Adapted from Betsy Schneider’s Facebook Post “Suggested strategies for short term emergency teaching photography online” on 3/9/2020 – We formed a working group of members of the Society for Photographic Education to collate a set of best practice and resources to help teachers help each other.

Suggested strategies for short term emergency teaching photography online

Decide and think through synchronous meetings—It’s tempting to just put everything on Zoom and talk to your students just like they are in-person. That could be a really good solution but don’t forget time zone issues, connectivity issues and it’s a lot easier to forget a meeting when you don’t have to physically get yourself there. – For some of you it may work really well, but have a back up plan especially for the students who may slip through the cracks.

The main Platforms (Canvas/Blackboard) are limited and not really made for what we do.

  • Critiques and the need for students to see each others work
  • Open ended non-measurable out comes.
  • Large files
  • Visual conversations
  • Not measuring everything all the time and students focusing on grades/points

Also The idea that student submissions are not private—(—the platforms are designed with a lot of privacy protection FERPA stuff—and we and our students are used to seeing each others work and critiques and comments from the instructor. Know that it will probably take an effort to figure out how students can easily show each other work.

We have tried using Facebook—which is good but has problems with well, its FB. Most recently we’ve been using Slack—which has some really great features and some somewhat annoying features. Your school may promote YellowDig. I personally find it almost offensive—its designed primarily to be able word count, it has to my mind distracting leaderboards and really wasn’t designed with visual people in mind. (one only needs to see the yellow banner to understand this).

– Years ago I used VoiceThread for critiques—it was super glitchy so I abandoned it but it has always seemed like something I’d like to revisit. If your university has it it’s a good possible option for asynchronous critiques.

A few things your IT departments might not understand.
Your students need to engage visually—for the most part the platforms think of visuals as something that embellishes or “enriches” the experience. They don’t seem to understand that it is the content.

Your students need to see each others work. they see “peer review” as something that helps the learning they don’t seem to understand that it is a huge part of the content itself. Be prepared to deal with that. – That means the traditional platforms (Canvas/Blackboard are not set up for visual discussions/critiques) probably won’t understand that you need the students to have a place to upload large files and be able to see each others images.

As you may already have a sense of the stronger students and weaker students, you may be able to keep an eye on the ones who might go AWOL. This is easier and more common online but given this current situation you may find that certain students don’t have the same discipline.

Figuring out how students will turn in work
Place to upload—this is something that the IT depts might not understand. Where will the work stay—do you have a place where they can upload pictures that you the professor and classmates can access? Google docs possible but can get really sloppy. Make sure they label the work in a way you can easily access.

We’ve found that PDF’s work pretty well. If they have macs they can create PDF’s easily through pages (make sure they don’t turn in a pages doc–)—Also Premiere – a quick lesson in making and sizing PDFs is a useful skill. Of course there is Acrobat. – Access to Adobe CS is of course another issue—*Might be nice if Adobe would grant licenses for this emergency—Maybe someone has a connection there??

Sustaining community/connections among the students.
Give them a platform where they can keep in touch with each other. Use whatever works—Facebook (see if your university has a private setting—Its still problematic I know). We use Slack now– The students themselves– may already have this—but make sure that all the students have access to each other. Again be aware of the students who for whatever reason may fall through the cracks. Instagram could work—they can set up alternate accounts. Ask them they may have an idea. Encourage them to use chat groups to work through projects or ideas.

Keeping a sense of presence with the students. Its harder to keep their attention from a distance.
Regular (more often than your class meeting times) communication with students—perhaps use announcements in Canvas or Blackboard—or just send class emails—or make regular video screencasts for them. Let them know you are still there—Consider doing this every couple of days. Just checking up and reminding them you are there is really important. Make it personal, don’t automate this—

Offer individual meetings and access. Its really important to make them feel you are there—what we do is so much about this, about the conversation and knowing that there aren’t really right answers.

Adapting the assignments/tasks
Analog will be harder of course– What can a student in a view camera class learn by say putting their iphone on a tripod? Maybe now is the time to study optics more carefully—learn what focal lengths really do? Do some research on how cameras are made? What can they do if they can’t develop their film?

There is a lot of simple things they can do with their phones— Obviously you will have fewer issues if your students are already working digitally—Consider having them work with home printers— continuing to make prints and put them on the wall.

Work on black and white issues with digital—

Maybe a good time to get them to work on Artist Statements, theory, researching artists, making presentations to each other.

Take advantage of them being in different locations from each other. Maybe create assignments about where they are. Send them to a local museum (maybe not practical for this situation esp if we are all in quarantine, but a possible solution).

Get them to make their own home studio—hang pictures on the wall—

How critiques will be formatted
Critiques are the hardest part to get right I think. Use video, use Zoom. I would advise using Slack. I still have not satisfactorily solved this—someone needs to design a comprehensive program. But for now we keep trying to create jerry-rigged solutions.

(There is a program, CritViz designed by two ASU digital culture professors that is great but it has a bit of a learning curve and is currently being updated—it does two things that are really important—it provides a place to turn in work and distributes work to students. – Let me know if this interests you. )

Again you have the advantage of the students already being familiar with you and each other—build on that. I could see a Zoom meeting where you go over the PDF’s and talk through it—even if everyone doesn’t show up for the Zoom meeting you could have.

Don’t get consumed by learning to use the tools.
Make it as simple as possible—keep the focus on communicating with the students. Use what you want and what you know—. I use Quicktime. For a long time we used Facebook for our discussions—was problematic but everyone knew how to use it.

