VMA courses combine LA and Boston classrooms


Photo: Iwan Baan

For the first time, students at the Boston and Los Angeles campuses can take the same classes at the same time, brought together through a live video conferencing link.

Half of the two visual and media arts courses’ students are in Boston, and the other half are in LA, where they are taught by professors John Craig Freeman and Diane Lake.

Freeman said the students in his course, called Research and Creative Production in Virtual and Augmented Reality Public Art, work on a research project to create public virtual art throughout LA that locals can only see through their smartphones. By running a certain program, users will be able to see visual art overlaid over a live feed from their phones’ cameras.

The students in Boston have their class at the same time as the LA students, and use video chat to communicate with one another from across the country, with teaching assistants overseeing the classrooms in Boston.

Senior Lucianna Faraone Coccia, a student in Freeman’s course, said she enjoys the chance to interact with her peers from across the country.

“It’s really cool to be able to take advantage of the technology we are lucky enough to be afforded not only for the project, but also simply for class,” Coccia, a visual and media arts major, said in a video chat interview from LA. “It’s awesome that we can still work with our peers in Boston.”

Freeman said he was inspired to do his part in globalizing Emerson’s curriculum after teaching in Asia.

“If Emerson is going to remain on the cutting edge of relevancy in the 21st century, then we have to take on this idea of globalization and globalizing curriculum,” Freeman said in a video chat interview from LA. “Part of the idea is us learning how to work in a dispersed way where people are working from various locations and overcoming the various obstacles like time, language and location.”

Freeman said he applied for a grant from Emerson last year—the President’s Fund for Curricular Innovation—so students could get course credit for working on faculty research and creative projects like his.

Around the time that grant was approved, Freeman said he was also awarded a commission from the Los Angeles County Museum of Arts’ Art and Technology program, which goes toward providing the class with advice from high-tech companies.

“Part of the idea is a need to be able to more directly connect the two campuses between Boston and LA,” Freeman said.

Lake was invited by Freeman to go to LA to teach her own, separate course, titled Writing the Biopic. The class, which also includes students from the Boston and LA campuses, teaches students about different biographical movies and the techniques that are used to make them.

Lake said she enjoys the opportunity to help familiarize her students with virtual communications, which she said will be a big part of their life after they leave the college.

“In the film business in this day and age, people are doing pitches for films on Skype, and they’re doing meetings on FaceTime,” Lake said in a phone interview from LA. “I think it is a really great thing to be able to have a chance for the students to get used to this technology.”

Overcoming geographic obstacles with technology will prepare Emerson well for the future, Lake said.

“It’s just the beginning, and I hope there’s going to be a lot more of it,” Lake said. “Not just between our two [campuses], but around the world with this kind of learning.”


Correction, Jan. 29: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Freeman invited Lake to teach at Los Angeles. In fact, Lake was chosen to teach at the Los Angeles campus before Freeman was. Freeman just convinced Lake to do the online course.