Instructional design helps preeminent photographer stand up new degree

Trusted partner, teammate, troubleshooter, problem solver, listener, supporter, technology translator, friend – words used by Digital Photography Lecturer Betsy Schneider to describe members of the EdPlus Instructional Design (ID) Team. For Fall A, the team helped Schneider and The School of Art at ASU’s Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts launch the first online studio practice-based Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) digital photography degree from a Research 1 university. The 120-credit hour online BFA is offered over (10) seven-and-one-half-week terms including 11 photography courses. 

Schneider, an international artist, photographer and filmmaker, is a dedicated educator and was an ASU campus immersion professor for nearly 15 years. Moving to Boston, Schneider wanted to continue teaching and with the support of her faculty, students and EdPlus, agreed to lead her area in taking the entire degree program online. “I am an unlikely person for this,” says Schneider explaining, “I loved one-to-one, face-to-face, old school, go-in-a-room communication.” But, she also knew that social media was changing her profession. While she was threatened by automation and reduction to formula, Schneider and her faculty partners feared that technology could make them obsolete. 

In order for Schneider to venture into this new space for her area, she needed to lean on the ID Team to show her the way. “I had no idea what to do. DeAnna Soth (manager of instructional design) was the first one to do it with me. She gave me ideas and threw a lot at me. She was really interested.” For Schneider, standing up ART 206 initially as an online digital photography non-major elective was very experimental. “I learned along with the students. It was a lot of me reassuring students that making mistakes was part of figuring out the process of being an artist,” she says. 

Transforming her teaching style from assessing body language, reading emotion, body posture and nonverbal communication to the online format has required Schneider to become more organized and structured. That’s where the ID’s came in, she explains. “They were there to interpret something for me that was totally alien. They said, ‘You want to have a conversation with students…this is how you do that.’ They helped me by listening. They helped me not be terrified of the learning management system. They made me realize there are thinking people who are trying to make it work. It’s not just a big machine that wants to turn everything into corporate education.”

Instructional Designer, Marisa Ruiz, who was an Art History major and who previously worked at the Smithsonian, helped Schneider bring Advanced Digital Photography (ART 317) online premiering this term. She explains that the idea of backward course design was already ingrained in Schneider’s approach. Ruiz’s role was to make sure the course structure was put together in a way that was easy for students to access and to review courses for gaps making sure students had the content to do what they were being asked to do.
“Students in the online environment are a different constellation of energy and I am trying to figure out how to harness them,” says Schneider. “The online students are bringing more complicated and richer experiences. They know this is their chance and they pour themselves into classes like I have never seen before. We get discussions to a place that is more difficult than we could do in person.” She adds, “Students who are shy are more willing to take risks, but identifying those students is something I will need to develop.”

The first group of online Digital Photography BFA students is expected to graduate in 2020. Schneider is proud that with this degree, critical thinking, rigor and visual literacy can be accessible for anyone and that more complex experiences are now available online. Moving forward, she envisions drawing from her community of practicing artists, who are entrenched in the art photo world, to come on as adjuncts focused on even more direct interaction with students. 

Schneider is a Guggenheim recipient and her fellowship work, To Be Thirteen, is currently on exhibit at the Phoenix Art Museum until November 11. Other of her works are exhibited internationally and displayed within notable public and private collections including the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, the Nelson-Atkins Museum and the Museet for Fotokunst in Denmark.