I structure my classes by interleaving three primary areas of study to improve students’ craft while also helping them building a framework for critical thought and theoretical understanding. First, focused creative projects offer a setting for learning practical skills. Second, lectures on media theory and the structure of computer software help students understand data representations and the nature of their digital tools. And third, readings and screenings are a catalyst for discussion and critique.
An illustration of this approach is my curriculum for Introduction to Computer Techniques, a class I taught at Virginia Commonwealth University. The course acquainted students with the principles, theory, and history of new media, while simultaneously helping them learn basic tools including programming, video, sound, and animation software.
In the Intro course, students started learning After Effects and Reaper through a series of connected assignments resulting in a short sound and video collage. In the first stage, they collected dozens of found-object media sources, which they then cut into short samples, giving them practice in linear editing and exporting settings. They then created a video collage without sound, learning techniques like animating, masking, rotoscoping, and color blending. Finally, they added a collaged soundtrack, learning to use fading, automation, reverb, EQ, and compression.
Meanwhile, I incorporated lectures on the principles of digital video and sound, covering topics such as resolution, frame rate, color theory, analog to digital conversion, sample rate, bit depth, and binary logic. These concepts were always reinforced through practice, such as experimentation with video rendering settings, or by open exploration in hacking raw digital files to create glitches and understand how the data is organized.
Every week, readings and screenings sparked debates on topics such as copyright, virtuality, and the creative process. While many of the covered pieces were on topics relating to the collage assignment students were working on, I occasionally added a philosophical reading to stimulate broader discussions and help students expand their horizons. I encouraged students to direct these conversation if possible, but I was also prepared to Socratically prompt further discussion with pointed questions. This discursive structure created a strong group dynamic for the project critiques, which I view as being one of the most important elements of any art class.