If you twisted my arm and made me choose, I would probably say that my high school English teacher is the person who taught me critical thinking skills. Our standard homework assignment was to come up with discussion questions for what we’d read the night before, and she would collect them all to read aloud at the beginning of each class. She defined “good” questions as those which could not be easily answered by flipping through the text, but instead made you really want to explore the text, comb through for different ways to answer the question. I’ve been looking over the presentations we have lined up for the Student Perspectives room, and I find myself thinking a lot about what it means to be a learner, someone interested in acquiring not only new skills, but new ideas, and new approaches.
Student Perspectives is a fairly new tradition, and a unique one at that – a space devoted to student presenters, providing them the opportunity to speak publically on a main stage at the NCECA conference. Since there is no topical focus, everyone has a different approach to this call. Any given year, you can expect an extremely diverse set of presentations to happen in this room, which provides delightful and fascinating snapshot of changing student interests. What I find is that as I read through the titles and descriptions for the Student Perspectives lineup, I am also hearing good questions being asked.
Often, these presentations are grounded in the student experience, and showcase the kinds of research opportunities that students are afforded, alongside the kinds of mental wanderings that take place as you’re on the verge of stepping (back) out into the Real World. But really, these presentations are asking bigger questions about the nature of education itself, questions which shift in and out of focus throughout our lives, and meander like the road less traveled.
In thoughtful contemplation of what it means to be an arts professional, Eleanor Heimbaugh’s ” BEYOND THE PEDESTAL- CONTEMPORARY SOLUTIONS FOR DISPLAY” asks us, as both students and artists, to look beyond the paint-chipped cube that we borrow at the last minute and to instead consider more elegant approaches to how work should be viewed. Emily Tani-Winegarden and Liam Hannan’s co-lecture, “A CUP LIBRARY: ENGAGEMENT THROUGH TACTILE OBSERVATION,” (image seen above) details their effort to provide their community with the experience of using a hand-made objects through a physical lending library. Jake Boggs, who shares his research into building a functional studio from scratch in “WHAT NOW? A POST UNIVERSITY POTTERY PATHWAY PLAN,” asks how to move forward with a life in clay outside of an MFA program; anyone who has ever graduated has found themselves in this exact same position. Other students are reflecting on the types of educations they’ve received, both in and out of school. Some presentations are entirely rooted in person experience, such as Rachel Bigley’s “THE ARTIST AND THE APPRENTICE” in which she discusses her time apprenticing for working artists in their studios, and asks us to think about the kind of learning that comes from a lived experience. The panel entitled “FROM MENTEE TO MENTOR” offers a similar discussion about transitioning from one type of learning to another, as they reflect on what it means to teach as a graduate student instructor and how they have navigated those waters. For a broader perspective on educational modalities and their impact on how we learn, ” BACK TO THE FUTURE: MAKING POTTERY IN GRADUATE SCHOOL,” offers a view on the contradictions that can take place in a fast-paced, results-driven academic environment when working with the slow humbleness of functional pottery.
What have I learned, and how did I learn it? How does that fit into what I already know? What do we send forth into the world, and how do we in turn educate and engage the broader audience? What does it mean to be a learner? What are the ideal environments for learning to take place? What is the best way to learn? What do we send forth into the world, and how do we in turn educate and engage the broader audience?