Like many educators, Dramatic Media Professor Shannon Ivey knew that returning to campus after spring break—or shortly after—wasn’t going to happen. With COVID-19 came quarantine and uncertainty. For filmmakers there was one main question: How can we use this outbreak to create powerful content?
“I had a gut feeling we would be teaching online, so I restructured all three of my classes to include a video response to their experiences during COVID-19,” Ivey said. “I told them to start recording their experiences from the very beginning. As such, each of my classes is completing video essays, documentary shorts, or short films about their experiences. I was opportunistic about our collective experience and tried to give them an artistic reason to keep going. I have already seen a few of them and they are quite good.”
Most of Ivey's students completed either a 5- to 10-minute docu-short (which involves many, many of hours of pre-production, production, and post production) or a full-length feature film script that's expected to be no less than 90 to 110 pages. The entire Dramatic Media Department will be opening a virtual ExpressFest, their version of TLU's annual Student Academic Symposium, sometime next week that will feature all student work.
Ivey personally understands just how hard, and sometimes devastating, this experience has been for students—especially for seniors who’ve had their college careers cut short.
“When I was a junior at the University of Incarnate Word, my brother died,” she said. “That spring semester I got all As. I know I didn’t earn all As, so I went to Sister Germain, the nun for our department, and asked her what happened. She told me that it was the practice of the Sisters of Charity to give an ‘A’ to any student who experienced a traumatic event during the semester, who completed their work, and still made it to the finish line-regardless of rigor. She called it a ‘Life A.’”
Ivey says that gesture meant more to her than any other single experience she had at UIW. Inspired by her own experience, she said she made a nun-pact with her students that if they made it to the finish line with this project, they would get a “Life A” in her class.
“I’ll probably get in trouble for just handing out As, but I will stand by my decision,” she said. “Our students have been to war this semester and the ones who are still standing have accomplished what many could not. I have a student who composed papers on her phone. This same student had two family members come down with COVID-19. She still came to class. She has earned a ‘Life A.' Oddly, by alerting the students upfront about the 'nun-pact' it relieved the pressure of making a perfect grade during lockdown and turned their attention toward making good art—which, in my opinion, is where it should be. Our students really rose to the occasion and we could not be more proud.”