Professor connects art class with university in China

Daniel Owen

Video conferences teach students about differences in culture

An art class at Kent State took an extended trip to China last semester, and it didn’t have to leave the Art Building.

Last fall, students from assistant art professor Koon-Hwee Kan’s Seminar in Art Education course participated in a three-part video conference with an art class from Hebei Normal University in China.

Christopher Kovacevich, secondary education graduate student, said the course taught him how other cultures view and experience art.

“The experience reminded me of how big the world is, but it is small at the same time,” he said. “Technology today isn’t quite like the Jetsons, but we are getting very close.”

Mari Freed, secondary education graduate student, also thought the video conferences were a great learning experience.

“It was fun to learn together,” she said. “After the video sessions, I could tell my friends that I talked to students in China today.”

The Kent State students researched local artists. Kan’s class shared its results with Hebei Normal students. The class also shared how its program uses thematic and issues-based approaches for the K-12 art education curriculum at Kent State.

Stephanie Drugan, secondary education graduate student, said the fact that the Hebei Normal class was composed of studio students and the Kent State class was art education students created unique dialogue.

“Together, we found the simulates in the content and insight in art education,” Drugan said.

Kan said the classes exchanged personal PowerPoint projects as a means of familiarizing the two classes with each other.

“The face-to-face experience brings the students to understand meaning and translation,” she said. “The HNU students learned in terms of re-evaluating their own art-making process.”

The students from Hebei Normal University introduced Kan’s class to the aesthetics of defamiliarization by using examples, such as the Olympic Stadium in Beijing. They also compared recent works of Chinese avant-garde artists with classical Chinese art to show how globalization affects the national art of China.

The excitement of the video conferences didn’t stop constructive arguments and technical problems from happening.

“A little drama brings everyone closer together,” Kan said. “There was a debate on body art because one of my students told the HNU class that the art they were presenting looked like a tattoo, and the (Chinese students) did not see it as a tattoo.”

Despite her translations, Kan said at times the class had difficulties understanding the Hebei Normal students, which caused misinterpretations of certain terminology.

She added the confusion warranted clarification and discussion, but the conferences got smoother as the course continued.

Kan said she is in the process of structuring more video conferences with Hebei Normal University for next fall. Her plan is to get more faculty involved to show all parties how this type of virtual collaboration across continents can benefit everyone involved.

Contact School of Art reporter Daniel Owen at [email protected].