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This was a tough semester. For students, for faculty, for staff. For everyone involved in higher education. However, I am convinced that learning happened. While many might not consider this the most rigorous of assessments,  many students in my classes noted in their own reflections, unsolicited, that they were amazed at how much they learned in courses they  took with me this fall semester 2020.

This learning happened despite a compressed semester comprised of two 6.5 week  sessions crammed back to back with one day in between. Students were encouraged to take no more than two four-credit classes each session, but some couldn't help but have more than that, especially seniors who had less choice in what courses they needed take. I heard more stories of stressed out students than ever before in my twenty-three year teaching career. COVID, lack of regular social  interaction, the presidential election, as well as the compressed semester itself all contributed to the angst.

And yet learning happened. I am more convinced than ever that the asynchronous approach to online teaching is the way  to go. Yes, students noted that they missed  in-person classes, but I also heard from many about how Zoom wasn't like in-class either. My students who told me how much they learned in my classes also recognized that the discussion boards allowed us to hear from everyone - unlike in a Zoom discussion or in a face to face classroom. Please do not get me wrong; I can't wait to be back in the classroom again. But rather than teach in a classroom with students physically distanced from each other and masked up, I will continue to design and offer asynchronous classes for the coming semester.

Many people have asked me what I do or how I approach course design, and I have decided to blog about the steps I take to create my classes over December and January. Our semester begins on Monday, February 1. If you or your colleagues are interested but also flummoxed about how to teach asynchronously, feel free to pass these posts on to them, or ask them to sign up on my blog to get my new posts.

I am not saying I have all the answers. But my students were very positive, some enthusiastically so, in sharing their thoughts even when they were not solicited. I think I am doing something right and want to share in case it could be helpful to others. I have benefited greatly from faculty development opportunities that my college has made available. I feel that posting my course design process may help others who were not afforded the chance to learn about online teaching until recently, or at all.

I will be blogging about how I build three classes for the Spring 2021 semester: History of Western Art II, The Art of the Medieval World, and a new class for me, African American Art. I'll be designing them all for asynchronous delivery.

You're most welcome to follow along!

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This is a post about Joy. The year was long and hard, but as I look back on it, there were many moments of joy. In my reflections since the semester's end, I realized that many of my most joyous moments involved my students. So, this post is my post of Joy.

The picture that sparked this post was this one below: a student sent me a picture in front of a painting we studied over the past semester. And he sent it while he is still in Paris (below, Ben Igo in front of Raft of the Medusa by the French Romantic artists Géricault).

Another current moment of Joy was seeing a text from student with whom you are currently working over the summer. It's joyous to see his excitement - and maybe even joy? - for the opportunity:

Then there is the Joy of graduation, which is the culmination of changing students' lives and helping them to achieve their dreams. It is always my most cherished day of the year. This year it was especially full of Joy. It was the first group of students graduating who I was privileged enough to help as the mentor to the football team.

John Chamberlin (with me, Left) finally mastered human physiology and his hatred of tests to get his degree. And Trevon Haynes (below, with me Right) finally beat FRENCH to earn his degree and go on to graduate school in graphic design. Félicitations, Trevon!

Then here is TUCC!!! Former center, Mike Martucci will be missed. He struggled having changed majors and yet he made it! He took my class in 2017, too, which was a joy. And seeing his senior Sociology poster was also an honor, and that picture is here, too (below Left).

And then there is the Joy of Angelo Payne. I am proud of all of them, but Angelo is super special to me. I saw his mother when I entered the gym where we hold the graduation exercises. She grabbed my hands and joyously cried, "He made it!" And I know I helped, and that is a huge joy. He presented undergraduate research at a conference this semester also, which is just amazing. He has big dreams and I know he can achieve them.There are frustrations as a professor. Students often don't read. They do not come to class prepared. They take your classes "only" for the requirement. But you know what? It's true that they might take your class "just" for the requirement, but they also might end up in the Louvre, snapping a picture to send to you. They might become better writers and end up presenting at a conference, even if it's not your field. They might go on to coach other players, or they'll go on to learn more.

But my truest hope for them is that they will go on to a life full of Joy. They brought Joy to my life and my sincerest hope is they experience Joy many times over in theirs.

I've not been writing much on the blog and to my subscribers, I apologize. It's been a long, agonizing year, with an "academic program prioritization" process that led to my major being cut from our college. I will continue to teach, albeit not to art history majors. Now we've made it to the end of the Difficult Year and I'm resetting the blog and my priorities in my position at the college.

