Ringling Finds Way to Teach Art in Pandemic Era

Todays News

Photo courtesy of the college

When the pandemic largely shut down Ringling College of Art & Design in 2020, it created a number of technical challenges for the most technologically advanced art school in the country.

“One of our students’ biggest fears about being remote was how to get our projects done,” said Dr. Larry Thompson, president of Ringling College. “We have what I call Ferrari computers because they run at that kind of speed and they cost about that much.”

For majors in motion design, computer animation and other high-tech fields, these allow processing speeds not available on a laptop or home computer. Students couldn’t simply take that work home. So Ringling looked to NASA for solutions. In-house tech support mimicked communications techniques similar to that used to communicate with rovers on Mars. Basically, all the data processing could be handled by machines on campus while students had pixel displays showing what artwork was being produced. If engineers in Cape Canaveral can operate machinery on another planet, why not use the same long-distance telecommunications to help students in another state (or continent) access work in Sarasota?

Today, the college has seen all of its students return to campus for in-person learning and a much shorter connection to the library servers. But as the year started, the college held trepidation about how many students, particularly international ones, could return. In the end, virtually all did.

“We ended up with the highest enrolment this fall that we’ve ever had,” Thompson said, “which really shocked us because most colleges have suffered large decreases in enrollment.”

Jason Good, Ringling College vice president of Enrollment Management and Marketing, said the college prepared for some trouble in terms of access to travel, particularly with the 21% of students at the school who come from other countries. But in the end, only one or two students faced any significant trouble returning to the United States.

No students are full-time remote anymore, but some classes are. About 70% of classes at Ringling College this term are being offered in-person and the other 30% are virtual. That’s in part to allow better social distancing for arts classes into space once used for general education courses now being taught virtually.

‘We felt the experience would be so much better if (students) were here in person,” Thompson said. “To teach art and design online, particularly in the fine arts, was difficult if next to impossible.” That’s in part because when it comes to inspiring creativity, students gain as much working with each other as from the technical direction of instructors.

Photo courtesy of the college

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