An interesting thing happened during my evaluation
A colleague observed my three dimensional design class recently. Normally I'm observed when I'm giving a lecture or critique but this time I was observed in a regular work period. Students came prepared with maquettes they were working on and I gave them feedback and direction on their designs. The faculty who was observing was a member of my department who teaches graphic design.
I recently had a conversation with a student in my class who is considering changing universities because of issues he is having with the school hockey team of which he is the captain. A number of other schools are actively recruiting this student to play on their teams and he is tempted because many of the players on our team are not committed to the team and he finds this frustrating. He told me that he knows academics come first but was unsure of how our graphic design area would serve him and seemed like he was ready to give up.
It occurred to me during the observation that I could get the graphic design faculty member and this student together and have them work out a solution. My colleague is an excellent salesperson and in the matter of just a few minutes laid out a compelling presentation of our program. I'm not sure if it changed my student's mind but it did give him something to think about and he followed up by visiting my colleague a day or two later.
This course of events has made me consider bringing my introductory level foundations students on visits to advanced courses so they can see the interesting work ahead. Often times the abstract and technical aspects of foundations can be trying on students and it may be helpful for them to look to the future. Keeping the end in mind has the potential to keep students enrolled in art programs when they are experiencing the difficulty of foundations.
Here is an excerpt of a note I post to my students in the first couple weeks of class:
One of the general characteristics of the instructor student interaction is constructive criticism. It may seem, at times, as though your instructors are only giving you feedback on what needs correction instead of what is going very well in your work. This happens naturally when an instructor is trying to help you see something new, or help you develop a concept. If you feel like I (or another faculty member) am only giving you feedback that is critical please feel free to ask me what you are doing well. I try to remember to give positive reinforcement but sometimes I am so focused on pointing out concepts that I forget to encourage. The good work that this class is doing does merit encouragement! Keep up the good work and keep working hard.
On January 5 at 8:48 in the evening I received this text from a former student of mine. She was a student in ART 121 Introduction to drawing. When I saw this message I knew exactly what it meant and it made me smile. She was referring to a moment that I told her would happen. It is a pivotal moment where, in an instant, the training and practice of the drawing course enabled her perception to change. Instead of seeing individual objects in space she began to see the space itself projected in front of her as though it was on an invisible glass. She saw the spatial cues all at once, diagonals converging, scale differences, position, overlaps, detail etc. If you've never had this happen to you then you won't know exactly what I'm writing about. That's okay. But this student was looking for it. I had planted the seeds for this experience while working with her in class. I described it happening while she was working on her drawings. I told her to watch for it, that it would happen. I told her when it happened for me. I was driving down the road (not the best place and time to have a perceptual epiphany) and it struck me how small everything in the distance appeared. I began to see space collapse in the distance perceiving the differences in scale as dramatic, in a way I had never seen before. I saw overlaps, diagonals, textures, all afresh. Simply telling her to look for the experience helped her along the way. It is moments such as these that gives teaching meaning and make it joyful.
You are shopping for a new computer. You notice a model that you want, but there is a problem. The model has a defect. It might be a subtle defect like a single dead pixel, or a scratch. It might be a large defect like a cracked screen, or a large deep scrape along the bottom (not seen when you are using it, but it's still there). Do you buy the system? Maybe. It depends on a few things. Is the defect going to make the system useless, or is it more of a cosmetic problem? Are you going to pay full price for it? No, your are not. You will get a discount because the business knows the same thing you do; that you can buy a similar product in mint condition down the road or online for the same amount of money. Craftsmanship on a design project is no different. If the work of the student has material flaws of some kind I am going to ask for a kind of discount. I'm not buying the product at full price. I'm buying it but at a lower grade.
