Art Professor as God

Critique process has changed a lot since the makers of Six Feet Under went to school…. the art professor/art star strutting around dropping pearls of wisdom to his protege’ is amusing, but not terribly useful. There’s a lot to love here, however, and heck, why not do something that might surprise students, like, “everyone get on the floor…. now!”

Six Feet Under art school clip 1

Six Feet Under art school clip 2


The Usefulness of Small Group Discussions in Class

Small group discussion is a tried-and-true method for getting students engaged in the class content. To be maximally useful, a small group of 3-5 people should be given a task that fulfills the following criteria:

  1. The purpose of the task is clear.
  2. The group knows what to do specifically.
  3. The group knows the time frame for completion.
  4. The group knows how to complete the task.

It’s particularly useful to pose a question to the entire class. The best kind of question is one that requires students to make judgements and choices between various alternatives. Here’s one example:

“We have just discussed the origins of Postmodernism. In the next ten minutes, I want your group to discuss the question: “Which 2 artists had the most direct influence on what became the Postmodernist movement? Explain why you chose those two artists.” Write down their names and a brief justification for your choices. One person from each group will report back to the class as a whole.”

One key to success is making sure each group has a “reporter”, in other words, a person who keeps notes and is willing to report the results to the class at large.

You can then use the results of that discussion to continue with a lecture, or as a lead-in to another point or issue.

Structuring Class Time with Variety

It is easy for classes to become boring. You can avoid this through a variety of methods, but one would be to plan for the flow of the class period so that the same teaching approach is not being used continuously.

For instance, a 60-minute class period can be broken up into three parts. The professor can lecture during the first part, the students participate in some kind of activity or discussion for the second part, and a summary or preparation for a project can take place during the third part.

For a critique, the first half of the class period can be spent by having small groups creating written evaluations of other students’ work, while the last half of the period can be spent addressing any questions or specific feedback that students wish to have about their work.

The First Day of Class- An Opportunity for Learning

Students arrive in the classroom and sit down. The syllabus is either passed out or projected on a screen and discussed, including required textbooks or materials. After about 45 minutes, the professor dismisses the class. In a studio art or design class, that means that roughly 2 hours worth of class time has just been wasted.

Sound familiar?

Any teacher who conducts their first day of class in this manner is missing out on a fantastic opportunity to get the students excited and invested in the course, and to get their brains engaged with all the possibilities that could unfold in the course of the quarter or semester.

While many professors do “icebreaker” or “getting-to-know” you exercises on the first day, why not do something that would immediately get their creative juices flowing? This document contains a number of ideas for first day of class activities.

Syllabus for Teaching TAs How to Teach (Quarter version)

Any Fine Arts or Art History graduate student who wants to teach a class in the University of Cincinnati’s School of Art must successfully complete the “Graduate Teaching Workshop” course before receiving any teaching assignment. (This is true for TAs who assist a professor in the classroom, as well as for TAs who are assigned full responsibility for the teaching of a course.) This is the syllabus for that course.

Because UC is currently on the quarter system, this syllabus reflects a 10-week experience. When UC moves to semesters in the Fall of 2012, the syllabus will be revised to reflect a 14-week experience. In semesters, more time will be spent on pedagogical theory, guiding and evaluating group work, and how to effectively critique art work. I will post that updated syllabus in the Fall of 2012.

Elements of a Syllabus

Most universities and colleges have requirements of some kind for what should be in a syllabus. Some even require faculty to use a certain format. Before writing yours, inquire as to the requirements of your institution. Generally, the following elements are contained in most syllabi. Keep in mind that the syllabus is a contract between you and your students.

Top of First Page:

• Instructor name and contact information

• Course Title, number and section

• Time of course (days, quarter), room location

• Prerequisites of the course, if any

Course Learning Outcomes

• Give a clear and brief description of the overall educational outcomes of the course.

• Describe in general terms what the students will be able to do as a result of

having taken the course. Use action verbs for this. (e.g. by learning certain

skills, making presentations, etc.). In other words, by doing certain things,

they will learn to do something that will allow them to achieve the goals of

the course.

Course Description

• Can include general thoughts about the character or “philosophy” of the course. 

• Includes content of the course and a general description of activities/projects.


Course Projects & Activities

•  Major projects/assignments/activities are listed and described, including their purpose and due dates. (If you hand out separate instruction sheets for an assignment, project, or activity, then this section needn’t be too detailed. If not, then include those details here.)

• Briefly describe homework exercises, and activities such as field trips, presentations, working in groups, etc. as appropriate to the course.

Materials and Supplies List

• Include all materials needed for the course (textbooks, art supplies).

• Include costs of materials, if possible. List any supplies provided by you that are paid for from their materials fee. Recommend sources and list prices for these materials, if you wish.

Course Schedule

• Create a schedule of topics/activities for each class session. Include project names and their due dates, homework, critiques, demos, lecture, etc. Note that it is subject to change.


• Clearly describe how the final grade will be determined.

• Clearly describe any policies that might be important to you when  evaluating student performance. These might include how or if students can earn extra credit, any “do-over” policies for exams or assignments, etc.

• Often contains clearly described general grading criteria. This means that you describe what an “A” means, “B”, “C”, etc.

Class Policies (Attendance and Class Participation)

• Describe your attendance policy. When is someone “late” to class? Will there be consequences for coming to class late or leaving class early? Is someone who sleeps during class going to be counted as present?

• Describe classroom rules–what types of things do you allow or not allow in the classroom? Are iPods/cell phones/computers allowed? What will you do if someone is disruptive or sleeping during class? How do you feel about talking during class?

• If you are giving them a class participation grade, explain what will count towards that grade. (Talking in class? Doing homework? Going on field trips? Volunteering? Etc.)

Other Miscellaneous Items:

• A reading list

• A description of technology to be used in the course and why

• Additional expectations or activities not already addressed

• Inspirational jokes, quotes, poems, images, etc.

• Safety information

• Contact info for help with learning disabilities

• Policy on academic honesty

Creating a Syllabus: Steps #6 & 7- Create Assignments & Other Learning Activities

Step #6- Now it’s time to finally create the assignments and projects for the class that will give the students the skills that will make them competent, and thus enable them to achieve the learning outcomes.

As you devise your projects, keep in mind how much time students will realistically need to complete them. Allow for some “give time”. Inevitably, things either take more or less time to cover than expected, plus, you may miss a day due to illness or bad winter weather. Give yourself the freedom to make changes as the course progresses.

Step #7- Next, create in-class and homework activities and exercises to support the projects. Again, be realistic of how much work you can give students before overloading them.

Any activities should be in support of the project at hand. Journal or blogging activities can be used to deepen a competency, and can also be a place for brainstorming or gathering research materials for the project.

NOTE: New teachers tend to cram far too many projects and activities into their syllabi than experienced teachers do. Less can be more!