Arts professors must have knowledge and expertise alike

By AUDREY STEVENS ’17

Photography Editor

College instructors have academic experience that is based in research, grounded in theory and applied within an instructional setting. Often, they develop or modify their curricula, bringing their perspective to their pedagogy. This academic background is essential for scholarly rigor and accreditation standards. However, the academic background sometimes lacks the crucial insight students need, especially in the creative, applied or studio disciplines.

When students pursue degree programs within these areas, their curricula must bridge the gap between theory and practice. While intellectual and researched study is necessary, students must acquire the hands-on skills within their discipline.

By having artists, filmmakers, photographers or actors participate in the educational and pedagogical processes, students gain a unique advantage. They develop a well-rounded approach to their degree field and industry. They learn experience, rather than just textbook scenarios. But depending on the experience of the student, does that mean a student is qualified to teach? The dichotomy of this question creates a double-edged scenario. If a student has gained a degree of commercial success and has valuable knowledge, then the student may bring something innovative and unique to the curriculum. The larger concern is how to measure that valued expertise. What is the standard for gauging experience and the value it adds to the institution and the degree program? I think you should be able to teach others to an extent that you would also be able to critique and assist them.

Colleges and institutions of higher learning are designed to provide students with the best opportunities as possible. The best way to do that is giving them exposure to industry experts, especially with creative fields. By learning from industry experts, the students can learn from the experiences of their professors, further adding to the rigor of an academic program. Current educational research posits that there is indeed a benefit. The benefit is experiential learning.

According to the The Glossary of Education Reform “Learning experience refers to any interaction, course, program, or other experience in which learning takes place, whether it occurs in traditional academic settings (schools, classrooms) or nontraditional settings (outside-of-school locations, outdoor environments).”

Students attend institutions of higher learning to get an education. We understand that to mean academically based, research-supported study and comprehension. Education is about learning not just what is in a textbook but how the students can interact with their field and the people in it.

There is no question that colleges have mastered the art of meaningful learning. What is meaningful learning theory? According to psychologist David Ausubel, meaningful learning is “a theory relating to learning within ‘critical thinking’” which contrasts to rote learning of learning through repetition.  In Ausubel’s view, to learn meaningfully, students must relate new knowledge—defined as concepts and propositions—to what they already know. These more inclusive concepts or ideas are advance organizers.

These institutions of higher learning emphasize critical thinking over memorization, a basic component of knowledge acquisition. Colleges have been falling short of providing the next level of professors to train their students. Especially with colleges like Wellesley, it shouldn’t matter whether or not  you have a MFA or doctorate, but rather that you can prove with your work that you are capable of teaching.

Colleges have not ignored this need of a holistic approach to education. Many respond with sponsored internships and employment leads. These approaches help, but still fall short of ‘purposeful learning.’ Often interns are placed without any genuine understanding of the ‘job’ to which they are assigned. Students go through the process in the desperate hope that the internship will lead to employment, and eventually the career within their field.

Bringing in professors with proven industry success binds together the practical knowledge and industry insights needed to create a well-rounded academic program. Students gain more than just meaningful learning; they gain experiential learning.  By introducing ‘hands-on’ training to these applied fields students are equipped to better navigate the job search upon graduation and build those much-needed skills into career fulfillment.

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