Education: Meet Christopher, an Art Professor at Cascadia College

Interviewer: Vy Nguyen; June 5, 2020

Interviewee: Professor Christopher Gildow, Artist and Art Teacher @ Cascadia College

Chris has taught at Cascadia College for almost 15 years (Christopher Gildow).

Would you tell us more about who you are and your profession?

I’ve been teaching at Cascadia for probably 15 years, and I teach in the art department. I teach studio and non-studio art classes. I have been doing that for 20 years at different schools, but I am at Cascadia now. I am an artist myself. I am a working artist. I have my own studio where I do my own sculptures, and I also do painting, printmaking, and photography. I went to Washington State University as an undergraduate, and I did my graduate work back in Boston at the Museum of Fine Arts and Tufts University where I got my master's degree. I have been teaching ever since!

How has communication between students changed for your students and yourself?

We have various vehicles to communicate with students. There are emails and today there is zoom like we are doing now, there are phone conversations, there is one-on-one facetime for after class. There are office hours, but what I find to be the best way to communicate with students is one-on-one and face-to-face to go over exactly what the issues are. Email is probably used most of the time as a way I communicate with students simply because right now we are not even in class. There’s no class to go to anymore, but email is the most immediate way. I get my best responses for myself and through students if we talk one-on-one. Sitting across from each other or standing and having coffee is the best way. That has not changed, and I think that it is the best way for me to understand what a student is asking, what they need, and how I can help them. It’s harder to communicate with typed words sometimes than it is to communicate with spoken words so I always try my best.

How has teaching changed for you? What changes have you made to your course or lesson plans to adapt to the changes?

Two things, I teach studio classes which are drawing, painting, printmaking, design, things like that which are very difficult to teach online. I teach an art 100 course which is a non-studio class which is art appreciation, which is the one you are in right? I have taught that online for many years so that is a little easier in terms of content and learning activities because it is not a class with a lot of real active learning. After all, they are not in the studio with paint or paper and a pencil.

So, I am teaching a drawing class online and a 2D design class online and you have asked what changes I have made and those changes include a lot of video production-frankly, in front of the camera a lot more. I give weekly content update videos to all of my classes and let them know where we have been the week before and how it relates to where we are going in a particular week. I want to be seen by my students, I don’t want them to just be reading something I have typed out, it’s very once removed from the real thing so I like to provide those videos to provide a human element.

"I want to be seen by my students... to provide a human element."

In terms of the instruction, a lot of video demonstrations for the drawing and design classes. So, I have produced those every week, technical issues and skill-building, things like that. There are a lot of resources online frankly and they are very helpful for students in studio classes. When you are teaching a one or two-point perspective drawing, which is a geometric construct, there are some very good tutorial videos online that help students a lot so I do try to make use of those. Certainly, I don’t rely on them only. I like to make my own because I have a certain way I like to teach. So, video production, also as you mentioned earlier, increased communication. I reach out to students in the studio classes who may not be getting those skills and techniques, once again being once removed from the studio. So, I will give them a shout and say, “how are things going, this is what I saw last week and I think we could improve by doing this.”

So again, that one on one is very helpful and the ones I have reached out to have thanked me because they expected me to just give them an email. They appreciate that, and my colleagues, Kathleen Brown and Chloe Rice who also teach in the art department; we are doing a summer workshop on how to better provide quality instruction to online students should we be in this position this fall. So, we are going to be working on that during the summer, going over how we did this quarter, what could we do better. That is going to be really important too, but mostly it’s just the logistics of going digital in teaching drawing. Anyways, those are some of the ways we have used to accommodate students better. I have also given students more time to do things, I have stretched out the deadlines. I know that everyone is in a position where a lot of us can’t get online. I know students are still working a lot of the time or they are struggling with their other lives being students so I have tried to accommodate them the best that I can.

Recent Sculpture created by Professor Glidow

Do you prefer teaching classes in-person or online? Have any students discussed how they feel with online learning with you, and if so, how do most of them feel about the situation if they have?

Well, the short answer is I prefer being in the classroom because I can be right there in front of students and they can be there with me and we can work together in learning. For non-studio classes, again, I have set up the Art 100 class, which is commonly online, and that really works pretty well; although, I continue to fold it over to make improvements. I much prefer in person, we are hoping to get back to the studio in the fall with classes face to face, in the studio. I hope that happens but we will have to see. In terms of your question about how students feel about online learning, I have had some students respond negatively to learning online. A lot of students are running start and they are still in high school, so that switch to online learning, for a lot of them, is the first time they have done that. They have three classes, they may have a job, they may be taking care of their family, and so for some of them it is too much. They can’t do it, so they have to choose if they are going to cut a class and only take two classes or they are going to wait until it is face-to-face. So, I have had a handful of students who have contacted me through email and said, “Hey, could I get an extension on the due date, just can’t handle all of this right this week,” or “I have been laid off from my job so I have to recalculate.” So yeah, that is a very real thing that happens, not every week but it does happen commonly. I try to make adjustments for students so they could stay in the class, but some of them simply cannot continue and they want to come back another quarter. I always hate that situation, when students have to go because you lose them and they have to wait another quarter to start again, but sometimes it is the only option they have. But we try to make accommodations as best that we can.

