Pedagogy, Problem Solving and Survival
A 21st-century arts education that emphasizes New Media should cultivate skills that encourage and embrace difference across a range of digital, horizontal, local, and urban networks. Understanding how to code and hack are the basics of understanding and shaping our protocol society, and are critical for media literacy. Valuing difference and communicating across it are critical to democracy and to our collective survival; we need to be able to network, collaborate and learn from another, understanding the basics of relational ethics and conflict resolution in the process. We need the ability to identify important, worthwhile problems and the complimentary DIY and collaboration skills to approach them. We need the ability to work with our nearby ecosystems, and nearby food systems. We also need to be able to think against a diverse range of cultural artifacts.
I support my students in making work that engages the conceptual, perceptual, and technical components of New Media. Students should have competence in the historical milestones, major issues, processes, and potentials in the field of New Media, as well as how historical art practices and current ones address and expose it. This empowers students to consider their ethical position in utilizing new media technologies within their local communities and larger, creative problem-solving processes that incorporate research: finding and expressing a worthwhile problem; experimentation: trying, playing with, exploring, creating ways of handling the problem; and evaluation: reviewing work in class, employing group crits, conducting reflexive evaluations of their own work. I also endeavor for my students to demonstrate a technical proficiency that supports their ideas, challenges their ideas about themselves, and that will meet their next level of study, profession, or expression.
In studio classes, we may develop several small projects, or work on a large project that has frequent iterations due throughout the course. In an upper level studio called Social Information Spaces: Classroom, Emergencies and the Commons, which I taught at UC Santa Cruz, we asked what it would be like if we went to school to learn how to survive rather than going to school to get a job. I structured this class to be an exploration of the social information spaces of the classroom, of social organization in emergencies and of the dynamics involved in generating urban commons. Students explored how information, the social body and space are conceived or might be conceived in each environment. In a Code and Conceptual Art course that I taught at CCA, students were introduced to the Processing programming language, the development of digital computers, and the the ways artists have resisted, adopted, and embraced computation and computational concepts. We used avant garde art practices to generate dynamic, visual artworks made with Processing; here, we thought about the relationship between instructions, pseudocode and programming. In introductory and foundations courses, in addition to the historical and conceptual ideas, I show a lot of artwork and creative media projects to illustrate contemporary political, historical, technological issues.
To foreground problems of any kind in studio courses allows for both criticality and creativity to be in productive dialogue. I pursue this process not only as a means to teach about networks, systems, conceptual art and code, but also as a means to teach students about privilege, collaboration, and theory. We consider the impact of our cultural production in the classroom, while working to keep the exposure and possible solving of good problems within reach. To be sure, I find problems of any kind, from finding the area of a curve to addressing the impact of cybernetics on capitalism, best approached using common sense in a safe environment where practice and experimentation — the work of trying to make better — is emphasized. To this end, I adhere to Gramsci’s urging to cultivate a “pessimism of intellect and an optimism of will,” and encourage my students to continually observe the conflict in their bodies and their emotions as they encounter new ideas, challenging creative prompts, technical challenges, abstract and logical processes.
The pleasure that can come from reading against texts and cultural products and seeing this sensitivity emerge alongside aha! moments in my students propels me to continue to better my own pedagogy. I want my students to know that regardless of how they see themselves (as creative types, etc.) they can be logical too, that skill sets are not relegated to a certain kind of person or gender. But all of this is secondary to the core reason I teach, which is ultimately because my own learning has always been most profound when I outline problems to others and invite collaboration on their solutions.