Teaching Philosophy of Elizabeth Alderman

The Voyage

One summer while I was in college, I scored a job as a sailing counselor. That was the summer I learned to love teaching. What interested me the most was teaching people to overcome fear. My goal was to teach sailing students to enjoy the experience, to relax and feel safe, and to encourage them to feel the elements—the wind, the ballast of the boat, the way the wind made ripples on the waves, and the color of the sky to check for weather conditions. When my students felt at ease, they assimilated the technical requirements of sailing easily. I discovered that learning is best when it is immersive, when the student can make connections between all of the elements. As a teacher, I discovered my ability to teach empowerment, and students to sail on their own. All of my subsequent teaching experiences have brought me to the understanding of myself as teacher as guide. I feel that I am on a voyage. My students are the crew “on board” with me, participants in the voyage of learning.

The New Frontier
New technological innovations allow for new ways of thinking and paradigms in creative practices and interactions. Knowledge of methodology is needed to take concept to product. The challenge is to learn the disciplines, exercises, and rigors of this tradition, while remaining open, fluid, and receptive to new ideas. The practitioner is both a user and a creator.

I seek to help foster an environment where the student’s access to new media is dynamic, and crosses discipline lines. As a teacher, I am interested in a multi-disciplinary approach, working with artists’ books, photography, film, video, internet, music, and animation. In the classroom, I am interested in guiding my students to become active agents when they interact with computers, as this will allow them to become conscious, intelligent users, not blind consumers of the latest software hype. As a teacher who works with image-making potential of the computer, I show students how to become adaptive and calm, despite technical difficulties. I tell my students that the computer is similar to a musical instrument and if practiced regularly, will become a tool to help them develop the skills and techniques to produce expressive medium. I ask them to do drawing exercises, to warm up and open up, and to incorporate various methodologies and media within the digital canvas. For me teaching at a museum school as a digital art instructor was a formative experience. My job was to interface with different disciplines and to contextualize assignments in relation to the works of art in the art collection. This studio environment fostered a discourse centered upon the history of art. The students produced work that was more rich and mature. They did not make work with clip art. As a teacher, I am insistent that students produce content that is creative, not imitative.

The Map
As a professor, I see my goals of teaching being met when I hear my students explain to me that they see that each design problem is one that needs to be solved, and that through experience and practice they understand how they will be better equipped to solve the problem. Most importantly, all students have a unique potential to solve these problem by using their own talents and perspectives. I believe it is important to foster self-confidence, pride, and sense of accomplishment within the students. These qualities will bring a lifetime of satisfaction and desire to learn in the context of the discipline that I teach them, or any that they may choose, for that matter.

The Teacher–the guide
During my three years at NMSU, I have found that a challenging part of my job as professor is to make sure students have proper tools to learn the craft of their discipline. This means I am an advocate for the students to receive resources. I’ve achieved this goal by developing creative cost sharing solutions, by sharing resources with other areas to reduce costs, and by seeking donations in the form of computer hardware. In the resource scarce environment of the University, I’ve worked hard with the administration to provide a digital foundation (software hands-on skills) curriculum for the students. I am an advocate for my students and I believe it is important for students to have a curriculum that teaches them how to use their tools, in the form of foundation courses in digital practice, so that they may be prepared for advanced courses where I teach the students to be content driven.

The Student–the copilot
The students are like the crew onboard the ship. The ship will not go forward unless they invest themselves in the voyage. I see the classroom experience as one where the students partake in a conversation about the discipline. I encourage the students to see themselves as co-creators of the discipline, as it will continue to change in their lifetime. I emphasize the value of their ideas and perceptions in shaping the future of the discipline. I encourage an open environment of diversity where debate is encouraged.

I am interested in interactive modes of teaching that allow the students to work not only by themselves but also with one another in a cooperative classroom. I like to use the classroom as a studio environment in which students learn to work together where free expression is fostered. This collaboration prepares students to perform in future work environments.

The Student–the practitioner
My goal is to expand this conversation outside of the confines of the classroom. To engage the students, I am dedicated to sponsoring artist programs and workshops that allow the students to interact directly with working artists and professionals. This helps the students make a connection between what they are learning and “real world” practice. One of my most successful programming initiatives is a portfolio review process that opens up dialogue between students, professionals, creative artists, and teachers throughout the state of New Mexico. This portfolio review process allows the students to perform within the context of a guided professional environment. I also invite students from other schools. This prepares them for the idea that there are many different cultures of work, outside of the school world. Professionals from the community and the state come for a day of structured activities; these professionals encourage the students to learn how to talk about their work. This event has proven to be a life-altering event for many of students. They appreciate the immediate feedback from many kinds of individuals, and how through this process they understand that there is no single “right” answer.

The navigation–the pedagogy
I seek to tap into the personal motivations of each individual student, and try to foster a learning environment where I can work one-on-one with students. Students need to be guided in the beginning years in terms of various strategies and ways of study. I seek to teach the class the value of research, thumbnails and going through the steps. I teach them that there are critical steps in terms of creating smart and original content. If I ask students to create an illustration for a literacy poster, I will require that they demonstrate the following a) research b) sketches, thumbnails c) more developed drawings and revisions d) identification and use of appropriate tools. Only after they make sketches, do I let them go to the computer for layout and more revisions in response to feedback from their peers and myself. The critique process is an essential catalyst for creating their final projects: this process is one in which they experience an initial, midway, and final critique of their work. This process emphasizes the practice of critical dialogue. I encourage the students to be honest, curious and active communicators.

I believe in the power of community-based art practice to motivate the students as a social agent. I try to foster the student’s sense of responsibility as image-makers. I ask them to focus on critical issues like: What are the ethical guideline and appropriate use of images? I encourage the students to do independent projects, and to work with clients. Also, I support “pro bono” work where the students do a class projects affiliated with a community agencies.

The Ports of Passage–the assessment
In assessment of my students, I value process over results. One goal is to make clear connections between problems and to identify the areas needed to improve the quality of their work. Another goal is to make a non-arbitrary system, one that offers a clear direction for the student on how to be successful. By the time they are seniors, they are able to internalize this system. The process is designed to teach them to become critiques of not only their own work, but others as well. My goal is to direct the individual student to focus on their process and learning concepts that will allow them to become better problem solvers. All students are required to turn in a self-evaluation for their project. It is not the answer that matters, but how they arrived at the answer. In fact, I encourage them to feel secure with giving the wrong answer (and reward them if the process is substantiated), as sometimes the wrong answer is a creative solution, and perhaps one step away from an answer that will work. I am grading their ability to think, not their ability to be “right.”

The Destination
Ultimately, the students are my charges, and I want to help them grow into adults and professionals of their chosen field. I want to train them to be keenly aware of the elements around them, to make connections and the best possible choices. Ultimately, they will be forced to act, to become the sailors of their own uncharted territories, to pull in their sails, chart their paths, and embark on their own journey. I am deeply fascinated with this process and am passionate about being “present and conscious” with my students as they set forward on this path. I see them as future peers and voyagers who will discover new worlds.

My goal in teaching is to build upon a foundation of tradition, while showing my students pathways that will allow them to adapt and change. In essence, I want to teach students how to learn, be creative, and build a solid base for a lifetime of learning.

Elizabeth Alderman, Art