Student retention is a primary consideration of my employer, SVSU. Student retention is necessary for the economic success of the institution. Even more important are the advantages and skills that students earn while pursuing their degree. In an attempt to create a spirit of collaboration and community (a major factor in student retention) I followed the lead of many excellent institutions around the country and conceived of a large scale art activity tailored for first year students, transfers, and foreign exchange students in art. My criteria for the project was that it would be easy to install, easy to take down, and on a heroic scale necessitating collaborative problem solving. As luck would have it the Marshall Fredericks Museum had open gallery space between exhibitions and with the help of the muesum's dirtector Marilyn Wheaton we were able to secure the gallery space on very short notice. The most remarkable part of the experience for me was watching the students (most of whom had only been in college for a week) spontaneously apply some of the basic principles of design on a large scale. It was also clear that students were having fun working together, creating both images and friendships.
all images courtesy of Kyle Will
Tomorrow students will be turning in their first assignments for Introduction to Drawing. The assignment is primarily concerned with the spatial cue of overlap and has secondary areas of technical focus such as drawing transparently, taking multiple considered attempts at shape, and use of plumb and level lines. I gave my students the option to email me an image of their work over the long MLK weekend with the promise that I would respond with suggested corrections. Four out of twenty-three students responded. The colors, shapes and numbers correspond to written (emailed) analysis and suggestions for improvement. I don't believe that responding to large numbers of student emails would be immediately practical. However, I can imagine posting two or three images in a chat room with corresponding text so that students who are struggling in the same way would be able to see potential corrections on their own work. There might be a way to create a legend, or common comments to make a correspondence grading/review process less cumbersome. I am also considering showing these analysis images during critique so that students can see the earlier states of these drawings as well as the corrections. My favorite thing about this process is that I can make adjustments on the image without marking the actual surface, something that many students seem to be bothered by even if I ask permission. The combination of written and diagrammatic analysis leaves little open to misinterpretation.
I think my default grading system was borne out of the fear and insecurity of being a new teacher and until recently I have left that default unchecked. I’ve always accessed grades critically, or more to my point in this reflection, negatively. That is to say that I imagined each project grade starting at 100%. I diligently applied my rubric as a means to justify points that I subtracted from the initial score of 100. Having been acutely aware of grades in my graduate course I thought it proper to give the benefit of the doubt to the student and to be able to justify anything that would take away points from their A or B. I now think my approach was absolutely backward. I realized that it made me look for where I could take points away from the student, and created comments and feedback that were more negative and less uplifting than they should have been. If, conversely, I began at zero and focused on allocating points for where students succeeded, then my attention, comments and energy would be directed in a purely positive direction. The grade would then be more about earning points than it is about taking points away. In fact, it makes perfect sense to start at zero because students are in the business of learning and achieving, not forgetting and muddling.
I think that my default grading philosophy actually resulted in higher grades and less happy/interested students.
I realized that I was repeating comments and corrections while grading a recent two dimensional design assignment. The students were instructed to make four designs total incorporating and illustrating the concepts of imbalance, asymmetrical balance, axial balance, and radial balance. It occurred to me that while many students made designs that incorporated these concepts, a large number simply executed descriptive diagrams, i.e. they understood the concept but did not apply it to the design process. I've come to the conclusion that my assignment was not clear enough at outlining the desired outcome in the first place. The solution is to accept error as a call for correction and to immediately adapt the assignment sheet for subsequent classes. I also plan on reflection periods after each assignment even if they seem to go well. In this way I hope to continuously improve my assignments.
I have started keeping the original assignment document open while I grade. I make changes in the assignment as they naturally occur to me during the grading process. For example I kept writing comments in a margin on one part of the assignment sheet. I solved this problem by adding spacing for comments in the body of the document.
I've started giving my students five to ten minutes after group critiques to reflect ruminate and write about what was said, learned and experienced. Critiques always bring to mind many thoughts and ideas that tend to disappear into the ether of the mind. I'd like them to formulate and synthesize their thoughts so they are less likely to forget their impressions. I was surprised at how diligently they responded to my writing request which was purely for their own benefit and not for credit. Reading their reflections is also a way for me to continue to self-evaluate my teaching approach. In one course I had several students write that they would have like to have known how other students were solving technical issues that they themselves were having. This gave me the opportunity to encourage friendship, collaboration, and use of chat rooms for group problem solving and information sharing. I'm hoping that I can transition the virtual classroom space (currently Vspace @ SVSU) into a much more vital and useful platform.