Teaching Through “Being-in-the-World”: Statement on Nontraditional Student Populations
Even when my students and I are critiquing studio work, we each approach it from our perspective of “being-in-the-world.” I first heard the phrase “being-in-the-world” used in this way while teaching a workshop with pre-service art educators, in Rehlovice, Czechia. Here, Marie-Luise Lange, the Department Chair of Art Education, at TU- Dresden described approaches for teaching art to undergraduates. Since then, I have aimed to recognize the diverse ways of being that collide in a college classroom. This has resulted in increased awareness, on my part, of the journeys students travel on their way to, through, and beyond my classroom. This sense of awareness has informed not only my interactions with individual students as a mentor and instructor but also the course content and design.
In addition to art history classes, I have co-taught Exploring Art and Visual Culture, an entry-level studio course designed for non-art majors, over the course of two years. The intimate class size between 10 to 15 students allowed me to conduct two pilot research studies, which measured student self-efficacy levels within the context of art education and studio practices. I have come to appreciate the ways that self-efficacy can impact a student’s ability to negotiate the concept of being-in-the-world, through mastery of skills, vicarious learning, social persuasion, and physiological belief. Depending on their perspective of being, a student might not identify with the conventions of academia. As a result, I have sought out services on campus like Residential Life, Disability Services, and Learning and Writing Centers, to shed light around the network of resources available for students. I remain mindful that my classes are just one of many that students will experience during their academic careers, so I aim to cultivate a network for the future, as well.
In addition to University classrooms, I have also facilitated free workshops in Europe, Las Vegas, Tucson, and the San Francisco Bay area. In 2011, I restored an abandoned house and opened, Momas and Dadas: New Genres Project House, a community arts center and residency, in Downtown Las Vegas. As Program and Education Director, I facilitated 17 community events and hosted four resident artists from the Philippines, New Zealand, and Mexico. These experiences have highlighted the importance of universal design, and I have subsequently aimed to include multiple pathways of accessing information and illustrating the mastery of it. This dedication to accessibility has led me to design courses with diversity in mind, marked, and unmarked.
Students do not enter the classroom with the same backgrounds, skills, and perspectives of being-in-the-world. Student-centered methodologies inform responses to critique, the other students in the classroom, and their connection to higher education in general. My inclusive approach to teaching in the university is to attend to the self-efficacy levels of the students and “ways-of-being,” that converge in my classroom.
Whereas “diversity,” as an institutional practice, has often emphasized activities, which further the cause of treating people with equal concern and respect for their dignity and potential for self-empowerment, diversity shapes both the content and the form of my philosophy and research. My commitment to equity is not limited to the subject or objects of study, but instead extends to the methods I use to “diverse” ways of being-in-the-world. As a facilitator, I invite members of my class to consider the way diversity can coexist as an attuned perspective, and a method of self-efficacy in the classroom and beyond.
As a perspective, diversity asks that I consider the way that interrelational difference arises, and implicates students themselves. This pedagogical perspective is reflected in my research, which similarly situates diverse histories, theories, and practices into dialogue and form. My aim here and elsewhere is not to present differences between voices, but rather to dive beneath the surface in order to deepen an understanding of the multiple layers inherent to broad concepts-national origin, race, color, religion, gender identity, age, and veteran status-without illustrating a model for comparison with “other” voices and “canonical” ones. The content of my courses mirror this commitment; for example, while teaching at UNLV, which offers one of the most diverse student populations in the United States, I facilitated an eight-week research project in my Art History class and designed a student-centered syllabus to reflect the interests, concepts, and needs of each member in the group. The project asked students to analyze the Performance Art Context diagram (Nieslony & Dirmoser, 2002) and highlight the histories, voices, and identities not included in the diagram. In class, students identified 16 lenses for conducting their investigation, which concluded in the creation of an interactive digital diagram that provides video, audio, text, images, and websites links. In this way, members of the class were invited to share their understanding of inclusive perspectives, plural histories, and horizontal leadership through weekly group discussion, digital archiving, visual illustration, and critical reflection.
I strive to make diversity a methodology as well as a perspective by considering the constructs and values that myself, students, and colleagues carry into learning environments, be it an art studio or lecture hall. Concerning academic writing, I ask members of the class to complicate the markers of diversity that they might be familiar, with alternative cultural constructions such as the written word as inflected in the science of quantitative research. To shed light around the often contradictory norms governing academic writing, sentence structure, punctuation, and word count, for example, I invited undergraduate non-art majors in my Exploring Art and Visual Culture breakout section at the University of Arizona, to consider pathways for fracturing constructs of both spoken and written word. This exercise and others like it invite students to read, write, and self- publish poetry-based text on their terms, and languages without reference to academic writing styles. Here, diversity ruptures the peripheral of art and literature, and includes questions of being-in-the-world that resists western-centric discourses of difference; my commitment to diversity, in this way, impacts the form as well as the content of encounters, relationships, and conversations within the classroom.
My experiences teaching at both UNLV and University of Arizona deepened my sense of diversity to include the varied connections student populations have with higher education. I was challenged to host both art studio and history courses with different student populations, which had diverse relationships to formal education, varied prior experiences with canonical text and mixed socioeconomic backgrounds. As a result, it was required that I remain mindful of facilitating student-centered opportunities without compromising depth and content, as well as, implement four elements of self-efficacy; vicarious learning, social persuasion, mastery of skills, and physiological belief. My future goals for mentoring and research include further inquiry around the question, “What is art good for?” In this way, I aim to cultivate horizontal fields of self-efficacy, where diversity coexists as both a perspective and a methodology.
By privileging diversity as a methodology and a perspective, and considering lived experience as meaningful contributions to each lesson, I value the heterogeneity of the students within my classes, as well as the art, texts, theories, and histories they study and present on their terms.