Month: February 2014


In this magnificent presentation, Art Historian Jennifer L. Roberts, avoids all the standard patter and cliches of so many conference education speakers and clearly articulates the importance of teaching students deceleration, patience and in deep attention, skills she identifies as rarely found instructed elsewhere today. Towards this, she opens by underscoring the “disciplinary texture that defines all teaching”. Such brilliantly unpopular ideas spoken so well. She then goes on to describe how she requires that her students, spend “a painfully long time looking at the work”.

Its so mind-blowingly obvious and yet overlooked that students of art should observe a work of art for an extended period, just as the work was intended to be seen. Only by doing so does the work reveal itself.

“Say a student wanted to explore the work popularly known as Boy with a Squirrel, painted in Boston in 1765 by the young artist John Singleton Copley. Before doing any research in books or online, the student would first be expected to go to the Museum of Fine Arts, where it hangs, and spend three full hours looking at the painting, noting down his or her evolving observations as well as the questions and speculations that arise from those observations. The time span is explicitly designed to seem excessive. Also crucial to the exercise is the museum or archive setting, which removes the student from his or her everyday surroundings and distractions.

At first many of the students resist being subjected to such a remedial exercise. How can there possibly be three hours’ worth of incident and information on this small surface? How can there possibly be three hours’ worth of things to see and think about in a single work of art? But after doing the assignment, students repeatedly tell me that they have been astonished by the potentials this process unlocked.”



One of the realities of current education models is that sessional staff and tutors are regularly required to whip together new subject and course material, sadly sometimes within days. As I’m currently enjoying full time employment as a senior lecturer, this situation is one I no longer suffer from, but having operated as a sessional lecturer for several years, its a panicy scramble I’m all too familiar with.

While I’m loath to support this system as it stands, I’m also sympathetic to those who’s income depends upon being able to throw together a course ASAP, and who have the integrity to keep it academically rigorous, student focused and flexibly delivered. I recently game some advice to a friend who now finds herself in this situation. Here’s what I offered:

You have to have a subject template and outline. Whoever is asking you to create the courseware will have this, or the course won’t have been approved. Once you have this document, you will have a helicopter view of what the course is about, how it is being assessed and what the outcomes should be. Its still pretty scary how little you have to work with, but this freak-out moment is a great opportunity to brainstorm and jot down some ideas for the course themes and delivery. Break it down into what you need to teach by working back from the intended outcomes. Also look at what the related opportunities could be: guest speakers, related events, etc.

Now you need to develop some assessable tasks and collate the content.

While I don’t condone and certainly don’t recommend cutting and pasting a course from another uni, seeing what else is around at some of the high rankers and ivy leagues is pretty useful and inspiring.

For the areas I teach, my first port of call is typically the MIT open courseware material.

here you can search the key words to best describe the subject/course you are about to run and you usually get pretty solid syllabus structure and readings. Most of what I teach is practice-focused, so MIT works for me, but more theory related stuff is available at Yale’s open courses. There’s a full list of universities with freely available course content here. You might find some sweet lecture ideas, tute plans, and course trajectories, but it will need to be heavily customised and remixed for your own purposes.

You will need to forge out your own distinctive offering.

To do this, Google Scholar is a great resource for searching recent texts for reading material and it can handle stacks of key words to really specify the content. Depending on your subject, you might also find some interesting and relevant support material a places like the Khan Academy, and by searching though videos, podcasts and even games.

These can really help you flesh out class plans and structure weeks, themes and subjects. This all comes together in a word doc.


Once I have put together a week-to-week breakdown of the lectures and tutorials, I put it into a spreadsheet, and then drop it all in a blog. This not only plans everything out, but also provides access to all of the lectures, tutorials, assessable material, readings, terminology, and supporting content to your students once the course starts. Here are some examples:

Now when a student says, “did I miss anything in this weeks tute”, I can just say: “as I said in week one, check the blog!”

You will probably still be writing the tutorials and lectures the night before, but you at least have a structure that can be followed, a whole bunch of resources that can support your students, and a class based on some of the better international