Youtube/Vimeo put the links in your platform or in Slack.

Not letting yourself over work
If you make a screencast and its not perfect, do not re-do it unless it has really huge problems.

A few things are easier and work better online (really)
Getting them to read a text and give them a quiz in Canvas where they summarize the article—or require conversation participation in Slack or another discussion platform.

Discuss theory—I’ve found with quizzes which I never give in person.

Have them share artists (esp from say, St. Lucy, Lightwork,– LensCulture Send them to the NYT Lens essays– New Yorker Photobooth, NPR’s photography.

Talk to others—don’t isolate yourself or your students.

Remember that we are artists. Creative solutions is part of what we do. See this as an adventure. Be present. Use this resource this FB group—your other networks to connect with others. Bring your students on this journey. Remember that you as professor, your ideas, your interaction your feedback are what is most important and that above all engaging with the students and the exchange of ideas and critical engagement is what matters.

Adapted from Keep on Teaching from VCU Alt Lab

The Goal = Academic Continuity

This toolkit was developed to provide faculty with options to keep teaching and for faculty to consider providing options for students to support them as they keep learning. The tips, strategies, tools, and resources below are not intended to be a comprehensive lesson in online course pedagogy. The core purpose is to support faculty with a rapid transition to remote instruction that will promote course completion. As outlined below, we aim to approach all aspects of academic continuity with flexibility, care, compassion, kindness, creativity, and positivity.

General Principles

Be proactive- As you prepare for change, a proactive approach before the urgent need arises is always the preferred approach. Nothing beats getting prepared in advance for any unexpected situation that may require in-person courses and other academic work to be rapidly converted to a remote or online format. The more you prepare in advance, the easier the transition.

Prioritize care, compassion, kindness- Some of your students may need to miss class, find alternate ways to submit assignments depending on their technology/wifi access, or request an extension for an assignment/exam. Knowing that you care about them and their success may make all the difference in their motivation, persistence, and ultimate success in course completion.

Stay calm- Students look to you for leadership. If students see that you are calm and that you are assuring them everything will be ok with the course, that will go a long way to keep them positive and engaged. You set the tone for helping your students stay calm.

Keep it simple- Please do not expect to launch a fully online course that would typically take 18 months to develop. Choose tools that are already in use by both you and the students.You do not need all the bells and whistles to be effective. Keep it simple and choose technology tools that will support your particular learning goals and needs.

Practice pedagogical flexibility- In times of rapid transition to remote teaching, flexibility goes a long way. Pedagogical flexibility allows us to get creative with assignment design, exam format, options for students such as choosing from a list of projects, interactive discussions, avenues for student submission of their work, etc. At its core, teaching is a creative process.

Support our student community- keep in mind under-served and marginalized students may experience disproportionate stressors including lack of resources or need for an accessible format. Your support and flexibility can make all the difference in student success.

Seek support from colleagues- We encourage faculty to stay in communication with colleagues both in your own department and also across the university for ideas on how best to transition to remote teaching. There are likely some discipline-specific needs that may be solved with creativity in brainstorming with faculty teaching similar content.


A photo of Anne Leighton Massoni.

Anne Leighton Massoni

Anne Leighton Massoni, is an Associate Professor of Photography at The University of the Arts in Philadelphia and serves on the Society for Photographic Education’s board of director. Her work relates to ideas of both real and fabricated memories and identity, using a variety of film and digital techniques.

A photo of Betsy Schneider.

Betsy Schneider

Betsy Schneider is a photographer and filmmaker who explores and documents transformations of individuals and families over time and place. She is a Guggenheim Fellow and her work has been shown in major museums and festivals around the world.  A former national board member for SPE. From 2002 to 2016 she was a professor in the School of Art at Arizona State University, in 2016 she relocated to the Boston Area and since then has continued to work for ASU as a lecturer, designer, developer and coordinator of an unique online BFA in photography. She has recently taught at Harvard, MassArt and Hampshire and currently teaches online for ASU and at Emerson College.

A photo of John Freyer.

John Freyer

John Freyer is an artist, author and educator at VCUarts. Freyer has brought his social practice projects to the TEDx stage; has exhibited at Mixed Greens Gallery in New York; the Liverpool Biennial Fringe in Liverpool, UK and was a Tate Exchange Associate at Tate Modern, London.

Tutorials & Resources

Online Teaching Guide created by the VCU Alt Lab – Great general resource for a smooth transition to online teaching at VCU.

This is another AWESOME Resource from my amazing colleagues at VCU.

ZOMBIE Survival Guide

Rebecca Barrett-Fox wrote a great guide for looking at this transition as a unique opportunity for change and innovation – She also asks us to resist the push from the top to do more more more with even less less less…  this time without classrooms….

Please do a bad job of putting your courses online

So Adobe has offered to work with EDU orgs to offer our displaced students free access to Adobe products.  You will have to work with your IT people and REPs and does not apply in all cases – But here is the INFO

Steven D. Krause is from Department of English Language and Literature at Eastern Michigan University.  He wrote a widely circulated post  on moving to digital teaching platforms quickly.

Help! I have to suddenly teach online! What should I do?

He is the author of More Than A Moment: Contextualizing the Past, Present, and Future of MOOCs, the co-editor of Invasion of the MOOCs: The Promises and Perils of Massive Open Online Courses, and the author of The Process of Research Writing, a research writing textbook.

Toni Pepe is chair and assistant professor of photography at Boston University. She put together this fantastic google doc resource.  I am asking her for permission to make this into a page on FotoFika.