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<nettime> Perhaps a way of teaching media
Alan Sondheim on Thu, 13 Dec 2007 22:54:38 +0100 (CET)


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<nettime> Perhaps a way of teaching media


Perhaps a way of teaching media

(I've been filling in for a couple of film courses at Brown University, 
and this has led me to think through distributed knowledge in an 'open' 
classroom, and how that plays out. The courses were, I think, extremely 
successful. I've been partly inspired by two artist/teachers from the 
1970s-80s: David Askevold at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, 
and Lutz Presser at the Tasmanian School of Art. Neither of them taught in 
any conventional sense; both had a sense of student professionalism and 
'being' that created outstanding works and environment. So below is just 
some thinking about all of this; it's hardly original. it seems to work 
well for me and my students, most of the time. There are also times I'm a 
miserable, neurotic failure, but that's another issue, and not necess- 
arily related.)

1 In terms of authority - everyone in the class, including the teacher, on 
equal footing. I think authority comes from knowledge, not titles, formal- 
ity, etc. This is hard to do within an institution where power is the 
fundamental backdrop of the classroom, but I've done it as much as poss- 
ible.

2 Distributed knowledge among students and faculty. In many areas, partic- 
ularly those dealing with digital and popular culture, students are often 
more knowledgeable than faculty. This is especially true with software - 
students are apt to have used and hacked programs I haven't. Knowledge is 
distributed and students and faculty work together, empower each other. 
The classroom becomes a holarchic space of production, exploration, and 
critique. I have to recognize that what I know, in many areas, is already 
outdated.

3 No assignments except for technical in the beginning which may or may 
not be completed. Students find their own paths through the class, subject 
matter, and production. Students who are confused or aren't motivated 
should be helped along, of course; the more collaborative the class is, 
the more these students might be carried forward within a general atmos- 
phere of communality. This area might be the most difficult - how to work 
with unmotivated or reticent students - but I've found there are almost 
always workarounds; at times, students might even ask for assignments or 
help with content and/or media.

4 Learning equally from students as students from you. This goes along 
with distributed knowledge; there's also distributed learning. If I'm not 
learning, I'm not teaching well; if the class seems closed in this 
respect, I'm doing something wrong.

5 Students/faculty = equal participants. Again, this plays out against the 
backdrop of fundamental power, but that power should be deconstructed as 
much as possible. Along with this - try to interest as many other faculty 
as possible in the course (I've not been so successful here), and encour- 
age students to bring outsiders in as well. Obviously there are limits on 
this, but in general it works well.

6 Students treated as artists/writers/filmmakers to to the fullest extent 
possible. The most successful classes I've seen are those in which stu- 
dents are considered as producers in their own right. If I begin with the 
idea that what a student is doing isn't 'student work,' more often than 
not, I've found that students rise to the occasion.

7 "Professional" advice. Discussing art-making after university - how to 
present, distribute, survive, both online and offline. Encouraging stu- 
dents to submit work to suitable venues, organize screenings or exhibi- 
tions, etc. I've also encouraged students to do their own media/art 
history as much as possible; what's current is what is/will become the 
student's environment, once she leaves university. I've tended to share my 
own work/experiences in class to a limited extent, trying to keep students 
from stylistic influence.

8 Students are free to work on whatever, including sliding into other 
genres, media. Since the work is student-determined, ostensible class 
content might not be the most suitable for a particular project. Instead 
of dropping the project, perhaps change it, or change media.

(I feel I'm not presenting this stuff as well as I should be; others have 
done a far better job of it. The main points are both a kind of withdrawal 
on the part of the teacher, and an emphasis on distributed learning and 
production on the part of the class as a whole. This doesn't work for 
everyone in all situations - but when it does, the results are amazing in 
so many ways.)


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