This semester, I was slated to teach a 200-level course on “Contemporary Art,” a topic I’ve taught in numerous iterations over the past 10 years. Most recently I’d taught the class in Spring 2012 as “Art Since 1960.” Although the students enjoyed it and it achieved the stated learning objectives, I was frustrated in my struggle to convey the complexity of the subject through a traditional lecture based structure. That experience motivated me to completely redesign the course and my teaching strategies.
I have now adopted a crowdsourcing model of collaborative research, content development, and study for the class. I wanted to approach the topic in a way that would be more inclusive of students’ interests and existing areas of knowledge. Crowdsourcing attempts to reduce the inherent subjectivity of any survey class where the professor determines content based on academic knowledge, areas of interests, and scholarly expertise. Moreover, I hoped it would capitalize on the varied backgrounds of the students usually drawn to the class, especially those with different aesthetic tastes, in disciplines outside art history, and from other cultures.
Crowdsourcing also allows students to engage meaningfully with a wide range of art historical research techniques and resources. Instead of listening to lectures on slides or reading texts that I’ve chosen, students will collaborate in their effort to find, evaluate, and share useful information on our common topic of study. The pedagogical goal of this approach is for students to develop their own ideas and understanding about contemporary art, based on the connections, observations, and insights they discover through our active research and shared dialogue.
Instead of waiting to see what happens, and then detailing an analysis of any successes–and/or failures, I’ve decided to post some reflections as the course plays out this semester. This parallels the students’ requirement to maintain a journal recording their own ideas, thoughts, and frustrations about both our topic and method of study. Over the next few weeks, the students will be choosing topics for study and developing a reading list for the class. Although the class content will be student-driven, my next post will explain the theoretical and logistical frameworks I’ve established to provide necessary scaffolding to get them started.