Modernizing Art 1 (part 1 – background)

This is a short series of articles on my work with the Art 1 class in Spring of 2012. I shall undoubtedly revise this as I work to find a voice and as I work through all of the information. This first post is about the background and goals of the class.


The class description from the catalog:

Vocational opportunities available in the fields of art and design. Resident and guest faculty, including alumni, visiting artists and designers as guest speakers. Misc/Lab: Lab 2 hours.

and a descriptions of the objectives from a previous syllabus:

This class is designed to provide an orientation to the disciplines within the School of Art and Art History for professional careers available through art. It is an introductory course best suited for students in the early stages of their studies in the field. The goal is to broaden your horizons and to provide you with new visions of what your life might be like should you pursue one of the fields of study offered here. All of us make choices based on the information we have at the time we make the choices. This class will provide you with timely information as you elect classes and majors in art and art history. Weekly presentations may include one or more guest speakers including faculty, recent graduates, and professionals from the field who will give presentations about their own work and disciplines. Weekly class time may also include in-class discussions, or relevant film/video offerings. The presentations will provide advisement information for students pursuing BA and BFA degrees at SJSU and at the same time will give insights into the lives of the artists, scholars, and other professionals who will be speaking to the class.

How useful does this look? Fun?  I think what happened was that this class settled over time into a comfortable presentation style and the other documentation aligned with the methodology. Not that I think that any instructor did anything less than a great job teaching it.

The class ended up being one of the most diverse classes I have ever taught, with a size-able body of freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors.  The problem is the the curriculum was originally designed to be taken by incoming freshmen to acquaint them with the art department and their options in art/design/animation (before animation and design split off).

The largest group of students in my class were juniors primarily because most community colleges did not have a one unit course that would articulate with this class.

How does one make a class that is relevant to both incoming freshmen (about 10) and graduating seniors (10 or so)?  What about designers and fine artists? The undeclared?

In the past the class had been assessed using note cards and a rather transparent system for making sure students showed up. Functionally, the class would begin with students turning in a note card with the description of an art experience that they had had during the week. When I sat in on the class this was followed up by a brief recap of the previous weeks most interesting cards (which is smart as it shows that the instructor was actually looking at them) and then into the allotted class time. Speakers were scheduled from across the art department and they came in and talked about their work and the major they represented.  Students then filled out another note card (during the lecture) and turned it in on their way out of the hall.

There was also this rule:
• laptops and all other digital devices off—analog notes only

For grading purposes students were only permitted to miss three cards before they lost credit for the class and had to retake it.  To be fair a 300-500 word paper could be written as a make up for a missed lecture. It is pretty transparent that the cards became a form of attendance (which instructors in the CSU are not allowed to grade based on, however this is legal because it is a form of participation).  Students were further given the warning that they should not be turning in cards for others, that that would violate academic integrity.

The system worked well, and with a good range of speakers could be interesting, but the problem is that most presentations, excepting those made to the general arts populace, would not be relevant to most of the class.

The question of relevance is somewhat stinging, especially in a required class, and in a class which is so “off the rails” with respect to its intended audience.

I resolved to take on all of these issues and to challenge a few others as well:

  • students typically don’t get enough advising,  they don’t know whose signatures they might need
  • students are not aware of the resources and facilities that are dedicated to their success
  • the gallery system puts on an amazing lecture series which in the past has occasionally had embarrassingly low attendance
  • the community on Tuesday night is amazing and includes free snacks, it is an opportunity to see the art that is made by students in the department
  • students rarely connect with the San Jose community on more than a superficial level
  • create habits that lead to success
  • prepare for a career, understanding the hurdles in school and out, and prepare for internships and job applications

I also wanted to let the students have some say over what and where and when they engaged the content for the course to make it relevant to them and their lives.

My solution? Gamification. Okay not really gamification but game-like mechanics.

Part 2: Technologies