Media & Techniques

Experimenting with Digital Collaboration (Ep. 175)

In today’s episode, Don Masse joins Nic to talk about teaching during the pandemic and how kids can still work together. Listen as they discuss ideas for digital collaboration, why kids need to experiment and create, and Don’s upcoming presentation at the NOW Conference. Full Episode Transcript Below.

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Nic: February 6th, 2021 is the Art Ed NOW conference. That is the Art of Education University’s bi-annual conference. We hold one in the winter and one in the summer, and February is our next Art Ed NOW. I absolutely love this opportunity for professional development. We have some amazing speakers every time. Today, we’re going to be talking to one of those speakers, Don Masse. He is art educator in San Diego, California. He is an amazing educator, an amazing human, and a pretty darn good friend of myself. So I’m excited to have this conversation and share it with you. My name is Nic Hahn and this is Everyday Art Room.

Don, I am so excited to have you join me today, mostly because I haven’t caught up with you in quite some time, so welcome.

Don: Hey, Nic. It’s great to see you, too. I know we haven’t chatted in a long time. I’m really looking forward to this conversation.

Nic: Yeah. Well, most of the time, we do a little connection via the national conference and that was canceled last year.

Don: Right.

Nic: And it was canceled, right? We didn’t even have any … Oh yeah. There was a little online stuff afterwards that was thrown together.

Don: Yeah. I know some educators got together independently and released a lot of stuff. I can’t remember if NAEA did anything officially.

Nic: Yeah. I don’t remember. Yeah, Tim Needles. Right? Kind of put everything together. And then this year, it’s online again. It’s virtually, so we won’t get that opportunity to chat in person. So this is really good.

Don: Yeah.

Nic: Okay. So I know you well, but our listeners may or may not. Can you please go ahead and introduce who you are, and where you live, and your teaching history, I guess?

Don: Yeah, sure. So like you mentioned, my name’s Don Masse and I teach in San Diego, California at Zamorano Fine Arts Academy. We are a very large public school in the San Diego Unified School District. I’m really blessed to have ended up where I am. I moved out here in ’99 and did some adjuncting at community colleges. I had a friend say, “Hey, there’s an elementary school who’s looking for an artist-in-residence. You should come over and do it.” I started to work there part-time as an artist-in-residence and would do that in between the other jobs. Finally, my wife, Carrie, was like, “So, Don, what’s your plan? What are you going do?” So I went back and got my teaching credential, and was fortunate enough to slide in at Zamorano full-time, and have been there ever since. So I’ve been at Zamorano for 20 years now, which is just crazy, crazy to think about. Yeah.

Nic: Yeah, that is. I actually have talked to quite a few people in the California area, and it sounds like artist-in-residence is really a thing within the schools. Do you think so?

Don: Yeah. I would definitely agree with that. I think when I first started, it was kind of popular, so in the early 2000s, and then it kind of dissipated and then recently within like the last five years or so. I think it’s a way for schools to incorporate visual arts without it taking up a large part of the budget when our budgets have been so bad. So I think that’s kind of how they’re kind of connecting it, which is great. Although, at the same time, I really would like to see more investment in visual arts education, especially at the elementary school level because I am in a school district with over 100 elementary schools. There are five elementary school art teachers full-time.

Nic: Wow.

Don: My school district is very supportive of VAPA, music, art, theater, everything, K-12 and they do artists-in-residence and they’re starting to do more with title I schools and incorporating art programming in, but I think my school district is indicative of what’s going on in California. I think that’s something that really needs to change.

Nic: Yeah. Yes. The schools should definitely support the art education within the school itself and then artists-in-residence should be like a bonus, I think.

Don: Right. Yeah. Yeah.

Nic: That would be ideal.

Don: Yeah. With the pandemic, everything that’s going on, I think that they really need to… School districts across the country should really do a much bigger investment in arts education because it’s really going to help our students. Our students are going to need those paths to express themselves after this.

Nic: Yes. Absolutely. So actually, you mentioned the pandemic and that leads me into my next question. What’s your teaching style look like this year? You’re not in person, are you?

