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Standards & Guidelines » CAA Guidelines

Guidelines for Distance Education in Art, Art History, Design, and Museum Studies 

Drafted January 26, 2019; approved by PPC on February 13, 2019. A subcommittee co-chaired by Richard Lubben and Michael Grillo worked on this proposal. While respecting the extant document, the changes provide valuable updates that address current concerns, such as remote teaching. This was approved in 2019 but was modified to include Museum Studies in the title as suggested by then Board President Jim Hofpensperger. The draft was reviewed again in 2021 by PPC and revisions were approved by the CAA Board of Directors on February 20, 2022.  


Distance learning has been embraced by thousands of institutions across the United States and in other countries of CAA membership. Proponents and critics both have recognized that distance learning has great potential for expanding educational opportunities well beyond traditional higher education constituencies. At the same time, however, it has also been recognized that significant problems may arise or are yet unresolved in this evolving pedagogical environment. As with its other guidelines, CAA concerns itself particularly with the welfare of its members who engage in distance learning as well as procedures for the development and evaluation of quality pedagogy in the visual arts and design. In this regard, we take special note of voices in higher education who have argued that distance learning can lead to faculty becoming disempowered through centralized and/or commercially prepared packages that prioritize cost-savings delivery at the expense of faculty choice in communication systems and realistic workload expectations. We are also aware of critics who claim that distance learning tacitly signals to students that educational engagement is just another stream of social media, and it can fail to emphasize to students the limits of the various educational modalities. At the same time, our members have productively created and engaged with distant learning models that have led to new kinds of rigorous intellectual and creative exchange. These guidelines hope to capture those intellectual and creative possibilities and provide a means for avoiding pitfalls. Ultimately, institutions need focus on effective and consistent assessment of all teaching and student research, no matter their delivery systems.  


Defining Distance Learning 

Distance education is not simply an alternative to the traditional classroom. It can include hybrid and traditional classrooms that use digital and web-based tools to enhance traditional learning environments.  Evolving technologies have helped merge traditional learning and digital tools, offering increased opportunities for interaction between students and between students and faculty, more immediate access to peer-reviewed and primary sources, and novel, immersive experiences via 360-degree virtual street view, virtual gallery tours, augmented reality, spectator and crowd-sourced video documentation, and streaming participatory symposia, to name but some. 

Several professional associations affiliated with CAA have defined distance learning and these definitions may also prove helpful. For example, The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) defines distance learning as: “A formal educational process using technological delivery in which instruction occurs where students and instructors are not in the same place. Instruction may be synchronous or asynchronous. Distance education may employ audio, video, or computer technologies. Distance education, distance learning, and e-learning are recognized by the Commission (ACHE) as being synonymous terms. Academic courses or programs are considered to be distance education entities when over 50 percent of the content is delivered through distance education modes.”  

The National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD) posits a complementary definition: “Distance learning involves programs of study delivered entirely or partially away from regular face-to-face interactions between teachers and students in studios, classrooms, tutorials, and laboratories associated with coursework, degrees, and programs on the campus. Normally, distance learning uses technologies to deliver instruction and support systems and enable substantive interaction between instructor and student.” 

CAA recommends that colleges and universities develop their own guidelines for distance learning beginning with a clear definition germane to their community. 


Developing Course Content in Distance Learning 

Like all effective pedagogy, developing distance education needs to start from clear course goals and objectives. Faculty and institutions need to consider how each teaching modality offers a unique set of tools, each with its own innate strengths and weaknesses, which should guide their use in what objectives they can best serve. Faculty, staff, and administrators should also discuss whether the material essence of art and design is compatible to the distance learning goals. Simply transferring materials and course structures from traditional classroom instruction to distance education does not take into consideration how these different environments uniquely support differing means of learning. Guided by clear course goals, institutions must support faculty who are exploring new and innovative methods to design courses effectively. This is particularly important in relation to the need to achieve assessable learning objectives through collaborations with distance education specialists and technological support teams, and formal means of peer sharing. As with any similar course offered through a traditional modality, distance learning courses should meet the same educational goals regardless of their means of delivery.   

