California College of the Arts thriving in adversity


Fostering creativity through immersive experiences

Over the course of its more than 100-year history, California College of the Arts (CCA) has become one of the premier art and design schools in the U.S. Founded in the wake of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake to teach skills like illustration, drawing, and painting, the school has since grown to encompass a multidisciplinary field of arts including architecture, design, film, writing, and more.

California College of the Arts San Francisco campus
California College of the Arts San Francisco campus.

CCA serves nearly 2,000 students across its two campuses in San Francisco and Oakland. Designed to be open and collaborative, these spaces give students the opportunity to work closely with a variety of media, encouraging them to come up with hybrid fields of study and gain exposure to the full spectrum of theory, practice, and creation. In this way, it seeks to fulfill its goal of helping each student “gain the creative confidence and entrepreneurial skills needed for contemporary creative practice.”


Moving an entire college curriculum online

With an educational model grounded in hands-on, experiential learning, CCA had previously made only limited efforts at online teaching. However, like so many other organizations, when the pandemic hit in March 2020, they were suddenly forced to shut down their campuses. Nearly from the ground up, they had to come up with a way to make all of their classes fully remote.

To solve this challenge, CCA needed a way to:

Support interactive and visual style of existing instruction remotely

As an arts school, a huge part of CCA’s curriculum is the critique. Whether they are studying fine arts, design, or architecture, students bring in examples of their work for both instructors and fellow classmates to provide commentary and feedback. Maintaining this real-time interactivity was, well, critical.

Accommodate the various needs of a diverse curriculum

No one classroom is the same. This is especially true at CCA, where students may be creating ceramics, editing short films, designing buildings, conducting research, or working in multiple different mediums. Some classes may be more focused on basic instructions, with a more lecture-based model, while others may be built around more individual study. And, of course, teaching styles will vary as well. All of this needed to remain supported as CCA moved remote.

Manage logistics of transferring thousands of students and hundreds of faculty to a fully remote model

The size of CCA’s student and faculty body, as well as the speed with which they had to implement a remote model, made it impossible for IT staff to manually build out a digital workspace for everyone. They needed a quick and intuitive solution they could adopt instantly.

We never anticipated the concept of going fully online, or even a significant percentage of our courses. It was certainly a challenging time. It was very sudden. In the middle of a normally functioning spring semester, everyone went home. Classes moved online immediately. Classes that had no online presence suddenly had to exist online. It was an emergency all hands on deck.

Daniel Ransom
Daniel Ransom
Instructional Services Librarian
California College of the Arts


Making remote learning less intimidating — even fun

CCA used Mural to quickly and seamlessly transition the breadth of their courses into fully collaborative and interactive remote workspaces. This allowed them to adapt to the immediate challenges of the pandemic, helping give both their students and faculty a sense of normalcy during challenging times. Here’s how they did it:

Got faculty up to speed instantly with workshops

As CCA ramped up its remote learning strategy, the school held video workshops in order to introduce faculty to the basics of using Mural. This support, along with Mural's intuitive design, was key in quickly helping faculty get comfortable with using a new tool to create and manage their curriculums.

[.rt-callout-blue]👉  Check out CCA's community of practice video highlighting how different faculty members used Mural.[.rt-callout-blue]

Structured Mural workspaces around different school divisions 

Once faculty were up to speed, CCA staff organized their Mural instance around humanities and science, architecture, design, and fine arts. Despite the size and scope of what they needed from Mural, this gave CCA a manageable structure to work with. From there, faculty could invite students and other teachers to their murals, freeing staff from the burden of ongoing management and giving faculty free rein to use and build out their digital workspaces as they saw fit.

Organized sessions to show off Mural examples and inspire faculty

As more students and faculty began integrating Mural into their classrooms, CCA staff kept track of active users. To encourage further engagement and spur creativity, they invited select faculty to show off how they were using Mural to support and augment their digital classrooms. These sessions have become an ongoing feature and consistent source of inspiration for faculty.

A big part of why Mural got adopted quickly by our faculty and embraced is the critique. Whether they’re in fine arts or design, students are bringing in examples of their work and faculty and other students are providing commentary and feedback. This is public. It happens live and is interactive. MURAL is very well set up for this. It’s essentially natural in MURAL to do a very similar thing in a digital environment.

Daniel Ransom
Daniel Ransom
Instructional Services Librarian
California College of the Arts



Withstood challenge of pandemic and switch to remote

With minimal assistance, faculty and students alike quickly embraced the basics of using Mural and immediately began exploring the possibilities of digital-first visual collaboration. Despite the challenges of moving their educational model completely online, CCA was able to create a natural and comfortable learning experience shortly after the pandemic disrupted in-person teaching. 

Supported inclusivity and engagement

Whether used to support remote classes or integrated into hybrid and in-person courses later on, CCA has leveraged Mural's visual workspaces to make instruction more engaging, collaborative, and inclusive. For example, interactive brainstorming sessions increase student accountability by allowing them to see each other’s work in real-time, while the asynchronous nature of Mural's digital whiteboards makes it easy for students to revisit the notes, critiques, or experience of the classroom.

Enhanced broader educational goals

With Mural now embedded into both remote and in-person classrooms, CCA instructors and students have continued to use it to come up with new ways of fostering creativity, curiosity, and resilience. One of the most promising applications has been independent student group work. By using Mural to share work and collaborate on ideas, students can successfully shape and drive their own learning outcomes, rather than relying completely on faculty guidance.

For student group work, where they have to work collaboratively on a project, they can create their own Mural board and use it to build content and share it collaboratively peer to peer. […] That’s the sort of thing that can successfully mimic a professional working environment, which I think is great for students.

Daniel Ransom
Daniel Ransom
Instructional Services Librarian
California College of the Arts

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