How an online art course maintained community

The Art of Border Walls and Spaces turned out to be one of Professor Khristin Landry-Montes’ favorite courses during her first year teaching at Cornell College—even though it was taught completely online due to the global pandemic.

Khristin Landry-MontesStudents were motivated to go above and beyond during this course.

“Holy smokes! One of my students went out into the virtual world without my help and snagged a recorded conversation with one of Doris Salcedo‘s studio assistants,” said Landry-Montes, an assistant professor of art history. “Students also made connections with the great Virginia E. Miller, Dylan Clark, Ivan Batun, Miguel Covarrubias Reyna, Shayna Mehas and many, many others.”

The course was held over 18 days in April and May on Cornell’s One Course At A Time block schedule. Her 22 students accessed the class from around the country and as far away as China. As with all blocks at Cornell, it was the only class she taught, and the only class they took. 

“The block plan, like always, creates a strong connection between the students and professor, which was still the case with online classes,” said Izabella Botto, of Fairfield, Iowa. “Khris had an organized course that was easy to navigate and made it fun to learn.”

Landry-Montes has expertise in art, archaeology, and anthropology and she’s fascinated by how these disciplines intersect. The course looked at ancient and modern walls, the treatment of borders and walls between Central America, Mexico, and the U.S., and finished with a global look at borders and the issues associated with them. 

“We treated walls and borders as places that separate, but also places that bring things and people together to create their own special kind of place and culture—and places that generate some pretty amazing cases of art-making,” Landry-Montes said. 

Palestinian Feminism Art Project
Izabella Botto’s final project was a digitally-based StoryMap on Palestinian Feminism Art.

Because her class was so far-flung, she used both synchronous and asynchronous learning. She posted 90-minute lectures with the materials (and made sure to include imagery, podcasts, videos, and interviews) daily or nearly daily. Afternoons were for live Conversation and Coffee from the Couch sessions, sometimes featuring guest speakers from the U.S. and Mexico. 

Without other courses to attend or teach, Landry-Montes and her students were focused only on their shared course and formed a mini-community—even while dispersed around the world.

“I enjoyed the sense of community and unity even from our respective locations,” said Lilian Heinzel, of Reinbeck, Iowa. “Dr. Landry-Montes made the class extraordinary by being available to students at all times and adapting to every students’ situation. She was able to establish a sense of community through her dedication to our class and our learning. The block plan allowed us to commit to the class.”

The final project was a digitally-based StoryMap created through ArcGIS. Because it was difficult to access library books, the students worked with academic peer-reviewed articles found online and conducted their own interviews with professionals related to the topics they chose. 

“The projects were relevant for our digital world and it gave students a feel for the kinds of work that real professionals in these fields do,” Landry-Montes said. 

After each student completed their story map, they formed three roundtable groups based on shared themes. Then, the class held a virtual roundtable colloquium with a student moderator and groups assigned to be respondents for one another.

“The most impressive parts of the course must be the discussion and the forum,” said Xinyi Wang. “I really like these parts because I am able to exchange ideas with my peer students and Professor Landry. I am from China so I really know the Great Wall. However, the course made me think more about it from different points of view. And I feel like I have recognized it again.” 

Wang’s StoryMap was on the Great Wall.

Botto chose to create her project on feminism in Palestinian art and how women use art as an outlet of resilience, hope, and identity. 

“The experience, the interview, research, and using StoryMaps with ArcGIS, was by far the most passionate I have ever been about a school project,” Botto said. “We had to interview someone for the project, and I contacted a Palestinian artist I follow on Instagram, Dana Barqawi, who lives in Jordan. I sent her some questions via email, and the experience was a fun and rewarding one. I am even looking into finding an organization to further publish it.”

One student took the concept of walls to a different level.

“I opted to research a wall not discussed in class—Pink Floyd’s ‘The Wall’ album,” said Lincoln Warner, of Oak Park, Illinois. “It was such a fun project, as I enjoyed the album already and grew to love it through my in-depth analysis.”

Many Cornell College professors found new and unique ways to connect with students during distance learning classes Blocks 7 and 8. This is part of a series of stories about those courses.