As an educator, I’m approached by students, alumni, colleagues, administration and outside parties through email…a ton. In fact, a big part of my after hours is spent on replying to all sorts of issues. Some big. Some small. Never anything in between, interestingly enough. But, the big ones are the ones I’m really proud of because it’s usually a moment where I can address a significant issue that relates to the professional development of my students…
…emails that provide a teachable moment that happens out of class, out of the designed curriculum and with no current place in my class itinerary: teaching in real-time, as I like to say.
I put a lot of care into every thing I do and, although trying to be informative, my secondary intention with these well considered emails is to impress upon my students the power of words and the value in articulating thought through written form. EMAILS THAT KICK ASS are a collection of such correspondence…cut and pasted directly from my Outlook box, but with names changed to protect both the innocent and the guilty!
*(a)SYNCHRONICITY* is a letter to our RIT Glass student body in response to the rapid spread of COVID-19 across the nation in early March that led to an equally rapid decision to close college campuses down for the remainder of the semester. It was wild time...full of fear, uncertainty, confusion, and helplessness. There was an unraveling of societal normalcy that was nothing short of stunning...new government issued protocols of quarantine, lockdown, distancing, disinfecting, and personal cleanliness given essentially overnight. It was all so sudden and unforeseen...
Faculty and students were just beginning a week of Spring Break when news was delivered from the University President that RIT was closed for the term and that academic continuity would have to be delivered online. No one really knew what that entirely meant, but we were tasked to figure it out...which was a colossal problem to solve for folks providing studio-based educational experiences. Especially us in Glass...educators and students whose learning objectives and outcomes rely heavily on very specific facilities, equipment, and tools in each of our courses. Resources that just aren't available at home for remote learning. In turn, it was clear that whatever we designed to fulfill our course's learning objectives in the back half of the term would have to make extraordinary theoretical/conceptual use of what material experience our students already had in the front half.
Long story short, we as faculty were given a week to re-design and re-launch a modified curriculum to our Glass students to engage material competency, critical thinking, professional practice, and research-driven projects in a way that brought finality to the work we began together in this very peculiar Spring term. And to develop ways of doing this for all our students levels: introductory, intermediate, and advanced. (Which we did masterfully considering...)
We couldn't promise that what we developed would be anything like the experience of being in studio together. But we certainly developed content that would appropriately cover the course objectives that we hadn't accomplished yet...the ones that relied on out-of-studio research and development. The email below was sent the Friday before we began our first week of remote learning following to announce that revisions to the course were made, where folks could find those things at various digital hot spots, and what our next steps were before launching this very bizarre pedagogical experiment. Suffice it to say, there was a lot of heartache at the suddenness of it all...and those who were teeing up to graduate were the most disappointed in this remote learning experience as the replacement for their Capstone/Thesis exhibitions, final reviews/defenses, and graduation ceremonies. It was important to address that, too...to lead our students forward into the fog with optimism, but with a firm acknowledgment that we just can't have any potential goodness that might come out of this circumstance compromised by an exasperated mourning over spilt milk...
Susie and I have developed a REVISED approach to the rest of the term together that we are happy to share with you!
As we already know, all courses are now going online and Susie and I have created a new approach to your classes with us that (1.) support you in fulfilling the current requirements of the course, (2.) continue to nourish your growth and spark curiosity, and (3.) to maintain a sense of connection between this small, powerful group of people. Attached to this email are documents that outline the what/how/when of those things: a revised Syllabus to the course you’re enrolled in and a new weekly schedule. They will also soon live in MyCourses and the Department GDRIVE. Please spend some time with these documents and develop questions about what seems unclear. Things are always subject to change, but we feel EXCITED about how to make the most of this funky situation. We hope you’re game, too!
Lastly, it’s clear that everybody is disappointed with how this term has rapidly shifted…how it compromised our hopes and aspirations in finalizing all the work we’ve done together in studio and through a physical exhibition. You have our full understanding on that front. We’re heartbroken, too. But the only way to move forward is to work on developing ways in making this unsavory circumstance useful for ourselves. In fact, it’s the biggest part of the artist’s job description (!). We give you permission to be disappointed, but not to lament...to not let the bummers of this moment interfere with recognizing all the personal transformation that has been happening for each of you during this past year. Not to mention all the further transformation that is yet to come with what Susie and I designed. With that said, we are honored to have worked with you so far, proud of what you all have accomplished already, and super excited to still be able to crossover with you for the next few weeks. Where ever we might be!
Even in this incredibly foggy time, we must continue to walk boldly into this uncertainty...in whatever way that may mean. Our course work, our practices, and our potential careers will only be as fruitful during (and after) this as we're willing to let them be. Especially now with the factors of added constriction, constraint, and limitation in the. mix. After all, an artist isn't measured by what one can do, but by how one can adapt. The good news is that this is incredibly new and bizarre territory for everybody...and I'm grateful that we get to find our way together.
We’ll keep in touch…and we look forward to seeing everybody in Zoom soon.
With our best foot forward,
David and Susie