Short Courses

Learning Arts Remotely

What is it really like to teach and learn the arts, a traditionally hands-on process, remotely? We caught up with COL's Head of Arts to find out...

Short Courses 2020_21 Banner Image

Since the difficult, but essential, decision was made last summer to move the 2020/21 Short Courses programme online, one question we’ve often been asked is what it’s like to teach and learn the arts, a traditionally hands-on process, remotely.

So, as we approach Term 3, and our biggest offering of arts courses this year, we caught up with the Centre for Open Learning’s Head of Arts, Oliver Reed to find out how it started, and how it’s going… 

A photo of the Centre for Open Learning's Head of Arts, Oliver Reed.


Oliver, with two terms of teaching almost complete, what have been some of the unique challenges of learning arts remotely?

By far the biggest perceived challenge for any student taking an online arts course is often lack of space. Our courses for 2020/21 have been planned on the assumption that students may only have a table top to work at, and limited resources. Rather than this being a hindrance however, what we’ve found is that working within restricted parameters can often be an exciting opportunity, working out how to convey an idea of concept within a space and the resources available.


Many students might be initially worried about losing the teacher/student creative relationship that is so important in the studio or classroom. What have you done to help overcome that?

One aspect that we’ve introduced to help that relationship and also support students generally with their studies is one-to-one sessions along with the group live sessions. This gives each student time with their tutor to discuss ideas, work and projects and to raise any concerns that the tutor can help resolve.

These additional support sessions are something quite unusual for short, part-time courses and I know some institutions have chosen to create online forums or discussion pages for students to post questions. I think that’s fine for general comments, but when dealing with practical based courses, discussions about a piece of work can becoming challenging without the work being visible and at the centre of the discussion. For us, adding the one-to-one sessions was important as they echo the type of situation that would naturally occur in the studio context.


What about technology? Has that been a barrier for some students?

I’ve been really impressed by how the students, and tutors, have adapted to working fully online using our Virtual Learning platforms. Some of our learners are returning students and are already familiar with platforms such as Learn and Pebble, but for those new to our arts courses, we have a series of supporting materials to help navigate our systems.

As part of the online courses we’ve also recorded a number of demonstrations which students can watch as many times as they like, in their own time. These have received great feedback and are not only useful for now but for the future when some of the courses return to face-to-face teaching.

In many cases, rather than being a barrier, technology has been an enabler, allowing students from further afield beyond Edinburgh and Scotland to take our courses, an opportunity that until now, had not been possible.  


So what can students look forward to in term 3?

We have a range of new short, 3-week taster courses, allowing people to dip into and experience subjects such as Printmaking with 'Low Tech Printmaking: Relief'. This course introduces students to the type of printing you would expect through woodblock or lino, using approaches and equipment you might have around the home.

'Smartphone Photography' is a course which aims for you to unlock and get the most out of your smartphone camera – some aspects of which I didn’t know were possible!

We also have 'Filmaking: Screenwritting and pre-Production' which gives a taster of the essential elements of screenwriting and the pre-production process of making a short film.

There’s also longer 10-week courses in Art, Design and Music. New to online this coming term is 'Foundation Drawing', 'Introduction to the Graphic Novel and Comic Book Art' and 'Contemporary Watercolours: Exploring Possibilities'. And we now have two music courses translated to online this coming term,  'The Blues' and 'The World of Opera', a real  treat!

Click below to explore all term 3 arts courses. 


Book Arts Short Courses Now