This Morning . . .
This morning my husband points to a TV news story about a little girl who survives a fatal car crash and walks off, barefoot in the snow, to escape. I pull over a chair to watch an interview with the police officer--a pregnant woman--who arrived later on the scene and noticed the baby shoes and tippie-cup in the car and realized that there must be a child somewhere.
It is tempting to believe . . .
It is tempting to believe that this child is what was in danger of being ignored. But, in fact, she was chosen, out of thousands of stories, to reach a national news audience, bringing with her messages about what it is to be female, to be lucky, to be mothered, to be saved. As a teacher, perhaps I help students piece together things the detectives miss--how meaning is communicated, beyond fundamental signification, in a variety of media, through a myriad choices, and how power and visuality become related in our lives. Whether we are viewing a news broadcast on television, visiting a fine art exhibit at a local museum, or exploring a collection of net art on Rhizome, we are following the scene—the baby’s shoes, the rattle, and the cup, into cultural consciousness.
In the process of study . . .
In the process of study, we as artists/students/teachers are also thinking about what kind of art we want to make ourselves, what we want to say, and how we're going to say it—consciously, ethically, effectively, experimentally. Teaching Media Arts and Visual Literacy with degrees in both Visual Art and English, I hope students will find new ways to combine technology, art, language, and theory: to work beyond conventional limits, poach other academic domains, push technologies, mutate across knowledges; and in the middle of it all, to discover the individual voice and artistic process--the center with respect to which everything spins out and comes back. It is the only thing we know when we’re sitting at the conference table with a new client or proposing a commissioned work for a gallery.
My work as a teacher . . .
My work as a teacher is to create an environment that makes this kind of investigation possible. I am intensely interested in the individual and in process, how each student approaches creativity and critical thinking. All classroom “presentations” of information are interactive and involve class discussion as well as a variety of media; but more importantly, I ask students to share with the class their ideas in brainstorming and planning stages, so that “public learning” can take place: we can be part of each other's struggles and inquiries, rather than merely functioning as an audience for a finished product and critique. I am asking them to do a difficult thing: “to struggle in front of the class”, because we all learn from that articulation. This public sharing is voluntary, so that we can also respect the part of the process in which it's important to protect the gestation of ideas. But all students are usually eager to have their works-in-progress become the center of public dialogue, to receive input, and think about their artistic problems in cultural and historical contexts. Optionally, they are always free to come talk with me privately, and they are required to sign up for individual consultations at least twice each semester--a good opportunity for career advice as well as class work discussion. The longer I teach, the more I believe that learning is less about lectures and more about individual connections with students.
Although I provide each assignment and set of grading criteria in handouts so that expectations are clear, students have a great deal of room to shape every assignment and “take ownership of it.” For example, I might ask students to research a historical event of their choice, write a paper, and create a CD-ROM about it. But this is not so easy. In the process, I want them to think, not only about why they have chosen a particular event and how and why it will be represented interactively, but also what constitutes an “event”, how we structure history and narratives, and what voices and perspectives might become part of a new telling of this story. Even when I’m teaching applied aesthetics (e.g., in conjunction with interface design or page layout), I ask students to think critically about the choices they make.
Since beginning my college teaching career in 1991 . . .
I have reflected on the model professors who have shaped my own learning experiences: They were role models, leaders, respected scholars, integrated people in their communities. They were passionately engaged with their fields, sincerely connected with their students, and wholly committed to the standards they knew we could achieve. I hope that I am able to represent these qualities in my own teaching practice.
See also Why I Chose Vermont College