Photo by Denise Jans on Unsplash

By Colin Belles

The drama department along with other courses at Skagit Valley College are required to be online. SVC has continued to update students on all COVID-19 information that pertains to the college since March 5. As of right now the college website does not indicate students coming back any time soon since they still have not posted a return date. The last update they gave is from March 26, 2020 which stated that there are  “No new operational updates. For more about SVC’s Remote Operations, please visit our Remote Services page.”

Online learning requires students to act in their online learning and keep up with assignments throughout the week to succeed. Students also need to have basic technical skills. They need to know how to use word processing programs, navigate the internet, and download software as needed. Most online schools also give the tools needed to get started such as the new student orientation. Teachers also do an excellent job of getting students acquainted with their course by creating their own sections to help students get started. Some teachers even create instructional videos that show their screen while students can follow along.

Kurt Dunbar, an instructor here at SVC, was able to answer some questions regarding online class so far. Drama is one of the performing arts that greatly benefits from the connection that they have with their audience. Dunbar says “Much of the immediacy and intimacy of storytelling is lost. The emotion, the strategic pauses, the narrative strain and the drama”. While using zoom there is also unintentional pauses while the people in the zoom call are waiting for responses to be heard. The rehearsals are harder to record too as it requires the student’s internet connection to stay steady during the whole performance and have another record at the same time.

Dunbar says “For several years now SVC has been encouraging instructors to make online course more accessible and friendly and in the process providing training, methods, and strategies to increase student engagement between with the course material and with the instructors. Though a work in progress where some subjects and some instructors are more advanced in regard this than others, SVC has come far to try to make its online course offerings as interactive as possible. Zoom has been a particularly beneficial asset in terms of teaching and learning for both online and regular classes.” Since SVC has been wanting instructors to use online course material it makes the transition to all online learning easier for students. This also does push some instructors to find out what works best for the course that they teach.

The drama department has had online classes before the pandemic the biggest difference they face now is not being able to gather for their performance at the end of the quarter. Dunbar says that it is now performed via zoom. On the drama departments main page, they have a video of the latest rehearsal of The Drama of WAR! The video uploaded shows the shortcomings that the students have with technology, some of the students are louder and the video is clearer, but some of the others are quiet and blurry. Depending on student’s internet connection zoom calls can be slow and cause a big gap in between communication. Dunbar said that not getting real-time responses to student concerns can be frustrating.

When asked if he has noticed any of his students struggling to keep up with their assignments he responded with “Always. Online learning more than regular classes demand discipline, focus and commitment to a greater degree than regular courses.  There is a fairly steep and often unforgiving learning curve for students to attain best practices in online courses”. Being in an online class like drama requires time to also rehearse with other students at the same time to rehearse their parts together. It says on the drama departments website “a theatrical learning outcome to increase the understanding of the artistic and collaborative process involved in theatre making, the class was separated into acting “troupes” to research, design settings (Zoom backgrounds), costumes (from their own closet), as well as props and puppets from found materials”. This gives students the chance to create things on their own to portray a story, which in return could give them greater understanding. They also can learn a bit more about the characters they are portraying.

The drama webpage describes that students are pushed to use their imagination even in the virtual setting and rehearse all the same. An outcome that the drama department website has says that the “troupe” leaders will hopefully come out of the course with valuable skills moving their art from concept to fruition and hopes that friendships were made along the way and possibly after this virus is over.