What are the benefits of a virtual arts education?

Interlochen Online offers students unique opportunities

By Seattle Mag


This post is sponsored.

March 28, 2022

This article originally appeared in the November/December 2022 issue of Seattle Magazine.

When Interlochen Online launched in 2020, the program was built upon a foundation of arts innovation of Interlochen. Now, two years later Interlochen Online continues to finetune its offerings and pilot new virtual programs. What once was a pandemic pivot has turned into a permanent program, offering unique programming for young artists looking to take their skills to the next level.

A virtual arts education offers more opportunities to participate and more one-on-one instruction, so students can have personalized attention and grow in their artistic skills. Online courses provide opportunities for students to connect with talented educators and artists they may not have otherwise been able to meet in person.

Past Interlochen Online faculty share the surprising things they’ve learned from teaching online and discuss the unexpected benefits of virtual arts education.

In a virtual classroom, it’s easier for students to control how they engage with teachers and classmates. With a few simple keystrokes, students can adjust the volume of their teacher’s voice, ask a question or minimize distractions.

“A virtual classroom gives each person the ability to interact with the faculty and their peers,” says Jeanine Cowen, a professor of film scoring at Berklee College of Music who teaches music composition for film and video games at Interlochen Online. “It’s actually much easier to show some of the hands-on aspects of the material when students can view my screen right on their own devices.”

Video conferencing software makes in-class participation smoother in several other ways. Instructors are able to “mute” students to eliminate background conversation and help students focus on the material. “Raise hand,” chat, and Q&A functions allow students to easily catch their instructor’s attention in a way that does not interrupt the flow of class — which can be particularly helpful for introverted students. With improved access to their teacher, students have the opportunity for more personalized instruction and receive timely answers to their questions.

Hands-On Experience & Improving Technique
Virtual instruction also provides an opportunity to practice career skills as more businesses —including artistic industries — embrace emerging technologies.

“Like many other businesses, actors moved into working online during the pandemic,” says Peggy Trecker-White, an actor, director, and theatre educator who teaches musical theatre at Interlochen Online. “Some of that is here to stay. Knowing how to connect on camera and produce a solid self-tape will become increasingly important skills for young actors. Learning and performing online provides an opportunity for students to become more savvy when utilizing technology or working on camera.”

Enhancing Communication & Teamwork
Playwright and puppeteer Camille Mitchell, an Arts Adventure instructor for grades 2-6, explains that virtual spaces can help young students learn to communicate and improve teamwork. “I find that virtual learning makes classrooms more collaborative environments. Teachers and students work as a team to make sure there’s smooth communication through basic skills such as listening, respect, and taking turns,” Mitchell says.

Supportive Environment for Young Artists
While collaboration is a natural part of the artistic process for musicians, actors, and dancers, other young artists, such as writers and visual artists, typically work independently. As such, learning alongside others who share their passion can be a much-needed source of encouragement and inspiration.

“It isn’t often that artists have the good fortune to be surrounded by a supportive and welcoming group of fellow creatives to use as a sounding board,” Cowen says.

In a virtual program, students develop a creative community, forge lasting friendships and gain potential partners for future collaborations. Many choose to keep in touch with instructors and peers alike long after their program has ended.

Accessibility & Worldwide Instruction
Digital classrooms also untether the learning experience from physical locations. Through the power of Zoom, students gain access to programs, mentors and peers outside of their local community.

Interlochen’s director of educational research and technology, Samantha Charnes, played a pivotal role in launching Interlochen Online in the summer of 2020. While she was reviewing end-of-session evaluations, one particular piece of feedback stood out.

“One student said, ‘I don’t know whether I’ll ever be able to come to Michigan, so I was grateful to have the Interlochen experience brought to me,’” Charnes recalls. “That’s what’s most powerful about Interlochen Online: it breaks down barriers and opens Interlochen up to students who might not otherwise be able to experience it.”

Virtual learning is especially helpful for students seeking highly specialized programs. Recent offerings at Interlochen Online include “Making a Movie With (Almost) No Money,” “Recording a Hit Song,” and “Visual Arts Mashup: Painting and Graphic Design.”

“One particular area of interest for us has been private theatre instruction,” says Interlochen Provost Camille Colatosti. “Through Interlochen Online, we’re able to provide a level of individual coaching in both acting and musical theatre that is not readily available anywhere else.”

Online private lessons are also popular for their capacity to make sought-after instructors available to students who would otherwise live too far away to study with them.

“Private lessons work very well in the virtual space,” Colatosti says. “They’re often more convenient than lessons in the physical world.”

Other past course titles for young creatives include, “Building Your Visual Portfolio,” “Screenwriting,” and lesson packages in acting, theatre, and music. Academic courses have been offered, including “College Audition Boot Camp,” and “College Essay Writing” for high school students preparing for college.

Visit interlochen.org/interlochen-online to discover more virtual summer programs for emerging artists in grades 2-12 and see for yourself the benefits of a virtual arts education. For a video about the school, click here.

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