Philosophy of Teaching
As a photography, new media, and time-based art instructor, my objective is to help students develop an artistic voice that is both informed and innovative. I aim to introduce students to art history, theory, and contemporary practice; encourage critical thinking; and help students find their own unique ways to approach art. To these ends, I have formulated and continue to refine strategies to guide my behavior in the classroom.
To have full artistic freedom, students must gain a complete understanding of their tools from a technical standpoint. Technical proficiency involves an understanding of how and why things work the way they do, such as the chemical processes involved in creating a photographic print in the darkroom or the way a sensor within a digital camera responds to light. I create experiences for my students that make technical concepts understandable and exciting. For example, when discussing how a camera works in Introduction to Photography, my students visit a room on campus that was recently converted to a camera obscura or take apart inexpensive cameras to study their inner workings. I recognize that each student learns differently, so I also use a combination of visually rich slide lectures, readings, technical assignments, and one-on-one meetings to facilitate each student’s understanding of techniques.
Developing a relationship with each of my students allows the opportunity to learn about their unique backgrounds and interests. This knowledge helps me to connect them with concepts introduced in class or to introduce avenues for outside research. For example, if a student is passionate about video games, I might introduce artist Cory Arcangel’s hacked game cartridges, share literature regarding gaming theory, and discuss ways the student might incorporate personal interests into class assignments. By providing such individual attention, students are encouraged to address their concerns through art.
While encouraging the pursuit of individual interests, I also seek to push students out of their comfort zones. One way to accomplish this is to expose them to approaches and ideas about art that might be new or antithetical to their own. For instance, a student who champions modernist ideals may be asked to give a presentation on an artist such as Penelope Umbrico who appropriates images from advertisements. I also create or modify assignments for specific students to challenge their tendencies or habits. As a case in point, I recently had a photography student whose work involves intimate portraits of his friends and family members. I challenged the student to photograph a group of strangers, an exercise that caused him to consider how his relationship to a subject may influence his approach and the final appearance of his portraits.
Art students in the digital age are exposed to programs and tools that are rapidly evolving, and they must learn to adapt quickly. I encourage students not to fear new technology and to approach unfamiliar software or instruments with a playful, experimental attitude. When introducing new techniques or software, I set aside class time for students to experiment, make mistakes, and ask questions. In addition to presenting technical material, I introduce resources such as tutorial websites to help them acclimate to change and develop problem-solving strategies for use outside the classroom. As an instructor of artistic processes that utilize digital technology, I continue to keep up with developments in tools and software by attending workshops and participating in online courses through sites such as Lynda.com.
To encourage critical thinking in the classroom, I introduce Dr. Terry Barrett’s critical method that involves describing, interpreting, evaluating, and engaging in theoretical discussions about works of art. My students use this method to address works by significant historical and contemporary artists introduced in class. After exposure to Barrett’s method, students begin to uncover significance within the works they encounter, which prepares them to use art to communicate their ideas. In addition to responding to artworks presented in class, my students engage in discussions regarding their own artistic methods, inspirations, research, and intentions. Students also participate in class critiques in which they continue to develop ideas and improve their work through peer discussion.
I want my students to consider a world beyond the classroom and the various ways in which they might contribute to society through art. Thus, I arrange activities to extend the scope of classroom activity and encourage community involvement. For example, my students work in the public gallery on campus, volunteer at the local community arts center, or lend their creative talents to various service initiatives on campus. I also provide opportunities for my students to share their work in public at the conclusion of each studio course. This real-world challenge gives them practice in preparing work for exhibition and asks them to consider a public audience. My teaching goals include developing more service-learning activities and assignments for my students.
I continue to refine my teaching strategies based on feedback from students and by assessing my students’ work. I check in with students throughout each studio course to see how they are responding to my methods. Each class dynamic is different, and I have learned to adapt my methods and class activities based on the needs of a particular group. I can be confident that my methods have been successful if students produce work that reflects their unique interests, displays a level of comfort with techniques, reflects outside research to support their ideas, and generates interest in continuing artistic investigations beyond class. In addition to evaluating student feedback, I improve my teaching by attending workshops and observing other faculty members teach whenever possible.
I maintain an active research practice in conjunction with teaching, pursuing my own artistic interests outside the classroom and actively exhibiting my creative work in the community and around the country. An ongoing examination of art in a historical, theoretical, and contemporary context is also integral to my research practice. Teaching is an opportunity to share my experiences and ongoing discoveries and to expose students to the possibilities of expression through art. In 2010 my teaching efforts were rewarded with the Ohio State Mansfield Campus Excellence in Teaching Award, a recognition given to a faculty member for stimulating student interest. I am excited to continue improving as a teacher and cultivating student excitement toward art at The Ohio State University Mansfield.
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