I attended an arts school for 7 years before college. Starting in the 6th grade, I spent an hour-and-a-half every day honing my skills as a filmmaker on top of taking my other classes for the normal middle/high school core curriculum. My peers were all artists as well, each focusing on one of 11 different art majors. Our teachers recognized the power of having a room full of artists and used this to enhance the learning that took place in each classroom.
It would be impossible to count the number of projects I had to do where I was tasked with taking the classroom material (be it the novel Jane Eyre or the Krebs Cycle) and converting it into some sort of artistic presentation. At the time, I think a lot of us scoffed at being told to mix our academics with our arts, but the skills I learned by doing this work still benefit me today.
In college, so many of our summative projects are papers or exams. A dry regurgitation of the material achieves the aim of assessing how well the content was absorbed, but often doesn’t task us to really contextualize our learning. When professors assign something more creative, they make space for students who process differently to flourish, and this often leads to the creation of really cool final products.
The final for this class is not an exam or a report but is instead an open-ended choose-your-own-topic presentation of material. I love it.
I jumped around a lot when it came to picking a topic and medium for my project. I wanted to do something that was fun and would introduce my peers to new information. At first, I figured I’d make a film since that’s where I’m most practiced. But without a film crew or time to animate, I thought maybe a website would be easier. As I started considering topics to study, I realized something visual was going to be extremely necessary if I wanted to tell my information in a way that was easy to understand. I ultimately decided to put together an illustrated book (I hesitate to call it a children’s book since the content is a bit complex).
This process has been so much fun. I spent an hour on Thursday just drawing detailed depictions of various shoe types (I promise it’s related to my project). I had the opportunity to play with art, narrative, and parody while also coming up with ways to explain a fairly complex mathematical concept. It was definitely a challenge trying to take what could easily have been a 5-10 page paper and distill it into less than 1000 words, but, as a result, I was able to gain a really solid understanding of the material for myself as well.
I wish more CC professors would offer open-ended projects like this. I don’t mean that we should get rid of exams and papers all together, but I do think more emphasis on finding the intersections between ideas would only help with student learning. That’s the point of the liberal arts anyway, isn’t it?