How has this situation changed your day to day routine?

For one thing, I am working from home so I am on the computer most of the day. I am either producing videos, editing them, and then loading them onto the course content, or I am grading. It is all online, and there are a lot of emails. Just keeping the logistics of my own grading records straight and not going to the class until I have all the facilities or the materials I need. I am producing demonstration videos on my kitchen table and that is kind of a change. We are isolated to an extent, I mean it is opening up a little bit now, but I spend a lot of time at home. I have had very few miles on my car in the last 6 weeks and I don’t go anywhere. I am fortunate enough to live in a place where I can get up and walk around a lot and hike even. Although, I am fairly isolated like everyone else and I try to channel that energy into making my classes better.

"Although, I am fairly isolated like everyone else and I try to channel that energy into making my classes better."

I have time to fold in new material or search for new content, I mean that is my job so I take it very seriously but it is not the only thing I do in my life just like you, we have other parts of our lives. That part of my life has been pretty restricted over the last 6 weeks.

How have you been staying connected with friends, family, coworkers, and students that you are not able to see in person right now?

So, the main way I am doing that is by texting them. I am an artist, a visual artist, and I have a lot of images and I react to images sometimes better than the written or spoken word. I take a lot of pictures that I send to my friends and my family. That form of communication is greater in isolation. Some of my friends got together last week, but we set our chairs on both sides of the street. It was not a busy street, it’s hardly ever used, it’s like an alley. We set up our chairs across the street from each other, and we had about an hour and a half of great conversation and laughs, but we were just separated by that space.

If you are willing to discuss, how have you been feeling about COVID-19, about the country coming together to fight injustice, and about how everything has been handled by the government?

I have a family member who is more at risk than others of contracting the virus, so we have been very careful to stay away from each other because I am more active than they are. I have gone for weeks without seeing close family members, and that is very hard. We talk on the phone and it’s something, but it is not the same as being there. That has been probably the most difficult part of it. As far as this sort of spiral we have found ourselves in as a country, I regret it very much, it makes me sad, and it makes me angry on some levels. I want to latch onto education as a way of getting over that hill and come out a little bit better. I mean, we have a pandemic that has ravished our country and the world. There have been 100,000 deaths and climbing. We have an economy that has collapsed because no one can really work right now, there are a lot of people out of work. There are students who are struggling. They are worried.

"There are students who are struggling. They are worried."

Now we have racial issues that bubble up every generation, we have one right now, we are living it with riots throughout the country-it’s frustrating. The protesting is not frustrating to me, but the violence is very disturbing and it’s not part of protesting. We want to remember the reason why we are protesting, which is frankly an injustice. It is like an institutional bias that is against people of color, plain and simple. This is how we react, this is how people react when people cannot take it anymore. People are very anxious, so it bothers me very much. I think about it all day, I watch the news, and I hope that somebody can lead us in a way where we can at least talk about it with each other. I wonder what is going to be next, an invasion or a plague? I have certainly never lived through anything like this and your generation is right in the middle of it. Let’s hope we can resolve things sooner rather than later.

What do you miss most about in-class learning, what do you miss most about life before COVID-19, and what is the first thing you are going to do after quarantine is lifted?

I think one of the things that I miss most is just going out to eat at a nice restaurant. That is something that we took for granted until just about 6 weeks ago. So, that is probably the first thing I would do, and I don’t even mean a fancy restaurant, I just mean a good one. Even going to the taco truck, for me, makes me happy. Also, live concerts. I really miss going to see live music because music is a big part of my life. I guess I am talking a lot about food and entertainment, but I think I am going to try to be really thankful. We work hard every day to make our lives okay and maybe someone else’s along the way that we can help. So, that is why I am committed to online teaching. It is not the best way, but that is the only option we have right now so we have to make it the best we can.

If you could give one piece of advice to anyone about any of the current events, what would you tell them?

What I would say is just to use your strengths. It’s easy to fall into an exasperated state of “it’s never going to get better or I am never going to be able to do this or that,” but at the same time, we are strong people. People work well together so I would just say, let’s work together to make this as positive as we can.