Newswise — When musical theater and visual arts summer camps went online at the University of Alabama at Birmingham this summer, staff did not know what to expect.

The award-winning camps, presented by UAB’s ArtPlay, are always popular, to the point of selling out all available spaces. Despite the teachers’ fears, campers and their parents loved the new virtual camps. Now ArtPlay wants to share helpful tips and what they learned about keeping kids engaged and learning virtually, with two free workshops for K-12 teachers.

“Virtual Classroom Engagement: Lessons Learned from Online Summer Camp” will include advice on how to talk to and keep students focused on a virtual platform. ArtPlay K-12 education administrator Mollie Schaefer-Thompson, teaching artists Caroline Trewhella, Rodney Porterfield and Jennifer Salvant, and education manager Christina McClellan will teach the workshop.

The first workshop will be at 1 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 11, with the second workshop at 4 p.m. Monday, Aug. 17. Participants must register for the workshop of their choice.

Participating arts teachers can get professional development credit. Teachers from area school systems including Shelby County are registered to attend Aug. 11, as part of its professional development, which means more spaces are available for the Aug. 17 workshop.

The workshop will cover the general technology of any digital format in which you can visually see and talk to your students, including how to utilize tools like screen share and breakout rooms.

“We need to embrace that this is different,” McClellan said. “It can be challenging. Nothing will substitute face-to-face, but we want to help them feel more comfortable with the unknown. We are here as a resource and can help brainstorm, and we are more than happy to share what we know.”

Teachers can learn how to:

  • Set up a workspace in advance.
  • Create a timeline for each day, even if you do not always stick to it, and add more breaks.
  • Set ground rules for using technology correctly and respectfully.
  • Address fears and worries and get to know students.
  • Lead students through activities and make sure they are responding to instruction.
  • Use dual screens so students can see you and your work.
  • Brainstorm ideas for engagement; for camps, these included low-stakes activities such as theme days, pet sharing time, decorate your workspace, bingo cards and “closet cosplay,” for which students created a costume at home.
  • Use movement when possible. 

Virtual classes are not geographically limited; there is no need to factor in travel time or costs. This means collaboration is easier than ever, Schaefer says.

“While you are in school, you are confined to who is in your school,” Schaefer said. “If you have resources that are international or know a teacher in another country, why not get together and teach a class that way?”

ArtPlay, presented through UAB’s Alys Stephens Performing Arts Center, is UAB’s campus and community engagement program. ArtPlay provides lifelong learning through the arts to all ages, skill levels, incomes and geographical areas through free and fee-based classes, events, performances and exhibitions.