Today's post is about setting assessments that don't match learning objectives. I did that for my "finale" for my nineteenth-century art class this past May. I did not want a memorization exam. Although such exams remain the bedrock of much of higher education assessments, especially for art history, I don't find that it tells me much about how much students have learned from my classes, particularly the nineteenth-century art class. In that course, I emphasize that I want them to learn visual analysis: to look and to observe and by doing so, to come up with a thesis of potential meaning just from the formal elements in the painting. For instance, in  Courbet's painting The Stonebreakers (seen below) the meaning of the painting can be gleaned from visual analysis.When we examine this painting in class, I ask the students to tell me what they see. They answer with such observations such as: their backs are to us, so they do not seem like individuals; one seems young and the other older; they have frayed work clothes; they are doing hard labor of breaking up stones; they seem in a closed-in space where the only light is in the upper right corner, and out of reach.

All of that is correct. And what that leads to is a thesis for the painting that is this: the men are trapped, in a sense, in labor that will continue. The younger man will continue working until he, too, is like the older man, unable to carry heavy rocks, and instead will kneel to chip them into smaller rubble. The cycle will continue, for there is no "escape" spatially in the painting for these men. There is no social mobility, no "changing careers" or "moving up."

That is all learned by visual analysis, and trusting that observations can lead to these kinds of potential meanings. Of course, art history is more than just this, and we talk about how one would solidify such an interpretation:  by researching to find out more about when roads were built, who built them, what was working culture like around 1850 in France, etc. But you can get started with interpretive analysis from just looking.

For the "finale" of the class, I decided to make a "Jeopardy!" type of game. There are lots of free templates on the web that will allow you to make a game of whatever topic you desire. We played, and I was dismayed. They did not remember titles of paintings, or some of the dates, or some of the names of painters.

But then we got to "Final Jeopardy." Each "team" was given a painting and they had to tell me everything they remembered about it, using visual analysis. I gave each team a chance to talk about the painting and then we had their answers.

They remembered so much. When the assessment matched the learning objectives - it seemed like magic.  Of course, it was not magic; in class after class after class I  structured our time to give them chances to build their visual acuity and trust that they could - and would - learn what the paintings were seeking to tell them just by looking, carefully, at what was placed before them.

I will admit to not being an assessment guru. My assessments often miss the mark in terms of what I have been teaching them. But this time the starkness between "trivia"-like answers versus visual analysis of entire paintings helped me see that it is so important to line up assessment that will focus on what you were seeking to have them learn. I really do want to know what they have learned. It's just so often that the assessments I have been told to use don't do that.

Do you teach and have an assessment that works well? How does it match the learning objectives you have for your course?

Students: how would you like to demonstrate what you've learned in a class? An exam? Something else? I would be curious to know!

What kind of expectations should a professor have of her students? Of herself?

I am wrestling with both questions right now. I want my classes to always be engaging. I work very hard to find ways to not sacrifice content, but to have students more engaged in the material. I worry all the time about students "not getting it," and as I have posted previously, I am continually trying to think of ways to assess student learning not just for one class period, but how material is retained. And I'm not at all convinced that traditional exams lead to deeper learning or the retaining of information. I am a firm believer that that type of learning works for some students - mostly those who are already good students who master the material quickly and know how to take notes. Many of those go on to then perpetuate the same type of teaching method. But my experiences with engaged pedagogies like Reacting to the Past,case studies, debates and other forms of active learning have shown me how much more students can do if we give them a chance.

But that then "ups" my expectations for every class period. I want and expect deep engagement in every class period.  I don't want to lower those expectations. It would be much easier for me to lecture my way through 90 minutes than to sit and ponder how I could break up the time with something that the students do. And yet, I like to try to find new ways to approach the classroom and topics all the time.

Right now I am planning a hybrid class as well as two other classes that will meet face to face this coming semester which begins in one week. I'm trying to anticipate engagement with the material as well as finding out new information about the works of art I will teach.  I'm also trying some new game elements in the second half of the introductory survey course. I don't want to kill myself, but I want my classes to be the best that they can be.

Fellow faculty, how do you balance high expectations and making sure you do not blitz yourself completely?

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Many people, at first even myself, wondered how a woman who was a professor of art history was suited to mentor a football team. In this role, two of the repeated refrains that I have heard coaches say to the players are "Do your job!" and"Don't Give Up!"  Over the course of two years, I am seeing that I share these two characteristics: I do my job - and try always do it well - and I don't give up.

This last is particularly on my mind today because I plan to write a book for higher education institutions, mainly for administrators and faculty, about student athletes and how to engage them successfully inside and outside the classroom. It's meant to be a holistic approach that examines active learning, navigating college systems, and goal-setting for their post-college lives. My experience in those three areas, research from two focus groups, and interviews with students led to a book proposal that I wrote over the summer.

It was rejected this past week.

