SECAC recap

Virginia Spivey, Georgetown University

It’s Saturday evening, and probably like most of you, my head is swimming from all the ideas presented, discussed, and expanded upon in conversations at SECAC over the past few days.  Tomorrow, I’ll have to start thinking about my Monday teaching schedule; so before my head explodes, I wanted to recap of some of the things that I gained during the conference.

The Session. . .

I proposed the Art History 2.0 session in order to learn how art historians are currently using digital technologies in the classroom.   A quick poll of the audience revealed that while many of us have made the shift to new technologies, most often they remain used in the service of the traditional slide-based lecture.

Two key questions. . . 

1)  how might new technologies facilitate a shift toward alternative pedagogical models that are more effective, especially for students today?

2) does the changing role of technology in our classrooms, and our culture, demand we reconsider our educational objectives and what skills we teach in art history classes today?

The second question will require much thought and discussion, but one issue became clear during yesterday’s sessions.  If we are going to employ technology in our classes, we must also recognize the importance of teaching information literacy and the effective use of technology.  Like writing, technology skills are not discipline specific; nevertheless, they are essential for students to perform art historical analysis and research in the 21st century.  We should acknowledge our role to help students achieve proficiency.

The first question above is easier to address, but will require time and on-going experimentation to answer.  Changing art historical pedagogy involves testing new practices, exchanging ideas, taking risks, and willing to learn from your (inevitable) failures.

A case in point . . .

So many questions were generated around the notion of flipping the classroom.  And although we attempted to model the “flipped class” in our SECAC session, it just didn’t work.  Panelists—justifiably—felt they needed to fully present their papers in case audience members had not read the website prior to the session.  Because we were experimenting with a new model, we couldn’t be sure everyone was on board; thus, the session evolved according to the typical conference format.

In the classroom, something similar can happen when an instructor first experiments with flipping.  All the elements are there—the podcast or outside material is assigned, but the instructor, doubtful that the students will fulfill their new roles–and a little unsure of her own–quickly falls back into the familiar performance of the lecture that art historians do so well.  It’s only with trial and error that the successful flipped classroom (or conference session) can develop.

As to other ideas and teaching strategies, so many were discussed at SECAC in both our session and in “The End of Art History as We Know It?  Digital Education and the Changing Classroom,” the session chaired by Stephanie Thornton-Grant, and sponsored by the Art Historians Interested in Pedagogy and Technology.

I want to thank everyone who attended and contributed to the conversation, and especially Parme, Sarah, Mary, and Patrick for their presentations and willingness to post their papers in advance.  This site will remain active for anyone who wants to read or comment on the papers, or to continue any of the discussions we began during the session.  Please feel free to contact me if you would like to share your projects involving digital technology in teaching art history in this forum.  Likewise, I hope you will consider following it to see how it might evolve into an on-going platform for the exchange of information, and share the link with your friends who have similar interests.

Wait there’s more . . .

The conference revealed the need for greater support and collaboration throughout our professional community for those of us interested in using technology in teaching.  Curriculum designers, instructional technologists, visual resource librarians, and museum professionals are valuable resources to faculty.  These fields are also undergoing radical changes due to the increased use of technology, and we should look more to their expertise and experiences as we renegotiate our role in the classroom.

Moreover, collaboration itself must become more accepted.  Why do we feel compelled to reinvent the wheel each time we develop a new course or assignment? As humanists, we have been taught to guard our ideas and retain individual authorship; as academics, we have been told that publishing this material is essential to our employment and our success.

Sharing resources and teaching strategies makes so much sense.  We can learn from the failures of others and build on their successes. A central compendium of web-based resources, rubrics, assignments, and syllabi that could be individually tailored to our needs would save us time, improve the quality of our teaching, and ultimately benefit our students.


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