From a loft studio on a farm, professor teaches painting

Fred Haag, an associate professor of visual arts at Penn State York, normally teaches his Art 50: Introduction to Painting course in a large studio at a state-of-the art performing arts center. But because of the COVID-19 outbreak, classes are now being held remotely from a loft studio at his small farm in south-central Pennsylvania.

The farm is in a hilly, agrarian area in Hellam, about 11 miles from campus. Haag lives there with his wife of almost 30 years, Marcy Nicholas, who also teaches at Penn State York. They currently raise just cats and chickens, but the old farm has hosted cattle, goats and ducks.

The spring class of 20 undergraduate students has been meeting remotely three days a week since March 16, when the whole Penn State system moved to remote and online classes in response to the global pandemic. On a rainy Friday morning, the class began on Zoom with an artist presentation, with Haag later checking in on students’ progress on their projects – and a crowing rooster outside the window making an occasional interruption.

For Haag, who’s been teaching for more than three decades, this is his first experience with remote instruction. He’s encountered a few growing pains with technology and streaming video. “Our area has limited wifi, and visual courses consume lots of bandwidth,” said Haag, 58. The university has provided him with a smartphone to act as an internet hotspot.

“There is a significant learning curve for both faculty and students,” he added. “This term is really an emergency stopgap measure. And to do things correctly, I would want a lot more time to assemble materials and work out the details of class-time activities.”

Haag said he thinks remote painting classes could continue after the pandemic, but he has some reservations. “There are a bunch of folks who teach art courses remotely,” he said. “But I find myself missing the studio dynamic and the active learning that occurs for me in the face-to-face environment.”

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