Ask people in academia what they think of social media, and you’re likely to hear laments about the rotting of students’ minds. An epidemic of hasty posting, sharing and up-voting creates the risk that no one wants to think anymore. But Hampshire College assistant professor Alicia E. Ellis has come up with an ingenious way of using Pinterest — yes, Pinterest! — to help her students analyze challenging novels, poems and essays.
This spring semester marks the start of a new course that explores the enduring question, “What is Art?” The course will be taught by Dr. Karen Koehler, professor of architectural and art history, with support from a $22,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). Organized around five concepts (Origins, Authenticity, Spirituality and Transcendence, Mimesis, and Commitment), this course will use selected texts in philosophy alongside literature, film, visual art and performance to probe a series of sub-questions, such as:
- What is creative expression?
- What is artistic authenticity?
- What makes art transcendent?
- How do artists see themselves?
- What is political art?
The course features a film series component, including two films at Amherst Cinema, and a trip to New York City to visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art. A final digital exhibition culminates the course, where students will explore an object of their choice that raises an enduring question about art.
The Enduring Questions grant program sponsored by NEH is a wonderful opportunity to develop new inquiry-based curricula. For more information visit: http://www.neh.gov/grants/education/enduring-questions
In Megan Dobro’s Virology class, students chose a “pet virus” that they will study in depth for the semester. The first assignment was to create a physical model of their virus. She has no artistic requirements; it just needs to be accurate. Megan gave ideas such as using clay, paper mache, found objects, or origami using online guides. Students presented their models to the class and showed how they represented the virus’s symmetry, structural components, and maybe dynamic processes. More important than the product, the process of creating a seemingly silly model got students to think more deeply. Looking only at two-dimensional pictures of viruses, students may not have realized that the viral shell has a complex, beautiful symmetry. Or that there are specific ways each viral component fits together, and that tells you something about which pieces rely on each other. Or that viruses are relatively simple particles and it’s amazing they wreak so much havoc on the world. Students might spend 15 seconds looking at a picture, but in the process of making a virus, they take time with their virus, studying all of the shapes and possible ways it can be built and taken apart. They start to ask questions that introduce advanced concepts. See the results of this year’s class models.