Now it's my turn to look to the next publisher in the same way that every Monday the team would turn their back on the previous game, win or lose, and focus on the next team they would face. I need to do the same. They have a resiliency that a ten-game season of winning - and possibly more importantly losing - teaches them. Having the book proposal rejected didn't feel that great and I know from being close to the players that losing a game definitely does not feel great.

In this book proposal rejection, I see parallels between me and the players on the team. I don't give up; I am tenacious not only with my work, but with helping them. Some of them have learned that first hand; I will not give up if they need an answer or need help! While I have never played a team sport and miss a lot on the field when the game is going on, I think I am well-suited to this role. It's time to learn from them.

So for all the members of the McDaniel College Green Terror Football Team, as you turn to your last three weeks of the semester, I will be turning to the next publisher. Because as members of the Green Terror Football Team, we do not give up.

To my faculty colleagues: do you remember what it was like when you really did not understand something? Because we have mastered so much to be able to teach in higher education and to produce new scholarly contributions to our disciplines, it may be a long time - in some cases a very long time - since we were literally bewildered by an experience.

I had that experience last week. I went to the preparation meetings for our college football team's planning for their opponent today, Ursinus College. And I was pretty much bewildered. Because I am sick in bed with congestion and cough, I am posting this tribute to what the coaches and players do when readying for a game.

I remember reading a book called How Learning Works and how important it is to ground new information with students' previous experience or content knowledge. Well, now I know how it must feel to come into a class  - a new discipline - with very little previous content knowledge. I mean, I do watch football games. I know the basic rules. But that is nothing like the preparation meetings, where film is analyzed, new plays are created, and old plays modified. While in these meetings, I realized that I really did not have anything concrete, any specific previous experience, on which to "hang" this current information. I don't know the names of the plays or the formations. I could not tell a right hash from a left, without really thinking about it.

Another realization I had from attending that meeting is this: we have great coaches. And coaches teach. I consistently learn a lot from the coaches, even when I am limping along with hardly any background information on which to hang the new material. But the coaches know that the players know the plays. The students know the formations, and so the coaches take them, step by step, building on that previous knowledge, getting them to see the new areas that they need to see and understand. And then, after those meetings, they go out onto the field and practice, combining the physical to the mental images that they just saw on film and in diagrams.

My hat is off to the coaches and the players for all that they do for their sport. It is a lot. And I want every student on our team to know: if you ever go into a class and feel bewildered, that was me today. I'm not too proud to say it or admit it. But it is in not knowing that we learn. And you know I'm gonna be asking questions of the coaches because like I tell the players, "Talk to your professors when you do not understand!" I am living that truth!

Now go out there and beat the Bears!

 

Today I read this column by James Lang in The Chronicle of Higher Education. The title of his piece is "What Will Students Remember From Your Class in 20 Years?" Lang recounts how he had this discussion with faculty from different disciplines. Almost no one said anything about specific course content, and yet many of us teach that content as if content is the end of the world. "Oh, I can't not cover "x" work of art in the survey course!"

What do you want your students to remember?

I have already thought about this and this is what I want them to know. I want them to know:

  • How art historians think what they think and know what they know;
  • Why art historians have different ideas about works of art and that works of art can have multiple interpretations;
  • How to talk and write about works of art;
  • How to visually analyze works of art so that propaganda and commercialized ads don't lead us to decisions we don't think about first;
  • How to read a critical piece of writing that has a thesis and to determine if that argument is proved

That is just the start. I also want them to remember that they did things in my class. That they were involved. I do not want to them to ever remember me telling them everything. I want them to remember the debate they had about whether or not the Elgin marbles should go back to Greece, or if the Second Crusade should be aimed at Edessa or Damascus, and what the future of art should be in Paris in 1889.

I believe that these goals are all incentivized by active learning. If I tell them all the things, then they are likely not to remember it next year, let alone in 20 years.  James Lang is a proponent of making small changes to teaching that allows for more student reflection and activity. That doesn't mean that I sometimes don't have to just tell them things, but it does mean that wherever possible, they are going to be actively engaged in observing an Egyptian work of art, or designing a new type of church for Justinian, or debating the role of artists in fighting fascism.

I probably won't know if I make the mark in 20 years. But I am pretty confident I am laying the foundation firmly for them to do so.

Today I am thinking about jobs. Even though my job is to educate, I want my students, after they are educated, to be able to find good jobs. This article talks about 7 critical skills for jobs of the future and was published last summer. I'd like to focus on this one: Curiosity and Imagination, which is #7 on this list.

