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Brain Freeze

  October 10th, 2011

I’m supposed to write about “learning outcomes”. My brain is frozen. I have no reference for these words—and I am a person who likes to have answers. I am a person with an MFA in Writing from a famous art school in Chicago. I am a person who has dedicated her life to the keyboard and the page.Writing is my strong point in life, it might be my only point! A week ago I was confident, but tonight I’m stretched out like Wiley Coyote squashed flat under the Road Runner’s boulder. Add to that: a growing obsession to check the time as it measures a building storm of anxiety in me.

I look up “learn” in the dictionary, I google it, search for it in Wikipedia, I read up on theories. These are sources I can usually depend on to spark some original thought, but tonight I find nothing. Nothing that inspires thoughts of my own. I need a story, an elaboration, a picture even! I pace the room, eat a bag of Dorritos, have a glass of wine…Where are my finely honed skills? Where’s familiar ground? Where is my faithful muse!!

Sigh. Let it go. Go do something else. Work on the Planning Chart. But there I am surrounded by the auxiliary troops: “Outcomes” “Assessment” “Final Assessment” “Resources Needed.” Someone pushed me out of a plane! I grabbed a book on my way down:

“You cannot fold a flood
and put it in a drawer”
Emily Dickinson

The parachute opens. Emily, in these two brief lines, demonstrates the success of a failure. She writes “cannot” while simultaneously doing the “cannot”; she demonstrates that the flood of her passions can fit into a “drawer”, a container, of a poem. I am on the road to recovery. Another book clarifies it further for me: “…the act of writing is a process of improvisation within a framework (form) of intention.” Lyn Hejinian. Improvisation, the unplanned, paradoxically functions within a framework of intention.

The dilemma for teaching art in a system made up of a web of intentions and outcomes is that creativity happens in the accidental, in the “failures”, in the unplanned moments. Art thrives on chaos. Artists learn to hope for a fortuitous failure of their own planned outcome in hopes that the failure will act as a rupture, opening up the work to a much larger idea than what they could have planned on. How to encourage a Jackson Pollock or Gertrude Stein in an educational system that requires measurable outcomes?

I don’t know, but I’ll throw out some ideas. Feel free to add to this in the comments. I will surely appreciate any help.

Learning Outcomes ask us to state our intentions, not our demands. I think this might be a beginning. This keeps the door open and allows us the means to measure information while leaving the door open for improvisation, spontaneity, and playfulness. It allows us to invite students to design aspects of an assignment that aren’t pertinent to our specific outcomes. For writing it could be word count, style, format, medium, subject…(as some of you have mentioned in the discussion).

My goal: To write the learning outcomes so they function as a support for an open doorway and not a wall.

Thanks for listening. I think I can do the homework now.

 

Beverly Nelson, Art Department faculty, Classes: Art 199-Writing Art History, Art 400-Writing Art Criticism.
Artist: William Wegman. Title: Untitled. Date: 2000. Genre: color photograph. This image is copyright protected by law.

 

 

 

 

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16 Responses to “Brain Freeze”

  1. Lovely poetry for a rainy Monday. How wonderful to bring in William Wegman and Emily Dickinson. Art brings light.

    The improvisation that we do in the classroom can be harder to do online with the asynchronicity – and as Sarah said – it helps students to keep it simple (always a challenge for me) and for me to not go off on tangents.

    Tangents become obvious this term because I have a transcriber from Disability Access taking notes for someone, and she is sharing with me the transcription of my “lectures” which is great for assessment and planning. I can see what I said and didn’t say, where I got off topic, etc. It’s great – and scary! I can use this helpfully to create more mini lectures when I teach this science writing again online.

    Comment by jamesosa - October 10th, 2011 @ 8:21 am
  2. Really enjoyed reading this, Beverly.
    I certainly can empathize about the brain freeze associated with formulating the learning outcomes.

    After finishing and submitting my own, I thought of how redundant they appeared when listed. Maybe the instructor – with her fresh eyes – will have a different opinion, but my perspective certainly became a bit twisted after looking at them for a time.

    Best of luck as you move forward developing your course. By the way, what wine goes best with Doritos?

    Comment by stemperd - October 10th, 2011 @ 9:23 am
  3. Thanks David (“David”- right?)

    with Doritos: cheap red.

    Comment by Beverly Nelson - October 10th, 2011 @ 12:52 pm
  4. I’ve always gotten a lot more from classes when the teacher went off on a “tangent”. The lecture becomes an adventure rather than a fabrication. I think the discussion is where this could happen online. Live video or group chat is also a space that would allow for improvising. I think Blackboard has those capabilities, but I haven’t used. Thank you for the comment!
    Beverly

    Comment by Beverly Nelson - October 10th, 2011 @ 1:11 pm
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