. Zoom has presented some unique benefits as well. “Because of Zoom we can very easily invite professionals for presentations and feedback sessions. This is always great for students.”

Designing better, remotely with tech

The Interior Design curriculum includes site-specific projects as a critical way to bring real-world experiences to the classroom. COVID_19 has made this uniquely challenging. “COVID-19 impacts us significantly because we can’t visit sites anymore,” he explained. “Students need to see and experience spaces to understand them. A blueprint doesn’t give them enough information.” Kuhnen is collaborating with WSU engineers to incorporate new technology, not typically used in the interior design profession, to work around this problem. “In order to keep the faculty and students safe, I am working with an alum and a professor from electrical engineering using Lidar scanning technology. 

“This technology is used on autonomous cars to measure environments around the vehicle and we will use it to create 3D mesh models of interior spaces. This is an inexpensive, accurate, and fast solution and it can be done by one person. I no longer have to spend time measuring spaces with my students and they are not at risk.” Kuhnen is also using drones for a classroom site planning project to reimagine the Continental Motor Engine Plant in Detroit. “We will be working with the roof area,” he explained, “so we will fly a drone over it and based on 3D photogrammetry, I can rebuild the geometry and make a model of the building without students ever having to visit the site.” 

Lidar scanning technology with display of 3D photogrammetry