Don: No, no. We are online. We have not been back in the physical classroom since Friday the 13th, March 13th, last school year. Yeah. Right? So we are totally online and I am doing regular Zoom lessons with my art rotations throughout the week. So that the schedule is very similar to what it would be if we were physically back on campus. I feel fortunate that we can keep that regularity in the arts curriculum with our students. With the Zoom classes in the spring, I kind of worked some things out and I feel that my Zoom lessons pretty much follow the routine that the creative process that my students would do if we were back on campus.

Nic: So tell me about that. What does that look like?

Don: So in terms of introducing an artist, talking about elements and principles and how the artist is trying to communicate with different people, giving my students opportunities to play and experiment still at the beginning of our lessons together. I think that play and experimentation is important no matter what situation you’re in. So maintaining that, I think, is really important; so just kind of trying out ideas, multiple sketches, and then… So it’s kind of a little guided practice, independent practice, and then we’re working on a final piece together. One of the cool things too, is that if students don’t finish an experiment with me while we’re on the Zoom, that one of the nice things about online learning is I emphasize that they don’t have to feel rushed. They can take their time. They can revisit this later on in the day. They can revisit it later on tomorrow. So I think that’s a silver lining in terms of the online learning, just giving them that extra time to process, process the lesson and what they’re creating.

Nic: Yeah, for sure. That’s really interesting. Are you finding that a lot of your students… I have some students that are spending more time than they normally would in my class, but I also have lots of students that are spending less time. So when you’re scheduled for your one hour or whatever you have with your students, do you feel like your online learners are spending their time working on it, even the ones that are a little bit more reluctant?

Don: Yeah. I think the engagement is pretty consistent what it would be if we were physically on campus. I think that the trick for a lot of them, we use two online platforms. We use Google classroom and we use Seesaw. Seesaw’s with K2. I noticed that there’s solid engagement during the Zoom, but then in getting them turn work in, that’s where I see the challenge-

Nic: Oh, yeah.

Don: … in terms of Google Classroom because a lot of them are on Chromebooks and you can’t just take a photo and add it. I think you can do that on an iPad or an iPhone, but there’s multiple steps and it gets lost. So I’ve taken it as they were involved in the process, if I don’t see their final work, I knew they were participating and engaging during the lesson. Seesaw, however, makes it so easy for students to turn in work. I wish our third graders would use that because I think they, in particular, kind of get lost in turning their work in.

Nic: I am with you. That third grade… We have that same exact thing, except we’re using Schoology for third through 12th grade. If we could just have Seesaw at least until third grade, I think it would make a world of difference. Those kiddos are just not ready to make that change yet.

Don: Yeah. Yeah, yeah.

Nic: I’m with you. Okay. That’s good feedback for just myself, that you were giving credit to students being there rather than having it actually turned in per se online. That’s an interesting thought. I know that you are presenting with Art Ed NOW coming up and I’m really excited for… I just got my swag box and I unpacked everything. It’s some pretty cool stuff this time around.

Don: Right. Right. True.

Nic: Yeah. Did you get a swag box?

Don: I did. And of course, my daughter absconded with about half the things that were in it.

Nic: Yes.

Don: She’s like, “I’m going to take this. I’m going to take this.” Those mini easels that were in there with the canvases…

Nic: Yeah. They’re gone.

Don: Yeah. Totally gone.

Nic: Did you test out that cardboard cutter, that little…

Don: No. No, I haven’t and I’ve seen it. I think Casey Kemper posted some stuff on Instagram about that before. So I’m really curious about it. I haven’t had a chance to play with it yet, but that’s something I’m looking forward to.

Nic: I was so excited. I ripped that one apart right away and tried it out and it’s really quite safe. Okay. So I’m like, “Look at how safe this is,” and of course, I’m bringing it across my hand like an art teacher would do. It did leave a little bit of a paper cut like wound per se if you bring it directly across your skin, but overall, wow.

Don: Okay. All right.

Nic: Yeah. So now you know. Yeah. Don’t bring that across your skin, but it worked really well on cardboard. Okay. Anyways, Art Ed NOW, here we are. You’re presenting. Let’s talk about what your subject is and what you’re presenting on.

Don: So I am presenting on digital shape collages using online resources, primarily Google Slides, Google Drawing and Seesaw, which I mentioned before, for students to create digital art experiments.

Nic: Great. Well, I know that you often are online. You do a lot of digital artwork with your students, don’t you?

Don: Yes, I do. I really think it’s important for us to include those digital art experiences for our students. They’re so well versed in it to begin with. They can assume it on a daily basis. I want to give them the tools to experiment with it themselves.

