The University of Florida Master of Art Education online degree program is rounding out its fifth year and it’s taking me about with it. I’ve never had a job this long and it’s nice to feel like I’m grounded someplace. And not just any place, but in a program I’m proud to be a part of.
One of the things that we’ve been exploring over the years, and which I’ve written about here before, is how to work as a community of learners. How can we create a sense of togetherness as individuals with a lot in common, and going through a common experience, but with great distances keeping us physically apart?
My colleague Elizabeth Delacruz created a course on “Globalization, Art, and Education” which includes lots of activities to help students find, create, and maintain their own online professional learning networks (PLNs) using social media (Facebook, Twitter, ArtEducation2.0) and bookmaking tools (Scoopit, Pinterest). The connections students make in these venues bring them together in new ways outside the somewhat stifled space the institution provides for coursework. They also bring them in communication with other educators and artists. Relationships in these venues can be more dynamic, visual, personal. They are, to use one of Elizabeth’s favorite adjectives, robust.
From campus, Craig Roland and Michelle Tillander host summer studio courses (taught by studio art faculty) peppered with collaborative artmaking challenges. Students often speak of their weeks on campus as one of the most transformative aspects of the program. This is attributed in part to the quality of the classes and opportunities they provide these busy folks to focus on themselves as artists for a moment, and in part to the time they have with their peers, people they have gotten to know online but have not been, and may never again be, with in person.
They also plan annual lectures (on campus and online) that bring us together in new ways. Some of these have been on campus lectures shared through a live stream, others presentations have been planned specifically for us and delivered through out virtual meeting space. Over the years, we have heard from Olivia Gude, Oliver Herring, Terry Barrett, and just this week, Joe Fusaro – senior educational advisory for the PBS contemporary art series Art21.
Craig crossed paths with Joe at a few conferences and was eager to bring him in contact with our students. In addition to his work with Art21, Joe is the Visual Arts Chair for the Nyack Public Schools in New York. This combination of activities, building on more than two decades in the classroom, made Joe the perfect person to speak to our students about “Teaching with Contemporary Art.” He doesn’t just talk the talk, he walks the walk.
For many, the idea of sharing contemporary art with students seems daunting, if not dangerous. Such work can be confusing for people unfamiliar with it since it often doesn’t look like art at all. And oftentimes, contemporary artists challenge normative society in ways that make parents and administrators uncomfortable. Rather than seeing these as excuses for leaving it out of the curriculum equation, my colleagues and I see them as reasons to include them. But sometimes students, like children, need to hear from someone other than their teachers, their in loco parentis.
Joe spoke with passion about the artists he works with on Art21. He beamed as he shared his students’ work with us. It was as if he were demonstrating a principle I have tried to convey to students – teaching new artists and ideas is engaging for educators, not just our students. I’m personally looking forward to building on Joe’s talk in my classes and with students working on related capstone projects. He gave us lots of great questions to consider and strategies to try out. The occasion also inspired me to dig deeper into the resources available on the Art21 website, articles in their e-magazine, and to watch episodes of the program I haven’t seen yet. (It’s kind of hard to believe they are on their seventh season). Thankfully summer recess is just a few weeks away.