The topic of this month’s Provisions session was Teaching with Technology: Digital Composing.  The three presenters included Sean McCLowry, Assistant Professor of Music Industry, Elizabeth Richards, Visiting Instructor of Communications, and Robert O’Neil, Assistant Professor of Art.

Elizabeth Richards, who teaches classes on cinema, film studies, production, etc., presented the advice that she gives her students as they begin any of her classes “fake it, then break it.”  When students come into her classroom, she is generally presented with two problems: first, that technology is characterized as the bad guy, i.e. “technology and I just don’t get along,” and second, the tendency for students to claim artistic intent and believe that this intent trumps conceptual clarity, i.e. “this is how I wanted it to look.”

As far as the characterization of technology, Richards feels that resorting to the idea that something and someone “just don’t get along” is similarly seen in the cases of math and science, for example, where novices will often struggle.  The instances where students claim artistic intent over conceptual clarity, in her experience, usually involves students above the level of novice who are trying to oppose convention.  As far as Richards is concerned, these are two separate problems with one solution, “fake it, then break it.”  In other words, learn the rules, and then see how you can make them work for you.  Richards’ goal, and goal for her students, is to try to show and guide them towards figuring out ways in which technology can and will work for them.

In regards to the question, “well, how do I fake it?,” Richards explains that her process starts with the basic concept she is trying to teach.  In her presentation, she used the example of “rack focus.”  In a class, Richards would begin by clearly defining the conventions in regards to rack focus, and next provide practical instruction on how to achieve the concept.  In order to guide the students towards discovering how the technology could potentially work for them, she would assign a project or an in class project and sets limitations.  For example, Richards discussed how often, when assigning a project where students are required to convey some emotion through a filmed piece, a restriction she often places on students is that there can be no dialogue, forcing them to see how they can make the medium, and conventions they have learned, work for them as well as for the task.  To check out Richards PowerPoint Presentation, click here: Richards PowerPoint.

Next to present was Rob O’Neil, who, as a photographer and photography teacher, began his presentation by talking about the frequency in which he hears about Instagram, followed by an article recently written about the uproar of those “horrified” by the Instagram picture of Alex Rodriguez that graced the New York Times.

Explaining that photography started in 1839, O’Neil then followed with the statistic that 10% of pictures taken, of the entirety of pictures taken in the history of photography, were taken in 2012.  His question then becomes, “how do you teach a technology everyone knows?”

According to O’Neil, photography has always been about the ease for the populace, citing very early examples of the Kodak camera, including advertisements exclaiming the simplicity of “photography in three steps.”  Teaching photography, when everyone is a photographer, then becomes about focusing on the message, where the medium is secondary to the message.

O’Neil concluded his presentation by describing one of the recent projects he has tasked his students with. Inspired by the film Five Obstructions, in which Lars Von Trier challenges Jørgen Leth to the task of remaking The Perfect Human five times, each time with a different ‘obstruction’ (or obstacle) given by von Trier (Wiki), O’Neil described how he created five obstructions (or parameters) that the students must apply to their own work.

Sean McClowrey discussed The College of Saint Rose’s focus on popular and commercial music, not often or always the case in music programs, and described the program’s efforts to make it as collaborative an effort, on the part of the students, as possible, simulating the real world experience in that realm of the music industry.

McClowrey explained that the program is constantly struggling and striving to find ways to make the classroom a collaborative space, where all students are engaged on one project, and showed off their “super computer” that they have created in an effort to achieve the goal of maximum collaboration.  Their “super computer” has many other expensive instruments wired and connected to it, and the beauty of this machine is that it can share with and be controlled by computers anywhere.  So basically, what happens is that every student, no matter what their role (i.e. producer, composer, song writer, instrument player, etc.) have their laptops running and connected to this super computer at all times in the music composing process, so that any point they can take over the controls and participate in the construction of the composition.

This was a very brief summary of the session, to listen to the entire session via podcast, click here.

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