In this paper, we discuss the experience of the authors planning and implementing a course in which arts students, new to programming and electronics, used microcontrollers with onboard sensors and outputs to create wearable devices to support mental health. The course, originally designed as a hands-on and in-person course, was offered from September to December 2020, and had to be immediately moved online during the summer of 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. We present some of the strategies we used to facilitate hands-on exploration with technology for novice students completely online, while still giving students the opportunity to work directly with experts to realize their designs. As course designers, we used several strategies to facilitate student success in this course, seeking to facilitate a distributed constructionist learning model. To do so, we chose a DIY technology platform which students could learn with remote one-on-one coaching but without in-person assistance, changed the course structure to accommodate students’ varied circumstances, incorporated warm-ups and collaborative discussions, invited guest speakers from multiple disciplines, and built in as many opportunities for one-on-one coaching as possible. Using this approach, it was possible to maintain the benefits of many of the hands-on creativity and technology teaching strategies the authors have used in the past. To support this discussion, we present detailed reflections from case studies into two students’ sketchbooks and processes, in which they reflected on the impact of the structure of the course and the move to online learning on their experiences. Having these student perspectives sheds new light on the opportunities and challenges of moving intensely hands-only experiential learning experiences into an online-only mode.
Tia Halliday is a tenured Senior Instructor in the Department of Art and Art History and PhD Candidate at the University of Calgary. She completed her BFA with Distinction from the Alberta University of the Arts and attended the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Tia obtained an MFA degree from Concordia University in Montreal, specializing in studio-art and theory. Tia attended the Master of Teaching program at the Werklund School of Education (UCalgary) and is currently pursuing a PhD degree with a focus on research-creation practice, perceptions of the body through the lens of social media and post-secondary art education.
Kathryn Blair is a PhD candidate in the Computational Media Design program at the University of Calgary. She completed her Master of Fine Arts there in 2018. Her work provides contexts in which people can explore the way our societies use algorithmic decision-making. She also creates wearable pieces exploring the relationship between the body and technology, and can often be caught scheming about how to hack things to be controlled by EEG headsets or soldering into the dead of night. She has been involved in the Calgary-based tech couture fashion show Make Fashion since 2013, and has shown her work in Alberta, British Columbia, China, the United States and Ireland.