A syllabus of distance education course should state the following: 

  • Course description, course goals and learning objectives, plan for the semester, grading rubrics 
  • Modality of the class (whether it is a full distance learning course or hybrid course), especially as it relates to the practice and analysis of art and design  
  • The minimum and recommended technical requirements that students will need to participate fully in the course, and if applicable, how much it may cost 
  • Instruction on the particulars of any teaching delivery system, highlighting its strengths and limitations, and offering best practice guides for students to best succeed in the course  
  • Communication methods (if a third-party online tool, including social media, will be used, it also needs to be stated) 
  • Contact information for technical support 
  • Instructor’s online and/or other office hours 
  • Accommodation guidelines for student with disabilities 


Addressing Student Needs in Distance Learning 

Recognizing that each teaching modality has innate strengths and weaknesses, institutions should focus on how each one can best serve the educational outcomes of students’ diverse needs. Students take distance education and traditional courses for a variety of reasons, which institutions should consider when working with faculty, distance education specialists, and technological support teams to design courses and degree programs that best achieve clear educational outcomes. Institutions need to consider the means of delivery of courses to serve different types of student learners, and also, what means will successfully invest students in their studies, majors, general education requirements, and electives. Likewise, institutions need to create an environment in which students have a variety of learning modalities that complement one another, so that students can work with those most effective to helping them achieve each course’s and degree program’s educational goals. Each teaching modality should take into consideration how it can best increase frequent, open, and engaging communication among students, faculty, and experts in their fields to strengthen student learning, research, and professional engagement opportunities. As this implies, it is imperative that distance learning faculty work with distance education and technology specialists in order to establish the student success specific to their institutional context. This additional time for all concerned must be fairly compensated and articulated before the distance learning course is in place. 

Each institution, in consultation with relevant faculty, curriculum committees, and administrators, should establish appropriate faculty/student rations and optimal class sizes based on best practices in each field, such as those recommended by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD) in its Handbook 2018–19, sections II.E.5 and 6. 

In developing new teaching modalities, institutions should pay particular attention to how they will affect students with disabilities and comply with federal educational access guidelines. Attention to how new instructional and research technologies could remove traditional barriers to students should be an institutional priority. Also, particular attention should be placed on ensuring that new technologies do not create further barriers or reinforce existing ones. Distance education specialists should make clear to students and faculty alike how different teaching modalities, through their specific learning environments, favor different learning skills and approaches. This is especially important as distance learning experts continue to acknowledge the ways in which students can avoid active class participation in a digital environment that are different than in the traditional classroom. Faculty and administrators are obligated to create an effective environment that reaches all students. 

Distance education, just as traditional classroom learning, should engage students in academic research and professional development opportunities. Institutions should aid faculty in maximizing access for students to expansive library collections, research databases, virtual museum collections, professional organization offerings, online academic conferencing and seminars, virtual arts exhibitions, and so on. Institutions should also help faculty in developing complementary means for students to contribute to educational goals, such as in internship placements, opening up new arenas in the nascent fields of digital arts and humanities, exploring the potentials for new technologies in their fields, etc. These typically digital methods should contribute to both distance education and the traditional classroom alike. 

Research literature also notes that distance learning may engender a sense of isolation and may affect the sense of community among the students. Institutional efforts to foster strong community building and networking opportunities for students in distance learning courses will be needed. 


Faculty Roles in Distance Learning 

Faculty members throughout CAA’s membership are interested and active in exploring a full diversity of evolving teaching modalities, and institutions need to invest in extending this opportunity to all of its art, art historical, design, and visual studies faculty. Such work requires that faculty collaborate with other higher educational professionals. A close working relationship among faculty, librarians, distance education specialists, and technology support teams, is a hallmark for developing effective distance education. While faculty design courses with clear educational objectives, distance education specialists and technology support staff may be more aware as to what evolving technologies might best serve these objectives. Conversely, while distance education specialists and technology support staff may find particular delivery systems effective generally, they may not understand how successfully these systems mesh with specific disciplinary needs. In this regard, faculty should not be limited to accepting commercial packages from publishers or software vendors that do not adequately meet all of the program’s educational needs, but rather, be educated in the widest breadth of relevant tools to avail what they deem best for their students’ learning and research possibilities. 

Much in the same manner that faculty work with librarians to ensure that students have the necessary resources supporting their studies, faculty need to receive institutional support from digital educational specialists and software developers to create and assess the appropriate tools that will best serve students in achieving their programs’ educational goals. Institutions should provide faculty the means to explore how new teaching modalities and evolving technologies might allow them to achieve educational learning objectives more effectively. Faculty should receive institutional support for learning effective course and program design as well as established and emerging technologies, through their own experiences, those of others in their fields at their own and other institutions, and professional organizations, all with an eye to contributing to a collaborative network of tested best practices. 

