The course I am redesigning is ART 446 – Documentary Photography. This is a course that was previously taught using 35mm film, so I am in the midst of a complete redesign of the course (and I will also have to submit a Cat II proposal). As this is a studio class, the regular meeting schedule for the class is six in-class hours per week. As a hybrid course the students will meet for three hours in-class and therefore students will be able to dedicate an additional three hours to taking photographs in the field.
This course requires students to self-select a documentary photography subject and pursue that subject for the entire quarter. It is a 400 level course, so some self-sufficiency as well as previous photography experience is expected. Students have to pitch their project ideas at which time the other students give feedback. Following the ‘pitch’ discussions revolve around access, ethics and feasibility.
The plan is for the students to shoot and edit their images outside of class. In-class sessions are spent entirely on group critiques, discussions and some ‘how-to’ lectures. There are only twelve students in the class and the class meets in-class once a week for three hours. During the critiques, each student has to make, share and then defend their choices in making the work. My job is that of a discussion facilitator and to ensure that the discussion remains constructive and that each student gets equal time. The discussions can be very involved and discouraging at times. However, as each project develops, the discussions and results become increasingly rewarding. It is an intense experience – these are personally selected projects and the students become increasingly engaged.
Outside of class the students are expected to spend at least three to six hours in the field taking photographs and then editing these photographs. In addition they need to post weekly to the discussion board. This post reflects on that week’s online material which may consist of reading, watching videos, or self-directed research. Readings and responses cover topics such as aesthetics and beauty in documentary photography, ethical issues, and the use of text. In addition, the students blog their project progress – in this way I am kept up-to-date on project progress (or non-progress).
Towards the end of the quarter (around week 7) the focus turns to finalizing the project, editing and sequencing the photographic series. Finally, the students start working on their audio-slideshows – which will accompany the project.
The goal is that the students prepare their projects as if they were submitting an application to the Alexia Foundation – this is to encourage and to prepare students to apply for grants to support their work. In addition, they create an audio slide-show as another form of presenting the same material.
The hybrid formal works very well for this course as the students should be working with a great deal of self-sufficiency at this stage of their college career. Teaching in the hybrid format gives the students more time in the field. In addition, being able to read and respond individually to the weekly discussion board responses is very enriching as a teacher.