Symposium Fosters Creativity in Art History and Visual Culture

The capstone class for art history majors in the Department of Art, Art History, and Design was made richer this past year by a unique presentation of digital approaches to the study of art. This event was featured at the 6th annual Art History and Visual Culture symposium Teaching with Tech: Practical Uses of Digital Technology in the Arts and Culture Classroom on Dec. 4, co-coordinated by Art History Professors Jon Frey and Laura Smith.

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It showcased the recent work of both faculty and students who explore innovative uses of digital tools to rethink teaching and learning both in and out of the higher education classroom. From wiki pages to 360° visual presentations to 3D scanning and printing, symposium presenters all expressed enthusiasm for the technological advances that are enabling interactive experiences that encourage new approaches to instructional pedagogy.

For Art History majors, a professional presentation of original research is the culmination of the capstone experience course, HA 499 Senior Research and Professional Development, that focuses on the development of skills related to career planning and is supplemented by a faculty-mentored research project. This course and the associated undergraduate art history symposium were first developed in 2011 in response to MSU’s “Shaping the Future” initiative.

From wiki pages to 360° visual presentations to 3D scanning and printing, symposium presenters all expressed enthusiasm for the technological advances that are enabling interactive experiences that encourage new approaches to instructional pedagogy.

Where in the past, this symposium featured a wide variety of topics centered on student research, this year's event was organized around the theme of electronic pedagogical strategies and the types of student/faculty collaborations that are a frequent aspect of scholarly work in the digital humanities. Frey's own research and teaching has recently focused on leveraging new digital technologies in order to emulate in the classroom the kinds of embodied interactions that are the greatest strength of “on-site” study. With the support of a Technology Innovation Projects (TIPs) grant from the College of Arts & Letters, and in cooperation with the Broad Art Museum, Frey designed test courses centered on the use of virtual and printed 3D models of artifacts as well as projected panoramic images as alternatives to the more traditional art history lecture.

cal_website_news_ahsymposium2.JPGInspiration for this year's symposium also came from Art History undergrad Sean Davis whose senior project involved a study of similar innovative classroom techniques at other institutions, and the polling of student responses to 3D imaging in Art History classes. The results of his survey revealed that students still preferred to study the actual artwork, but were most excited about techniques that reliy upon the use of their own smartphones. As one student put it, “…if we were actively using them for the class, we would be less likely to get distracted by texting, Instagram, etc.”

Ethan Watrall, assistant professor in Anthropology and associate director of MATRIX, and Theresa Winge associate professor in Apparel and Textile Design (ATD) and director of the Creative Exploratory, also were featured speakers.

Watrall offered an overview of his collaboration with the LEADR lab and with students in ANP 455: Archaeology of Ancient Egypt to create a web-based gazetteer, the Digital Atlas of Egyptian Archaeology. Utilizing a variety of digital resources such as Mapbox and Github, Watrall’s class composed narrative reports on major Egyptian archaeological sites that were plotted onto an interactive map of the Nile Valley.

Winge reported on the growing use of 3D printing in the fashion world and her own efforts to prepare her ATD students for this industry-wide shift. Her presentation noted both the troubles and eventual triumphs in mastering this new technology largely through trial and error, which is a hallmark of the do-it-yourself ethos of the digital humanities community.

Upon completion of the morning presentations, and in order to raise awareness concerning the many people and places on the MSU campus helping to enable such innovations, Frey, Winge, and Davis led introductory tours to Abram's Planetarium, the LEADR lab, the main library's Make Central, and the Creative Exploratory. All were facilities that provided the resources presented in the morning sessions.

The students responded enthusiastically to this experience and said they believed that the opportunity to study art history virtually enhanced their understanding of the expressive potential of human-made structures and spaces.

The lasting positive impression that this symposium made on faculty and students can be illustrated by one new pedagogical experiment made this spring semester by Laura Smith in her HA102 class, an introductory survey on Western art from the Renaissance to the Modern period. As inspired by the symposium and as part of Smith’s commitment to enhance student learning through research opportunities outside the classroom, the HA102 class made a special visit to Abram's Planetarium on Feb. 1.

Students virtually explored Vatican City, St. Peter's Cathedral, and the Sistine Chapel ceiling through the planetarium's projections of 360° videos and photographs. The visual experience was made richer by a guided dialogue from Smith and Professor Susan Bandes, who teaches classes in Renaissance and Baroque art and architecture.

The students responded enthusiastically to this experience and said they believed that the opportunity to study art history virtually enhanced their understanding of the expressive potential of human-made structures and spaces. Wrote one student who participated in the survey that followed the class:

“What I found most useful from the 360° projections of Vatican City was that it took learning out of your basic classroom setting. I learned to appreciate the experience more because I felt like I was there.”