Advancing the Theory and Practice of Self-Determined Learning
By Dr Andy Collis
(Snr Lecturer in Visual Communication: Avondale College of Higher Education, Hunter Valley, NSW.)
Stewart Hase came to Avondale College to tell us about this thing called ‘heutagogy’. By the end of his workshop, I had already formulated some ideas that I knew would breathe new life into my up-coming History of Art lectures to BA degree students. My mighty PowerPoints would need some mighty disempowering. Here’s what happened.
Firstly, I revisited my original power-points, stripping out any ‘fillers’. Then, using the Kaltura program, I posted short (10 minutes max) self-narrated videos to each week’s topic, giving a content overview ahead of each week’s class. This would save time in class, allowing for more two-way discussions about pivotal images from an already minimalized PowerPoint. After each week’s class, I recorded a thirty-minute narration over said class PowerPoint. This would serve well for later revision purposes as well as catch-up information for absentees. Hopefully, it would encourage them to not want to miss classes in future.
Two-and a half hours of Art History is a long session for anyone. The provision of a coffee/juice break with biscuits in the same lecture room avoided breaking up the group atmosphere, allowing more social interaction, which quite naturally carried on conversation about artworks in a more informal setting. The cost of a few refreshments was far outweighed by the value it afforded the learning experience. The sense of sharing information in this way also broke down perceived hierarchical barriers between peers and/or lecturer and student. Students that were reluctant to speak out in-class may talk about their ideas or concerns in this less formal setting. They felt included and able to contribute. For some, it was the difference of showing up or not.
There were many other ways in which formal information was imparted through students being encouraged to more personal interactions. Usually three or four times in each two-and-a-half-hour session, we would have a collaborative or class activity. For instance, to appreciate what the terms ‘modernism’ and ‘modernity’ meant in relation to the period of history we were covering, students each found a single image, or possibly a short clip, on their mobile phones. They chose what they thought was representational of modernity for them in an application of contextual learning. We made an arrangement of all their phones on the floor, the students expressing the reasoning behind their choices. Comparing what the terms meant to the society in our period of study gave them a reference point. Similarly, when looking at Richard Hamilton’s 1956 collage, ‘Just what is it that makes todays homes so different, so appealing’, students applied the title to contemporary living, constructing a collaborative collage from images that resonated with them, torn from magazines.
For the week covering ‘Dada’, I pre-empted Marcel Duchamp’s 1917 exhibition of an upturned urinal by asking, ‘Do you think that by an artist simply selecting something and calling it art makes it art?’. They lined up with those on the extreme right representing ‘No, not at all’ to those on the extreme left representing, ’Yes, of course.’ At the end of class, this exercise was repeated to see if their opinions, through the experience of the class, had shifted. Each student chose randomly from a pile of envelopes containing a ‘secret’ message so that when I shouted ‘All Change!!’ they launched into the activity they’d been given in whichever way they saw fit. One would be shouting the Dada manifesto, while one would be reading a piece of Dada poetry, another would be ripping up paper and throwing it into the air, allowing it to fall ‘according to the laws of chance’, one would be making the ‘da-da-da-da’ sound of a machine gun, while another would be singing random words to the National Anthem. In other words, recreating the cacophony and disrespect for authority and rationality akin to the Dada meetings of 1916. This segued into Surrealist activities, such as ‘automatic’ speaking, automatic-writing, ‘the exquisite corpse’ game and so on. Links were made with similar song-writing activities of later Pop icons, such as The Beatles’ ‘I am the Walrus’ and David Bowie’s ‘Ziggy Stardust’. Instead of playing the recorded song, I performed the songs ‘live’, with guitar. At first, I thought this might be seen as a ‘dumbing-down’ of ‘intellectual content’, but subsequent feedback from the students identified songs that I played ‘live’ as making a lasting impression on their recall and enjoyment of the class.
For the session looking at Les Fauves’ radical approach to colour at the start of the 20th Century, I made outline drawings of works from earlier times– ‘The Haywain’ by John Constable, Da Vinci’s ‘Mona Lisa’, and ‘Liberty Leading the People’ by Delacroix– on canvases. The students painted ‘reversed/complementary colour values of the originals or heightened colours– apropos Les Fauves. We discussed the original works by comparison to what happened with the destruction of illusionism and the onus on expressive colour.
With reference to Jackson Pollock’s action painting, I covered the floor with a huge canvas and collected old tins of nearly-finished house paints. Students took it in turns to throw, dribble and pour paint. They discussed what colour and where to pour, or what technique to use to go over preceding colours. Their ‘meeting-in-spirit’ with ‘Jack the Dripper’ was, as it should be, a very visceral experience. We displayed such practical ‘artworks’ made in this theory class, with accompanying information, for others at College to enjoy and learn from.
These are only a few of the things that we did. Though the sessions required more preparation than the updating of outdated PowerPoints, and the class required coordinating and improvisation in response to unpredictable developments, I believe the students will remember them, and the artists/artworks, far more than my previous, staid, method of delivery. The bottom-line is that Art History this year became a far more enjoyable and memorable experience. Not only for my students but also for me.
Before next year’s class, I’ll be re-visiting my stripped-down PowerPoints to see what else I don’t need to show them!