Digital Learning & Design

Two gloved hands around graphiteHow Do You Engage Students in the Visual and Performing Arts Online?

You’re likely familiar with Zoom. But are you looking for more ways to make your remote courses more engaging while ensuring learning objectives are being met? This guide shares tools and prompts that will help you realize course goals in the virtual environment.


Tools to Engage Students

Engaging students in the visual and studio arts online involves the creative use of some common features within Canvas.

Canvas Discussions is one such feature. With Discussions students can share video, audio, or image files. They can critique one another’s work as well.

You can also break students into smaller discussion groups so they might talk among themselves about an assignment or reading. For more information on how to set up a discussion, please see the following link:

A Canvas plug-in, Harmonize, also allows for the easy sharing of video, audio, or image files. With Harmonize students can also engage with one another’s posts and shared materials.

With Google Photos, students can compile portfolios that they can either keep private or share with the class. Google Photo albums can be shared via Canvas Discussions.

With Panopto Self Recorder students can film themselves giving a presentation, recitation, acting out a scene, or some other creative endeavor. 

Self-made videos hold great promise for creativity. Encourage students to develop clever backdrops and explore interesting environments. They can use a computer to record or a smartphone. For more information on using Panopto Self Recorder, please see the following article:

Podcasts are a great way to have students deliver performances. Brown’s Multimedia Media Lab has a number of resources that can help students create professional-sounding podcasts without expensive equipment.

GoReact is one of the top tools for teaching performance-based skills online. With GoReact students can film themselves performing and then you can offer feedback. GoReact lets you include feedback throughout a video recording -- and even during a live event. Students can also critique videos, either alone or as a group.

Zoom can be a great tool for studio and performing arts. But don’t try a 1:1 translation from physical to virtual. Consider rather the unique medium that the virtual space provides.

Encourage students to use unique and engaging virtual or physical backgrounds. They can design sets, so to speak, and use them as a backdrop for performances.

Note: if your system does not meet the technical requirements to use the virtual background or it looks fuzzy, using a green screen can help. A single, solid colored sheet of fabric can work as a makeshift greenscreen. Here’s Zoom’s guide on virtual backgrounds and greenscreens

Encourage them to make creative and effective use of lighting and camera angles. They can use multiple devices to achieve multiple camera angles and focuses. For example, one camera can focus on a face and another can focus on the movement of hands.

Here are some other creative uses of Zoom:

  • When staging performances, consider using “gallery view.” The various screens can be used to create a narrative flow. (This approach is used on Instagram for image visuals. With Zoom you have the ability to do this with video. The only caveat is you can’t control the screen arrangement live. You have to edit in post-production.)
  • Develop unique opportunities for audience interaction and engagement
  • Use the re-naming function creatively

When using Zoom for class activities, remember that there can be delays and lags. Plan for interruptions should they happen.

Want to see how others have used Zoom in the classroom? Check out how this theater group used Zoom.

Teaching Methods

In the spring, your students might have met each other in person before moving to the emergency remote environment. However, this fall students may be meeting for the first time in the virtual space. Establishing trust and connection will be just as paramount as ever. 

Spend time with your students community-building; discuss how the course will feel different from previous courses, how you will communicate important information to them, and how to centralize empathy, generosity, and inclusivity throughout the course. See our Virtual Community-Building Guide for suggestions on how to develop meaningful relationships between students.  

In the past, critiques may have been full-group, in-person presentations. To be inclusive of students studying in all time zones and with all learning abilities, consider asynchronous critiques. What if students submitted pre-recorded audio clips/videos and peers shared feedback in a discussion board? What if students mailed visual art pieces or writings to each other? Experiment and encourage feedback from students. What went well? What was frustrating or surprising about this kind of critique?

There are many cultural institutions providing free-of-cost interactive, annotated three-dimensional models of objects and virtual collections for students to review (see the Museum Computer Network’s list of a few resources). Consider experimenting with virtual Visual Thinking Strategies- presenting singular objects, discussing their formal characteristics as a group (synchronously over zoom or in an asynchronous discussion board) and then introducing additional context (a video of that object within a museum’s wall, a photo of the location of origin of the object, etc.).

The most important thing you can do when planning your course is to plan ahead. Will students have to order materials such as clay or drawing material? Will they have to learn software? Ensure they have enough time to secure materials and learn new tools.

Have questions? Then please email