Nic: Yes.

Don: I think that’s a responsibility as for us, as art educators, is to give them the tools to take something that they consume on an everyday basis and make things out of it. I think I’ve talked to Tim about this before. It’s kind of like thinking about, “The Wizard of Oz,” kind of drawing the curtain back on the wizard. They get to kind of see how these things are put together that they consume and then they can express their own voice with it.

Nic: Yeah, exactly, taking that creation. Creating the digital platform as another medium is so important, I think. I’m with you on that. Yeah. So what are you specifically talking about and how well were you able to present this method to the educators of Art Ed NOW with your classmates online and that sort of thing? Did you run into any problems with that?

Don: As far as the digital experiments themselves, they went pretty well. They’ve gone pretty well. One of the things that I have noticed is that when I am on campus, I have a class set of iPads and the digital art experience is very collaborative. They’re learning the programs and apps together. They’re teaching one another. They’re building fluency together. That is something that I wanted to replicate in the online experience and I have not been able to do that successfully. So that’s something that I still need to work on. I think as educators, not everything’s going to be the same, obviously. We’re trying to do this different ways. I think it’s important that if something doesn’t work or you can’t get to it, we need to give ourselves that added grace because we’re working really hard to make this experience work as well as possible.

Nic: Agreed. So do you have any ideas or do you talk about this in the presentation of maybe what you might continue to experiment to create that… I know exactly what you’re talking about. You’re talking about having that leadership and that inspiration from one another within the classroom.

Don: Yeah. I don’t really speak to it, but I think there’s art educators out there that are definitely doing it like Janine Campbell.

Nic: Yeah.

Don: I think she’s middle and I’ve seen some experiments that she’s done, so it can be done. So I really appreciate her putting it out there and showing that, that it is possible and I just need to step back and see. I don’t necessarily want the digital experiments to… That’s the thing too, in terms of incorporating the digital, I want to find that balance between traditional and digital as well. So I don’t want to get too caught up in that as well, especially because I see my students two times out of every six weeks. So the time is really precious for me and for them.

Nic: Yeah, for sure. I love that you brought up Janine Campbell as another person who is definitely versed in this and really working on that online platform and creating something amazing for their students. She shares what she’s doing on a regular basis, and I know you do as well, but I’ve also followed you for multiple years and I’ve seen a little bit of evolving of how you’re sharing. Can we talk about the history of your blog and what you’re doing right now?

Don: Yeah, sure. When I first started teaching, we had this small little Mac in the art room and I would get on there. Actually, the trigger for me to start incorporating work, contemporary art is kind of like a sidebar, but was stumbling across a blog, “Dear Ada,” and she would post about contemporary artists every day and I started to incorporate more of those into my curriculum. Then again, my wife, the brains of the outfit was like, “Why don’t you start writing about the stuff that you’re doing with students?”

So I did. I started to write a regular blog. I was posting two, three times a week with lessons and I loved it. That sharing really started to connect me with people like you and educators all across the country. As art educators, in particular, we’re very isolated on campus. We may just be the only person on our campus that is covering the art curriculum. So that was a really wonderful way to just network and grow for me. Then over the course of the years, I’ve used Facebook. I’d say in the last couple of years, the blog has severely dropped off. It’s been neglected and I’ve started to use Instagram a lot in terms of sharing and in terms of discovering new artists, new art educators. I love the immediacy of it, the visual aspect of it. Yeah.

Nic: And it’s pretty easy to post. Writing a blog post takes time and effort. I think it’s harder than just posting a picture of what happened today.

Don: Oh yeah, definitely. Right? It’s like a mini-article that you’re writing. So just as far as that time that goes into it. It’s so different, but I think the blogging, the writing in that extended format is still totally valuable. It’s something that I’d like to go back to. I was writing for Arts and Activities for a while and they folded, they closed and I haven’t really gotten back into that. But yeah, that longer reflection I think is really important too.

Nic: Yeah. I have a student teacher right now and I was showing her, she was describing some something and I said, “You know what? I think I did something like that a couple of years ago,” and I typed it into my own blog and it’s kind of this filing cabinet for myself of, how did I teach that? What were the steps? What were my resources? So it definitely has a different value writing more thoughtfully as well.

