This is how imagined Utopia earlier this year - blank and waiting for impressions to form and focus

It was in retrospect perhaps not the best of times to have embarked on this fascinating journey into new modes of learning with my first MOOC. I am knee deep in the studio with work for a show in the fall, teaching, looking for a new job, and juggling the Women Create events including this weekend’s big finale of SWAN Day events.

Every lecture I watch, every blog post I read, just sets my little head whirling! I really don’t have any background in educational theory, being primarily an artist who teaches, not a teacher who makes art, so some of the materials are really a bit of a slog for me. I am not saying much online as I read because I am a little embarrassed by the huge yawning gulf of ignorance, I guess I am afraid of saying something permanent in print that I might not be afraid to say out loud in a room. (A valuable lesson here when working with online students – who probably share these fears – how can I move them past this? Should I change my grading for discussion, would it make it more open or so irrelevant in terms of scoring that they would just not bother with the activity at all?)

Thinking about connecting and learning has made me curious about the history of my discipline in academia and about the possibilities for new models of learning. (For the sake of clarification I have a BFA and a master’s in Visual Culture). For me it is too difficult to posit possible futures without at least understanding how we arrived here in this mess. And art education is messy. So I have been reading furiously, trying to learn something about this history. Art doesn’t fit neatly into the colleges where it resides, my first experience with this was quite literal – my art studio classes didn’t fit the standard time schedules of other departments, they were long, I had a hard time fitting my gen. eds. around my studios because a class I wanted to take would start 20 minutes before my studio ended. (curiously the worst offender from my point of view was the art history department – I am sure there’s some hidden agenda in that!). The department I teach in has done a lot of tinkering to try and make our schedule mesh with the “rest” of the school and it seems to me that this has been facilitated by long labs in the sciences which have made the entire schedule more flexible to begin with.

But time is not Art’s biggest problem. As art has transformed into an academic discipline it has moved further and further away from its audience (both the students who “consume” the education and the public). I want to be clear here that I am certain that art is an academic pursuit. As an artist my work originates in research and is informed by my entanglement with “real” life, the end result of my thinking however is not a neatly packaged set of thoughts delivered in a paper but instead a complex visual statement that allows room for the “reader” to bring their own experience to merge with mine (so kind of MOOC-ish, maybe that’s why I feel at home in this learning environment!). My students come to school looking for one thing (skills) and find another (theory). Many of the students that I teach – like me – come to the arena of art because they are makers. I have to be creating with my hands or my personality gets WAY out of control. They enroll in art classes because they have some talent at making – they can draw a representational image, they can paint, or construct. Most of my students are from rural areas, many of them have never been in a gallery, let alone a major contemporary art museum with a modern collection. They are part of the public that is alienated from the “art world”. They don’t get it. They feel they are obsolete before they have even started.

I don’t have a cure for any of this, only frustration. Part of my interest in the MOOC is a desire to expand my thoughts about what teaching/learning can look like so that I can find a way to think about the problem more usefully. I wish right now I had a clone! There is so much to be learned, so much to read, so much to assimilate and unravel, and yet, all my work still to be done. When people tell me they are bored I wonder what on earth they do with their time, how can they have too much when all I ever experience is not enough!!! And so back to work, just wanted to let you know I am still thinking and I can feel all these new connections opening up, its like my brain is breathing again. So thank you to all the diligent learners, all you blog post writers, and the course coordinators for all the wonderful thoughts now swimming in my brain! I wish I had kept a better record of what I am reading where so that I could give you more credit for the novel and glorious things in my head. (Again reminds me to be much more sympathetic to my research students when they loose track of where they found an idea, or how they arrived at a location online!). Alas my “real” life calls – laundry and papers and the siren song of my studio. Enjoy your day!