Julian Bleecker on Sat, 15 Dec 2007 02:49:26 +0100 (CET)

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Re: <nettime> Perhaps a way of teaching media

Regarding this nuggets of teaching practice for new media, I whole- 
heartedly agree with what Alan has written. One of the challenges I've  
found, which has been particularly disheartening and discussed here  
previously, particularly in US-based programs such as the one I teach  
in (Interactive Media Division, University of Southern California), is  
the expectation and emphasis (not my doing certainly) for rather rote  
vocational skills. That is, students expect to learn tools. They don't  
want to explore tools, they want to know how they can "apply" them to  
the kinds of tasks they imagine they will have to do in the job market.

So..there's that to contend with.

I only mention this because it's a very real contingency that shifts  
the dynamic in the classroom away from exploration. Sadly, many  
students see school as a kind of technical "finishing" that prepares  
them for the jobs they need to service the enormous debt they're  
usually burdened with. Who could blame them?

If there were an item to be added here I would emphasize the  
importance of teachers always learning something new themselves. My  
mentor and dissertation advisor mentioned once (snickering which makes  
me wonder if she intended for me to take her seriously) that you  
should teach things you are just now learning — just stay a little bit  
ahead of the students. I've found this one of the things that keeps me  
engaged in the material. I feel more invigorated and have the same  
freshness to a topic as the students do. This speaks to Alan's remark  
about equal footing. It's actually engaging to learn together, if you  
can fold the students who expect that their teachers are experts.  
(Teachers can also be experts as ways to learn and ways to approach  
new things — which I think should be the high watermark. This is far  
more important and ultimately the thing that must be conveyed to  
students. Far more important than being an expert in specific practice  
areas like video or, I don't know, mobile or bioart.)

Finally, I wonder hard about the studio model of learning interactive  
media. Once I ran the numbers to guesstimate what a typical MFA  
student in this program here at USC spends and my knees buckled. I  
thought about what could be done with that money and thought about a  
curriculum that ran basically a different sort of orbit — a  
distributed model of learning, only good for a particularly ambitious,  
independent learner. There's no fixed center of learning in the  
traditional sense. Rather a distributed faculty and a more immersive  
involvement with the media arts community. Note that this is rather  
hypothetical. The students here are in the hole for around $40k-$50k/ 
year — so assume instead of that money going to supply the football  
coach with a new sports car every year or to maintain the Dean's  
salary, it were "free and clear" of institutional taxes. In other  
words, if some student — young or old —  had that money to spend for  
three years (many do not and are forced to borrow it) and wanted to  
become part of the media arts community, what might be a way to do it?

Year 1 — Circulate. Attend the international new media arts/music/ 
video festivals, workshops, year-end shows throughout the year. I  
figure you can be at one of these at least every 6-8 weeks. In between  
a rigorous curriculum of readings across the canon of art history,  
media history, anthropology, technical documentation, design journals  
and fictions. Along the way, studio visits and informal cafe  
conversations with distributed faculty.

Year 2 — Create. Explore and create using whatever means the student  
finds compelling. Emulate work seen. Riff on existing creativity.  
Start a "conversation" with a specific area of media practice and  
circulate/articulate within that community. Ultimately find something  
fresh. Plan for participating actively in that community by  
contributing to the conversation, whether in words or in expressive  

Year 3 — Participate. Contribute to that specific media community by  
submitting or facilitating. Propose to run a workshop at events/ 
festivals or contribute some work to a conference or exhibition.

At the end, I feel that engaging through a more immersed involvement  
with the new media/media arts community will be a much more effective  
way of becoming a sustaining practitioner, or at least a journeyman.  
Students will have learned how to be an active participant and learn  
how to assert themselves and, hopefully, learn how to learn.


Julian Bleecker

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