Don: Right. Yeah. You’re not going to get that from scrolling through your posts, your old Instagram posts, like the right information.

Nic: You’re right.

Don: Yeah.

Nic: Yeah, you’re right. But I will say one thing that it does, Instagram now, I’m going back there, is it gives me a lot of inspiration for contemporary artists and that’s something that you and I share. We love contemporary artists. We love street art and we even, I mentioned, we have gotten together in different cities throughout the nation for NAEA and discovered street art together.

Don: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah.

Nic: I know that that’s part of your world right now. Can we talk about your professional street art that you create?

Don: Sure. So let me start by saying that I think my attraction to street art is the fact that I love the openness of it, the fact that it is accessible to so many more people. I try and really make my students aware of that, is that art is not just located in a museum or a gallery. It could be everywhere, in every place. I love that accessibility that street art murals and public art for provide to everybody. So I made sure to include it into my curriculum. Recently, I had a large installation go up in North Park, a part of San Diego, but I guess it’s been like a year and a half ago with nine panels that are on this parking garage, but that was different because it was like a digital art and it was printed out on banners.

Nic: I thought it was really cool.

Don: Yeah. That was something that was directly related to digital art instruction that I was doing with, with students. So I loved that duality, how my teaching life and my artist life come together. But recently, I’ve been using my house in the neighborhood as a canvas.

Nic: Yeah, I love it.

Don: So we have a garage door that faces the street and I created this persist mural because with the political climate, everything that’s been going on in the past few years, obviously, everything that’s been going on way before that, but coming to a head this summer, putting that persist on our garage serving as a visual reminder for people that, “Push through. Don’t stop. People are listening. We’re going to work together and hopefully, figure some stuff out.”

Nic: It’s been really fun to see the different projects that you’ve done in your personal life as an artist because I love celebrating that with the peers that I have made connections with on social media. So it’s just fun to see what everybody’s working on and I love seeing what you’re working on. Do you have any future plans for little projects around the house or art projects that are coming up?

Don: Well, I recently did a guitar design for an arts education non-profit. So it was part of an exhibit at a fundraiser. So I did that and really loved working on the surface of the guitar. I was like, “Oh, how can I do this again?” They’re actually putting another call out for artists. So I already submitted a design for that. San Diego Museum of Art puts on a youth art exhibit every other year, and I had two students have digital pieces actually get accepted into it. We just found that out on Friday. The museum has also put a call out for, I think it was 25 artists, to… What’s the word I’m looking for?

We’re going to get a piece of student work from the show and we’re going to interpret it in our own style. I was selected for that experience as well. So that’s going to happen. I think people will start painting in mid-February. So that’s going to be a really wonderful experience. I don’t know if I’ll get synced up with a Zamorano student, but just the idea of reinterpreting student work and then connecting it to a public setting. It kind of encompasses everything I’m about with the education, with the murals, with putting public art out there, for making it accessible for people.

Nic: Oh my gosh. Great. Well, I’ll watch that unfold in the next couple of months. That’ll be really neat, but like I said, just that celebration with each other and I love how you’re running into these situations that incorporate both parts of your life and, wow. That’s great. I can’t wait to see that. Don, thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us today.

Don: Yeah. Thank you so much. It’s been a blast and hopefully, informative for people as well.

Nic: Yes, of course.

As I mentioned at the start of the podcast, February 6th is the Art Ed NOW conference. Again, just cannot be more excited about this opportunity for professional development. It really allows us to hear some fresh ideas. It always rejuvenates me in the middle of the winter when I have a couple of feet of snow out here. Don doesn’t, but I’m definitely look at some white stuff out there and I just need that lift up.

So Art Ed NOW is coming up on February 6th and recently, announced is our keynote speaker who is Kevin Honeycutt. You guys, Kevin came to our district, ISD 728, maybe two or three years ago and our whole district was able to sit down. We have 900 plus teachers and that’s not including all the support staff that’s hired within the district. Just a massive amount of people were sitting in front of this man and he spoke to every single one of us; the bus drivers, the cooks, the support staff in the office and in the district office, and of course, to every single educator. He is hilarious. Behind his humor, there is a rich, rich, very deep meaning that will inspire you, for sure. If you have not already gone onto the Art of Education University’s website to find and then register for the conference, please do that soon. It’s going to be a good one. I guarantee it.

Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.