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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