Michelle Kasprzak Teaching Porfolio, 2019
My main aim as a teacher is to encourage critical thinking, problem-solving skills, and autonomous learning. I strive to guide students towards being better able to answer the questions: what are the ideas I am passionate about communicating? and then: how can I do it? I believe it is essential for students to learn how to be auto-didacts and have the confidence and intellectual tools to ask productive questions.
I accomplish my teaching aims by combining pedagogical methods to keep students stimulated and viewing relevant issues from all possible angles. Depending on the context and the maturity of the group, I will use a combination of lectures, audio-visual material, Socratic seminars, micro-assignments, field trips, and leadership exercises to bring out the best in my students. I am constantly soliciting feedback (check-in sessions at the start of every class, typically) to take the temperature and tweak what I have planned to suit emerging situations.
My first experience with curriculum development and teaching was at the Canadian Film Centre’s New Media Lab in 2002. Our small faculty team developed curriculum for the Interactive Art and Entertainment Programme, balancing theory modules with technical instruction and leadership development, delivered in a former stables on a historical estate on the outskirts of Toronto. Our challenge as faculty was to develop a compelling and relevant programme for professionals who were seeking to achieve a rapid understanding of the process of creating interactive art and create a working prototype to show, at a time when this was still a relatively new field. Under our leadership, the residents released dozens of interactive prototypes and several residents became award-winning content producers across Canada. This nimble responsiveness to a rapidly changing field and tight integration working in a small faculty team continue to inform my approach today.
In my current body of undergraduate and graduate teaching at the Hogeschool Rotterdam, I draw heavily on my own background as a trained artist and my working career as a curator to inform my working methods. I can relate to and understand “crit” sessions and the pressure of prepping for a grad show, as I have been there. I can understand and relate to the difficulties of articulating oneself in a grant application, teaching philosophy, or artist statement, as I have been there. Through my work as an artist, a curator, an educator, an organizer, a prize juror, and many other roles in the art world across North America and Europe, I have developed a broad understanding of the forces shaping the creative industries today. I share my insights with my students freely and find that my critical-friendly and no-BS stance resonates with them, and that my experiences lend me credibility in the classroom.
When assessing the effectiveness of the learning that takes place in my classroom or lecture hall, the final grades that my students earn form only one kind of evidence. I take into account the students’ own satisfaction with the course, and when the output of the course is an artwork, prototype, or other creative piece, I look for signs that the students themselves are proud of their work. If the output is an academic essay, I look for evidence that the student has evolved their thinking on their chosen topic. When supervising someone closely it is important to be critical-friendly: using the kind of tone and suggestions which gently push a student to do a little more, risk a little more, tighten up their position a little more. Unsolicited e-mailed feedback from recent sessions of the Digital Cultures Seminar I teach at the Piet Zwart Institute also told me the work we created was a success:
“Thanks for a thoroughly enriching series of seminars – a refreshing approach which complements our previous Critical pedagogies seminar and Contemporary issues.”
“The readings and workshops have really helped in sharpening my research focus.”
“Your seminar series no doubt takes each individual on many different adventures.”
“It was a very inspiring time to be working with you. Once again thank you for all the inspiration and support!”
“I enjoyed your seminar very much Michelle, thank you!”
Last but not least, collaborating with peers and leading others is a central part of my pedagogical practice. I often co-teach or co-lead workshops. I also have always had to work as part of small faculty teams where consensus and collaborative decision making are key. In my experience, the learning outcomes are naturally positive when is the faculty team collaborates well and utilizes the best of the skills and industry experience that we collectively have.