In January 2016 I collaboratively taught an on-campus JanTerm class with Justin Banks, the college archivist. We split the course into two sections, “Graphic Arts” and “Bookbinding.” I taught the graphic arts section and assigned writings to create content for a book that would be the resulting class project. Justin Banks taught bookbinding and the history of books, printing, and the publishing process, including best practices in publication layout. The digital component of this course was composed of creating art through art simulation software and graphic arts/pen tablets while collaborating and communicating with the students via Moodle course modules.
During the course the students created unique digital artworks, each of which had value as a composition inviting reflection from the observer. Each student’s writings and artworks were assembled into a Blurb-published book, the result of which was beautiful. Most of the students began this class with little or no artistic experience and considered themselves to be untalented or (at best) amateurish as artists. In this course they learned that anyone can create beautiful or interesting artwork in the simple-to-learn ArtRage software. The students effectively learned how to use major art tools in a digital environment simulating natural media, specifically, how to draw and paint in different media by using a Wacom model graphic arts pen tablets.
By the end of the course, most of the students indicated that they would continue to use ArtRage creatively because it was a fun and fulfilling experience. In the bookbinding section, students not only learned three styles of bookbinding, but also best practices in publication layout in a digital environment, as well as the publishing process. They also learned how to marble paper; during these activities, they were taught through lecture about the history of the book.
The class was mostly successful and very enjoyable to teach. From this experience I came away with the desire to teach this or a similar course again. When I saw the opportunity to apply for the last cycle of Melon Digital Pedagogy grants at Austin College, I decided to apply so that the JanTerm course could evolve to a greater focus on digital art and graphics tools. Justin Banks and I will collaborate again, although the course format will be changed. The art of the physical book will be significantly scaled back to one short, simple one-hour project or a brief lecture overview. The time spent in class with the students will also be shortened. Our days were long, especially for the students, during JanTerm 2016. Justin spent several hours with them in lab in the morning, and I spent several hours with them in the afternoon. This time spent in class may be set at one hour each, perhaps a little more depending on labs with hands-on work.
In the JanTerm 2016 course, I attempted the flipped classroom style of instruction, in which students were to work on their assignments individually and then come to class prepared to discuss and collaborate with me and with each other. However, facilitating discussion was difficult and challenging. What I learned from this experience is that I need to study and learn about successful techniques that facilitate student participation and engagement. In course feedback given in the final writing assignment, which was an overall course reflection, some of the students suggested that I give more assignments in art creation. They were assigned one work of art to be featured in their chapter of the book and also were given the option to submit additional artworks that would be featured in an appendix of the book. In their feedback, the students suggested daily assignments per each tool available in ArtRage. They indicated their desire for more hands on demonstration from the instructor, working with them step–by-step. I was pleased that they provided constructive feedback and included great ideas for improving the format of the course in future offerings.
In order to increase the use of digital pedagogical tools, in the next iteration of the course Justin and I will use a publishing software or platform, such as Scalar, to create an eBook rather than a printed book. We will teach the students how to put the book together, with a chapter for each student. Writing assignments will be given via blogging. We may incorporate other digital tools as appropriate. Subsequently, the students will develop communication skills through writing in the modern digital age; thus, a variety of supplementary digital tools will enhance digital literacy growth for the students taking this course.