Last winter, between New Years and the beginning of the Spring Semester, I took a course called Immersive Virtual Environments for Art, Data, and Research. It’s my favorite class at Tech and everything from the teachers (Zach Duer and Tanner Upthegrove–easily two of the coolest and nerdiest humans alive) to the material to my classmates were precisely how I imagined my ideal graduate school class would be. In my personal statement for the MFA program, I mentioned the facilities and projects that I completed in this class. Classes like this are why I am in grad school, and why I specifically chose Tech. Not only did I learn a great deal, but I also had a great deal of fun, a sought-after combination that rarely works in academic contexts (and a miraculous occurrence since I was constantly working and hardly slept when I was taking the course).
The bonus is, now that I’m able to manage the facilities, use the software, and see a project through to the end, I can make more stuff in there! And one of the first things I ask myself when I come up with new project ideas (besides, “is this even a thing?!“) is, “Is it awesome?” followed very quickly by, “does it work?” If both answers are a resounding yes, then I proceed. I can thank one of my fellow MFA students for that kernel of wisdom. He was also in the Immersive Environments course, and it was he who first asked the question during the design phase of his project. It’s a question that we as artists, designers, makers, and fabricators have the privilege to ask: not every discipline is concerned with whether or not someone’s eyes light up when they interact with the work of a professional or an advanced student, but we are, and that’s something I hope to instill in the classes I teach.
The pedagogical goal that is dearest to me is that of inspiration: I want my students to succeed academically, of course, and I want them to have a firm grasp of the material, but I also want them to feel inspired by what they’re learning and go on to do the same to others. Not only do I want them to feel like they can make work that has that intangible “wow” factor, but also that they should. We as artists should be actively working to improve the human condition, be that in the form of scathing cultural critique, awe-inspiring technical prowess, or the simple escapism of transporting a viewer into another world. In this day and age, the first and last of those are increasingly important. In that vein, I created a sample case study using a problem-based learning framework that seeks to create a classroom environment in which students can ask the important questions, “how does my work make a contribution to the discourse?”, “what do the process and timeline for this work look like?”, “will it work?”, and most importantly, “is is awesome?”
You can read the Case Study below: