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Our New Street Corner

By Featured, SAIC

Illustration by Yen-Kai Huang

The internet is our new street corner, gallery, and shopping center. It is the Greek forum for the 21st century, and yet we are still trying to figure out how to go about using this platform. A friend of mine, Alejandra Perez, is in an Introduction to Photography class here at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) with professor Jan Tichy. In his class, Tichy has created an assignment: Students bring photographs taken by themselves inspired by the New Bauhaus; he’ll select some to be sent to a curator of a gallery in Berlin.

After hearing about this project, I immediately thought, “Why aren’t we doing more projects like this in school?” The most valuable aspect of having professors (besides the knowledge they impart), is their network. Usually, they’ve been involved in the art market longer than any of the students, and have, throughout their careers, created connections with fellow artists.

In the age of Instagram and Facebook, we interact on platforms by constantly seeking exposure of ourselves — socially or professionally. It seemed odd to me that this was the first time I’d heard of a teacher utilizing his connections and the advantages by placing such a structure on a project.

As cliché as it may sound, the boundaries that a teacher can push when really taking advantage to the globalized character of the internet are truly incredible. It’s a resource that could benefit both students and professors. It seems that the classroom is lacking the ability to keep up with the development of technology.

Consider a history class that starts employing virtual reality to virtually take its students to Rome. Instead of merely seeing the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling in a Powerpoint slide, students could experience and appreciate what they are being taught in an immersive experience — seeing and feeling what they are learning more than just glancing at a photograph.

When asked about the subject, Craig Downs, the executive director of media and instructional resources at SAIC, said, “We have the resources for the teachers, but there is not a requirement for the faculty to come and learn.”

In other words, faculty members may come to reach for help from Instructional Resources and Facilities Management (IRFM), or Computer Resources and Information Technology (CRIT), but there is not an official venue for it.

Downs mentioned that the Faculty Senate is interested in creating an official place for discerning where education and technology can intersect, and there is talk on working with the Dean’s Office on this project. He also added that in a faculty and staff meeting “Roberto Cifuentes, the chair of the faculty senate business committee, placed the creation of a teaching learning center as a priority for next year’s agenda.”

“This place would help teachers develop new technologies in their curriculum, and giving them a place to start,” Downs said.

We can only hope that the school really does accomplish the establishment of this resource, and that with this, teachers are incentivized to innovate in the classroom. It is true that all of this is easier said than done, but where better to start employing these methods than in an art school with teachers that are the pioneers in art and technology?  

Moving teaching methods to the 21st century does not need to be as complex as virtual reality; it can even mean sharing a critique with a class in another part of the world via a Skype conference call. Or it could mean arranging with a curator from Berlin to email the photographs by your students, to see if he feels like placing some of their work in his gallery. 

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