Teachers serve as catalysts for their students’ growth—helping students develop their own visions and facilitating learning situations that foster discernment and develop skill sets empowering students to translate their visions into media that others can observe. For me, art is a sensorial strategy for germinating, expressing and interpreting ideas. Artists interpret the ideas and potentialities of a culture to locate meaning and promote civic engagement. As an artist, I use computers, sensors, maps, and video technology—media ubiquitous in our culture, as tools to examine and understand the world. As a teacher, I create opportunities for students to discover and to share their own distinctive voices using available technologies to create art and to cultivate an active awareness of the physical and conceptual worlds as well as the larger community. My pedagogical approach encourages students to use the technological media reflectively rather than iteratively.
Producing digital work involves multi-dimensional problem solving. To create digital work, students must understand and demonstrate proficiency in the technology and inject that expertise into their design process to communicate an idea. Each phase of this process requires students to problem solve. If concepts and ideas do not drive the work, even in the presence of a visually compelling design, the disconnect results in a lack of communication. I invite students to look at how other academic disciplines problem-solve by assigning projects where the outcome is a piece of art, but the methodology might be more akin to science and the understanding of systems. Students not only diversify their repertoire of ways to approach the translation and transformation of abstract ideas into visual (and perhaps aural) manifestations of information, but also develop a better appreciation of how others apprehend the world.
Technology offers students a potentially rich vocabulary to address issues relevant to our culture. Learning and applying this new vocabulary to art making can be overwhelming, requiring students to recognize and navigate their own creative processes, which are often unacknowledged and still evolving. I nurture this synthesis by urging students to develop a working definition of art and to describe and document their creative process through written personal observation and narratives published on blogs and wikis, thus grafting their a priori, intuitive knowledge about art-making onto a digital environment. Another aspect of “becoming digital” is situating one’s work within a broader context of contemporary culture and the wider community. Reading and discussing writings on topics such as sustainability, geography, anthropology, critical theory, conceptual art, economics, science fiction, etc. not only expands and enriches the vocabulary of ideas that potentially inform the content of students’ work, but also spawns an environment conducive to the hybridization of ideas to create new possibilities.
When I teach, I endeavor to foster a student-centered environment that stresses multimodal instruction and critical thinking with the goal that students will develop life-long strategies and methods for learning technical knowledge and creating their own processes. In addition to lecture/demonstration and collaborative examination of work in the form of critique, students work individually and in small groups on problems that focus on expressing content using a particular element of art and on a larger scale, projects that tell a story or answer a question. Often, I orchestrate learning situations that result in projects where students collaborate with organizations across the university and in the local community, shadowing physical plant employees and uncovering the hidden infrastructure of our campus or learning about manatee ecology through a mapping project with the Florida Sea Grant. As preparation for a project, students read and analyze theoretical texts, learn relevant technical skills, observe technical processes in the “real world” through field trips as well as learn about how other artists employ new technologies in their work.
When a mentor listens and reflects upon a student’s work, and remains flexible with respect to a student’s or a class’ needs, greater student development emerges. I cultivate a relationship with students as a class and as individuals, providing constructive feedback on work and ideas and technical remediation when necessary. Although students are constantly exposed to technology in their everyday lives, often the process of creating work with software and electronics can be daunting especially in the beginning. I find value in the knowledge gained by struggling technically and conceptually to realizing one’s vision with a limited set of tools. Important, too, is the evidence of ideation in a completed product. To facilitate this balance between the journey and the outcome, students work on small bite-sized assignments that target specific technical skills that are additive and can be later applied to more substantial projects. At the beginning of the semester in my Image Processes course, students explore how an environment can be influenced by different types of lenses. In a later assignment, students build pinhole cameras or make their own lenses for digital cameras and create a video or animation of landscape change.
I find that opportunities for learning between teachers and students are reciprocal. Classroom interaction informs my pedagogy and my studio practice. Applying a transdisciplinary approach to my process benefits me as an artist, but also influences the classes I teach because the parameters of how one accesses art-making are expanded, creating potentials for collaboration and meaning. So, while I acknowledge and fully engage myself in my role as mentor, I also remain a “student” of ideas, art, the world, and technology. I bring this openness and inquisitiveness and experimentation into each teaching opportunity, remaining connected to the learning process myself.