I have written a whole post about curiosity and its importance for developing keen minds. It’s part of the liberal arts spirit. It is when students ask questions about topics that I had not considered or when they ask about things I do not know. I LOVE IT when that happens. That did happen at the end of the Roman Art class in spring 2017. In one particular class near to the end of the semester, they were asking me all kinds of questions and I didn’t know the answers. Finally, I said, “you all have those phones. Let’s get ‘em out and look it up!” They did and we talked about the sources they were reading from. It was a good exercise in assessing and analyzing information as well as a way for them to use technology, and it satisfied their curiosity on the spot. And it was kind of fun, too.

I think that most of my active learning situations have some aspect of imagination and creativity built into them. They role-play as advisors to an emperor, or they must think like architects to design a building that reflects theological ideas, or they try to sell art at the 1889 World Exposition in Paris to buyers who are not clearly identified at the culmination of my Art in Paris Reacting to the Past game.

I think the final part of the article on the 7 critical skills sums up well my approach  in the classroom and by advocating for active learning:

“There is a stark contrast between these seven survival skills of the future and the focus of education today. Instead of teaching students to answer questions, we should teach them to ask them. Instead of preparing them for college, we should prepare them for life. Beyond creating better employees, we must aim to create better leaders and innovators.  Doing so will not only radically transform the future of education and the workforce, it will also transform the world we live in.”

I simply love it when my students are curious enough to ask questions. I would love to find a way for that to happen more. The Roman Art class in the spring of 2017 indicates that they will tend to do that if they have had a whole semester of active learning in which they are engaged in the material in different ways. And I'm still thinking and planning!

 

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I have been thinking this summer about my introductory art course. It is meant to be a “survey” of the art of the west (I recognize there are problems with that approach, and we have a World Art course I'd like to teach as well). But for now, I am stuck with the survey of western art course.

And I say stuck because I am not sure that it teaches about art history because it’s really a survey as the title of the course implies of art and culture. It's the "greatest hits." I think there is value to that, but it just doesn’t feel like an introduction to the discipline. In my upper level courses, I do try to have students interpret art, visually dissect a painting and pose a possible thesis of its meaning, which is more inline with the discipline itself.

But in the survey class it is a bit harder to do that. Even having limited the number of works that I talk about, it is still challenging to find a way to have them engage in the art historical inquiry that is the backbone of our discipline.

However, I am teaching the course in a hybrid manner this coming fall, as I have the past two years. The students were overall positive about the experience. I’m going to do it again, putting in some suggestions that they made to hopefully make the course better. This will give me more time to try some new things that might have them engage in the art a bit more, and perhaps help them engage in the works as an art historian might, albeit on a very general level.

For instance, I am thinking of have them all work as advisors to a pharaoh or leader from the Near East. Each group is tasked with creating a museum for their leader/pharaoh that has art from all the periods we cover in that module (of ancient Near East and Egyptian art) but work cannot be ones we have covered. They must search for other examples. And I plan to also “surprise” each group with an image that they then research. They must explain their choices and why the work is one from the culture that it represents.

What do you think? Does this engage students for a purpose that connects to the discipline of art history?

 

I just got back from my eleventh Reacting to the Past conference. I had a great time as usual. I saw wonderful teachers learning a pedagogy that can transform their teaching, and even their life, as it has mine. I made new friends and met up with ones I have made over the years. And ran my now -published game Modernism vs. Traditionalism: Art in Paris, 1888-89, which was published by North Carolina University Press. After that, I played the artist Paolo Uccello in my friend Paula Lazrus' game about the building of the Duomo in Florence when a competition was announced on how the work would be completed in 1418. Here I am in the game, leading a procession with a palio that represents my guild of painters and sculptors: And later, Uccello gives a lesson on the newly discovered linear perspective, which I did in the game:

And yet even though I come back from this conference more convinced than ever that Reacting is a powerful teaching tool and I hope I encouraged many to use it, I had the odd feeling the entire weekend that this "run" had come to an end. I will always use Reacting and have posted here many times about how it has worked in my classroom. I served on the Reacting Consortium board for six years, I chaired the board for about a year. I co-authored a game. I use a game in nearly every class.

But I am called to put energies elsewhere now, and it seemed somehow important to note this as a sort of ending, so that I could take in, enjoy, and appreciate every minute of the conference experience. And I did.

Now I feel a real urge to do more with the student athletes, specifically those on the Green Terror Football team, for whom I act as a faculty mentor. The creativity embedded in Reacting I will take with me to this new endeavor. I am clearing the decks mentally, physically, and even emotionally to make room for this new work and this new "calling." I am excited to meet new student athletes and help them to become their best selves both as players on the field and students in the classroom. While sometimes I am not sure how it will all work out, I didn't know how to write a Reacting game, either, and I figured that out.

With the help of the Green Terror football team (and the great coaches!) I'm betting I figure out how to mentor a team to the best of my ability, too.

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