Faculty should be fairly compensated for the development of distance learning classes. In this regard, the institution’s role is to support the collaborative consultation and development process as part of the “cost” of distance learning. Such a cost involves time and different kinds of effort, often putting pressure on the faculty not only to learn new content in their field of expertise but also new technologies that can be quite outside the faculty’s field of knowledge. Faculty and administrators should work together before developing a distance learning course or program to articulate clearly how such additional faculty and staff collaborative time will be compensated or otherwise accounted for. As with all curriculum development, distance learning course design and supporting curricular research should be credited as part of a faculty member’s creative/scholarly endeavors in consideration for tenure, promotion, and performance evaluation. 


Intellectual Property 

The role of faculty in course design and intellectual properties needs to be worked out openly and equitably in each institution, involving faculty, teaching assistants, distance education specialists, technology support members, library resource representatives, and administrators. Participants in these discussions should look to a range of useful precedents, such as those in institutional discussions of aligning sections of courses taught by different faculty within a degree program, degree program curriculum discussions, general education discussions, how institutions evaluate and integrate transfer students, intellectual property rights, and so on. Institutions should create an environment in which all participants are invested and fully engaged, considering the delicate balances between intellectual property ownership and opportunities for productive collaboration, financial limitations and program scale, individual course development and programmatic curricular needs, degree program requirements and general education needs, etc., all with an eye for building long-term, sustainable models. To ensure clarity, institutions should publish openly clear documentation on intellectual property rights for distance education courses to all participants. (See also CAA statements and guidelines on Intellectual Property and the Arts at 


Institutional Role in Distance Learning 

Of course, institutions should strive to provide students with full access to all learning materials, such as libraries, databases, etc., regardless of the teaching modality and distance learning is no exception. However, given the inevitable physical distance that is built in to these virtual environments, institutions have a special requirement to attend to supporting the intellectual and infrastructural requirements for effective course delivery. Particularly in courses serving multiple campuses across an educational system, institutions must ensure that all students have access to the same academic materials (this issue typically arises when, for example, campuses across a system have different contracts with major electronic research databases). 

In addressing distance education, institutions should foster a climate in which all teaching modalities expand and contribute to education program requirements, general education goals, and electives as a whole, whether in distance education or traditional classrooms. Recognizing the potentials for new teaching tools in all arenas will promote a greater willingness of faculty to expand the effectiveness of their teaching and engagement of their students in professional research and practices. 


Evaluation of Distance Learning Courses 

Faculty evaluation of course and program effectiveness needs to be built into the learning environment, regardless of the instructional modality, to help assess that stated learning outcomes are being met. Faculty should consult with distance learning as well as technology specialists to educate themselves about the different student expectations and outputs (if any) that may result from their engagement with distance learning. The overall evaluation of the course by faculty and administrators should align closely with these expectations and outputs. This is as much a matter of fairness to the student as it is professionally necessary for the faculty member. Certainly, distance education should not undergo undue scrutiny and bias in an attempt to hold a course to a different standard than traditional classrooms. At the same time, however, different kinds of learning modes will result in different approaches to evaluation that should be thought through carefully before the effectiveness of a course is determined. 

In terms of the faculty, evaluation of faculty effectiveness must remain separated from technological delivery. For example, administrators may not hold faculty accountable when students complain about a course that delivers poorly due to an underfunded digital infrastructure. Likewise, evaluations should differentiate between how they assess faculty in course development versus course instruction, particularly when courses are designed through collaborations with other faculty teaching the same materials in multiple sections for a given course. Institutions need to recognize that the creation of a successful course through effective course design is a separate skill set from the actual practice of teaching that course. In this regard, it is important that department, college, and university administrators develop guidelines for evaluation of faculty who participate in distant learning that are specific to the goals, methods, and expectations of the particular educational environment. (Other CAA guidelines, such as the Guidelines for Evaluating Digital Scholarship in Art and Architectural History, may be helpful complementary resources.) It is expected that all institutions have a written document available to all faculty that articulates the process and expectations for evaluation, with specific language for those institutions engaging in distance learning. 

In conclusion, distance learning has been one of the most exciting developments in universities and colleges in the last two decades. At the same time, it has been met with much trepidation by faculty who are concerned about the apparent lack of rigor in a digital environment. It behooves faculty and administrators committed to distance learning to make the goals and structure of their curriculum clear, something that can be achieved by instituting the practices and procedures articulated above. 


Authors and Contributors

Committee on Guidelines for Distance Education in Art and Design (2018–19): Michael Grillo, University of Maine (chair); Paul Jaskot, Duke University; Charles Kanwischer, Bowling Green State University; Anne Norcross, Kendall College of Art and Design; Hannah Park, University of Kansas; and Virginia Spivey, Independent Art Historian and Educational Consultant.  


National Association of Schools of Art and Design Handbook, 2018-2019, Section III.H. 

Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges: Distance and Correspondence Education