After witnessing numerous undergraduates and graduate students, as well as professionals stumble in rudimentary tasks particular to their field, I realized basic fundamentals that are paramount, are not always learned. To counter this, I have developed a student-centered pedagogy focusing on active learning through a repetition of lectures, critical thinking exercises, reading assignments and creative projects. This method has been successful in teaching complicated technical and abstract problems, especially to those not predisposed to such ideas. On the first day of class I start building a rapport with students. Humor and a relaxed but structured introduction help set a positive tone for the semester. Such an environment facilitates discussion, encourages students to ask questions, and fosters productive critiques. By assigning group projects at the start of a semester, students have a chance to get comfortable with the class, their fellow classmates and the subject matter. The peer group plays a crucial part of the process, and I encourage students to assist each other not only in my class, but throughout their college careers. At the community college level the population is extremely diverse. I have had teenagers, learning disabled, and senior citizens in the same class. Patience is key, obviously all students do not learn at the same rate. However, through positive reinforcement and reiterating the material in a unique and personal way, I have had success teaching such socially vulnerable groups. I encourage students to contact me using email if they have questions. Additionally, I maintain a website which students can access at: robertdanielflowers.com for syllabi, information about projects, class materials, and current class schedule.
At the risk of sounding cliché, critical thinking is emphasized in all class discussions. For example, in a culture of nearly absolute media saturation, the ability to analyze imagery in depth is absolutely essential to sift through the barrage and arrive at logical interpretations. Rather than merely accept what is seen, students are asked to consider: Who created it? Why was it created? How was it created? What is its significance? How does it stand apart? What is the implication of these questions regarding a students own work? By means of such queries, my goal is to foster ingenuity. Emphasis is placed on whatever method is required for a specific task. In other words, any technology (analog or digital), or methodology that benefits the final result is appropriate. I believe it is important for students to understand that there is not simply one approach or one overriding discipline in artistic expression. I encourage students to choose their own creative path. However, I emphasize that learning the basic fundamentals are necessary to fully grasp a particular medium or discipline. With exponential change happening ubiquitously, largely due to technological leaps, many innovative New Media options have surfaced for the artist. The rise of digital revolution has democratized image making, giving admission to those who were formerly shut-out. I encourage all students to utilize this new found autonomy.
It is important for a New Media Arts program to maintain a technologically advanced facility to stay on the cutting edge of emerging art forms. This became evident as an instructor and as a student, witnessing projects being produced by means of an antiquated toolset. Through my understanding of classroom technology, combined with professional experience, I am exceedingly confident in my ability to recommend and make decisions regarding software, and hardware needs as they arise. In a culture of exponential change, it is imperative that I remain vigilant and prepared for adaption to modern devices as they become available. I teach this philosophy in the classroom, instilling a level of competency in desktop hardware and software, as well as maintenance and troubleshooting skills. In my experience, a student who understands and can manipulate modern technology has a significant edge in the marketplace.
While successful learning outcomes may be difficult to quantify in the arts, success in implementing my pedagogy can be seen in my students work. Most recently in my Video Art class during the spring of 2013 at Florida State University. Throughout the course, students worked on group and individual projects under my supervision and independently. They demonstrated comprehension of the basic concepts and ingenuity in their art. The works were quite astute, consisting of animation, live-action, computer graphics, and found footage. Many of them are viewable on my website. Also, during the Winter Quarter of 2012 I taught a graduate seminar at Ohio State’s Advanced Computing Center for the Arts and Design. The primary objective of the course was the formative critique of MFA projects and to refine the methodological process. The majority were having issues with certain aspects of their projects, slowing or even halting progress in some cases. However, after numerous critiques I successfully demonstrated that a mediums basic fundamentals still play an indispensable role, even for graduate students. I managed to foster a think-out-of-the-box approach as opposed to the more rigid production oriented methodologies the students were accustomed to. As a result, student progress was affected positively.
As an educator I have a responsibility and obligation which also follows me outside of the classroom. In events such as gallery openings or lectures, I do not lose sight that I am a representative of an institution for higher learning and maintain a professional relationship with the public. On or off campus my relationship with students maintains its symmetry.
My pedagogy is malleable. As new theories and technologies surface, the best aspects are incorporated and those which no longer hold merit, discarded. Humor and patience are timeless, and I continue to use them in the classroom to great effect. Ultimately, my educational goal is to imbed critical thinking skills and the basic fundamentals of a students discipline deep into their psyche…Lest they forget. (4-4-14)