Attending St. Lawrence University has given me the opportunity to learn from many different perspectives of the Liberal Arts. For this interview I decided to talk with my Visual Cultures of Buddhism professor on his instructional processes when designing a class. Here are Professor Mark MacWilliams’ responses, summed up.
What is your process for creating instructional goals?
-Personal interest. Not teaching by fact but by trying to get students to understand why I have such an interest in the topic. Try to change perspectives.
How do you design a syllabus?
-Bricolage. Gathering the different main projects I want to explore and then filling in the gaps with relevant information aiming to make the projects better.
How did you arrive at the use of different activities and tools in class? What works and why?
-The readings for this specific class helped with the teaching of the material. I believe it is fundamental that all senses are introduced when exploring new topics. Hands on activity is just as important as reading.
How do these tools and activities support your instructional strategy, pedagogy and learning objectives?
-By looking and doing things. Visual practice is a way of doing things just as seeing the world is a way of learning. It is very critical that visual art coexists with theory.
Which activities and projects elicit intended outcomes the “best”?
-This is different for every year. Our class is made up of a wide range of years and everyone digests material differently. Finding what activity achieves the best outcome depends on the classes overall academic thought process.
How do you measure success/performance?
-Immediate responce is not valuable. Progress is, however, and if I can change a perspective or have a student see a concept in a different way, progress is made.
How do course evaluations influence your approach?
-I am a full professor, I don’t need to read them!(sarcasm) Students are all different though. If you please every single person in the class, you are doing something wrong. It is hard to teach at a basic level and this is something students don’t understand. You are here to do work which can include long readings or projects.
What is a common recommendation for change you see in the evaluations?
-Disorganization. I see a lot of students say I am disorganized in the readings and lectures, going off on many tangents. Tangents are good though. Ideas go out in different directions all the time. Follow them!!!