Rather than embodying the conventional false assumption that the university setting is not the ‘real world’ and teaching accordingly, the democratic educator breaks through the false construction of the corporate university as set apart from real life and seeks to re-envision schooling as always a part of our real world experience, and our real life. Embracing the concept of a democratic education we see teaching and learning as taking place constantly. — bell hooks
Central to my teaching philosophy is the belief that higher education can and should inspire lifelong, self-directed creativity and learning. My primary role as an educator is motivating students to continuously engage in their own learning and personal development. I support students on their journey to become self-authoring, proactive artists and citizens by fostering an empowering learning environment, nurturing individual goals and artistic practice, and providing regular opportunities for students to incorporate feedback.
The most important function of my teaching is fostering a classroom environment that promotes intellectual and creative investment. I ask students to think holistically, considering how their experiences in the classroom affect the world around them. I openly and deliberately share my enthusiasm for what I teach, balancing thoroughly researched, intellectually-stimulating course material with informal, humorous, student-centered lecture and discussion. I strive toward an inclusive environment by consciously curating readings and creative works from scholars and artists with a broad range of ethnic, socioeconomic, and gender backgrounds. This simultaneously fosters openness to new ideas and empowers students to position themselves as unique contributors to the canon of diverse, high-impact work that already exists. I intend ALL of my students to see themselves in the work we explore together. I hope my enthusiasm, humor, and commitment to diversity is contagious—creating a supportive classroom environment where students feel free to make mistakes and practice taking risks, an orientation that is key to an innovative life.
My classes typically begin with a prior learning assessment that asks students about previous coursework, technical expertise, artistic interests, personal goals, and their decision to take my course. Beyond helping me set appropriate expectations, this exercise provides the background information I require to actively shape classroom activities to suit students’ distinct needs and invest in each student individually. Additionally, I create assignments that allow students to work toward independent aspirations within the structure of the course. For example, in my interdisciplinary media production course Creating Feminist Media, I ask students to create a 3- to 5-minute project that responds to any phrase they found meaningful in the assigned text. Students can draw from any narrative form or mode of production—documentary, narrative fiction, experimental, animation, sound, etc.—using this phrase as a seed for their own ideas. This maintains a structure meaningful to overarching course objectives, but allows students to practice self-directed, multi-step workflows. Deliberate, student-oriented course design creates significant learning experiences complemented by goal-directed practice.
I believe the practice of offering and receiving feedback is critical to artistic learning. It builds resilience and models for students that successful creative work is an ongoing, multi-step process. Being intimately familiar with students’ principal artistic goals helps me provide targeted, constructive criticism and challenge students to attempt alternative creative approaches. If students have not developed clear individual goals, I provide feedback that guides their process of discovery and enables them to channel their influences and motivations into meaningful work. The comfortable, reciprocal learning environment I create allows me to clearly communicate my expectations—expectations high enough to motivate students to do their best work and reasonable enough for students to feel empowered to succeed. I require production status reports and rough cut screenings at critical stages throughout the creative process to provide students with multiple opportunities to practice incorporating peer and instructor critique. I also require written self-evaluations with each completed project, facilitating self-direction by prompting students to judge their own work and modify accordingly—a skill absolutely essential to imaginative endeavors.
In the words of bell hooks, I “see teaching and learning as taking place constantly.” I connect higher education to a purpose-driven life. I believe it should develop an individual’s capacity to think for themselves and propel them toward a lifelong pursuit of growth and development—a requirement of progressive change.