Remote learning stories: Scott Harman finds ways to help students hone acting skills virtually

Scott Harman interacting from his home office.
Scott Harman interacting from his home office.
Image Credit: Courtesy photo

When Grand Valley moved to online classes in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Scott Harman’s first thought was wondering how to ensure his courses on acting, a craft that fundamentally requires human interaction, would translate virtually.

Harman, an adjunct instructor of theater, said he quickly realized that he could develop content that enhanced different aspects of acting than he had planned, while keeping flexibility and empathy for his students at the forefront of his work.

"I thought, 'Everything I’m used to doing doesn’t apply right now, so what can I still offer students to make sure they’re still able to grow and I can share my expertise with them?'" said Harman, adding, "My guiding principle is making myself available to students."

The shift means video lectures as well as online discussions that delve more deeply into acting history and theory, which allows Harman another vehicle for sharing expertise. 

He has found that in online discussions students are continually asking better questions, coming up with new ideas and having strong conversations with each other.

The class was working with two-person scenes when the switch to remote learning began, so Harman switched the coursework to the more challenging monologues, taking time to dissect those performances. Video can allow for some critiquing or one-on-one coaching for the feedback that is essential for improving their craft, he said.

He keeps a philosophical attitude about his work, especially realizing that everyone is dealing with challenges during this unprecedented time.

"It's kind of like trying to play basketball online," Harman said. "We can practice these skills and get better but we're working around the main activity right now. Theater is fundamentally about people being in the same room and forming that kind of community, but this is the sacrifice we are making as a society."

In the meantime, Harman wants to be sure he is available for virtual office hours so students can see his face and they can interact. He also tries to keep the lines of communication open with students so he can be aware of situations such as students who may have difficulty connecting, or who may have a big workload in this new environment, and accommodate accordingly.

"Their job isn’t to please me. My job is to give them everything I can that works for them," Harman said.