By Rachel Simmons
Making the tutorials helped me better understand how I teach, what I teach, and how I might improve my teaching.
Supported by a grant from the Associated Colleges of the South in 2014, “The Visual Journal Project: Developing Blended Learning Course Design in Studio Art” enabled me to reimagine the entire structure of a studio art course. I did this by “flipping the classroom,” which means that I made some course materials available online to make room for more interactive & community-building work in the studio.
What inspired you to implement this project?
Traditionally, studio art courses are taught in long blocks of time from 2-4 hours in length, to allow for demonstrations, discussions, and individual studio time. These long block are increasingly more difficult for students and faculty to fit into their busy schedules. It just made sense to try to remove the allocation for individual studio time (when an instructor and the presence of other students is not necessarily conducive to productivity) to make room in the studio for discussions and community-building activities.
What were the goals for this project?
I wanted to make the most of our time together in the studio by placing community-building at the center of learning rather than thinking of it as a by-product. I also wanted to spend more time in the studio talking about the work they were making and the processes they were exploring. Visual Journals is a very personal type of art, and most students wish to work on their journals in a more private space anyway. It just made sense to let them work on their own time and utilize our class time to analyze and discuss the work.
Identify the tools used for this project.
Working with Jessica Vargas from instructional technology, we initially explored producing videos and using webinar platforms. Being an artist, however, I wanted to have high-quality images to show the students exactly how to do specific mixed media techniques. I also did not want something that was difficult to navigate or, on my end, difficult to maintain and produce. In the end, we went with something that was very straightforward. I created examples of the techniques in the studio, photographed each step at high resolution with a fixed lens camera, and built these images into a Keynote presentation. I scripted a narrative and added this as a voice over, and the 1-2 presentations were exported as videos that the students can view on the course website.
What pedagogical techniques, strategies, and/or philosophies did you employ?
I approached making the online tutorials just as I would do them in person in the studio. I tried to be very clear, explaining the process both verbally and visually; I also broke the journaling process down into categories and steps. I explained what tools and techniques are most successful for visual journaling and the impact each one has as a strategy for communicating one’s ideas.
What were some of the lessons that you learned from implementing this project?
As video tutorials, my in-studio demonstrations were carefully planned out, and I was able to document the evolution of an entire visual journal spread from start to finish, which I never could have completed in the time we have in class. Making the tutorials also helped me better understand how I teach, what I teach, and how I might improve my teaching. Is was a lot like the ACS Teaching Workshop in that way, during which you are recorded while you teach and then asked to watch it right afterwards. Seeing yourself as a teacher through a documented process allows you to reflect on your performance.
How did this endeavor change your teaching in expected or unexpected ways?
At this moment, I teach two versions of Visual Journals, one for non-majors in the rFLA program, and another as an advanced elective in the studio art major. It’s clear that this project enabled me to learn how to teach Visual Journals more effectively to a broader cross-section of students. It has allowed me to keep the focus on community-building in my courses, and inspired me to do more tutorials for other demonstrations in other studio courses.
What did you change (or would you change) the second time you implemented this project in class?
I was sure to make time in my courses for students to experiment with new techniques each week. Turns out, the students wanted to know more than what the video tutorials had provided. I began to see the tutorials as a way to jump start their ability to produce a journal spread. But in order to maintain their creative interest in the process, the students needed to learn new techniques together along the way.
How did this project impact student learning?
Making time to experiment with new techniques together fit in very nicely with my goal of building community in the classroom, and allowed the students to try just try something out before deciding to incorporate it into their journal. This created a sustained interest in implementing new design strategies over the semester and gave more introverted students an opportunity for less formal interactions with peers, leading to more collaborative learning.
Is there anything in addition that you would share with other faculty about this project?
The success of any blended learning course design depends on having clear goals that relate to improving student learning. In my case, I felt that this course would be much more productive for students if they were engaged in the process in two ways, as individual artists and as part of a community of learners. The balance between the two is the key, as I have found that students are much more likely to retain what they have learned if they have had an emotional connection to the people with whom they were learning.
Note: Professor Simmons videos can be found: http://mediaspace.rollins.edu/