Alex Ruthman  wearing a white N95 mask and Yanyue Yuan wearing. white cloth mask with the word "Love" drawn on it in red

Alex Ruthmann (NYUSH/STEINHARDT) and Yanyue Yuan (NYUSH)

Ushering the Teaching of the Arts Into a New Era

By Craigh Barboza (TSOA ’96)

When it launched in 2018, Creative Meet-up was a small networking event hosted by the Program on Creativity + Innovation (PCI) on the NYU Shanghai campus. Local educators and scholars met in person to compare notes on best teaching practices. It drew up to 20 participants; many others wanted to attend but couldn’t because of time or travel constraints.

Then in April of this year, two months after the coronavirus shut down the Shanghai campus, Creative Meet-up’s organizers, Alex Ruthmann and Yanyue Yuan, moved their sessions to Zoom. This not only made the event more convenient for active and hopeful participants, but it also allowed the duo to invite guest speakers from as far away as Greece and the United States.

“We want to create a wider community of people who have an interest in creative learning,” says Yuan, an assistant arts professor of interactive media and business. “In our past meet-ups, we have seen how K-12 teachers, higher-education faculty, and community, social enterprise, and NGO leaders can all learn from each other.”

Every gathering focuses on a different theme, and the group now has 250 members (and counting) from a wide variety of disciplines. They are encouraged to share immersive lesson plan ideas, digital tools, apps, and other resources, some of which make conventional teaching methods look as outdated as overhead projectors. Each session is recorded and published on YouTube and bilibili, a Chinese video-sharing website.

Many of those involved with Creative Meet-up emphasize the value of exploring new ways of learning and to think more deliberately about how to structure and support student work outside of the classroom, even after our world—and teaching—returns to normal.

“There is a lot of innovation happening in China and the rest of the world that is not easily accessible to those who do not read or speak English or Mandarin,” Ruthmann says. “I’ve seen amazing projects where students became musical researchers, recording songs from their grandparents and extended family, or documenting musical days in their family’s lives and sharing all of these back with teachers and students in creative ways.” It’s difficult to think of anything resulting from the pandemic as a silver lining, but this may just be one. Adds Ruthmann: “Many of the limitations of this time have proven to be fruitful frictions in generating new ideas and possibilities for teaching and learning.”