My advanced Metalsmithing course this semester is Casting. My students have their first major series due this Tuesday. They were asked to create a six piece chess set series from original patterns that they created or sourced for sand casting. I'm pulling this from my experience of 3D printing the ReadyMake series from Bryan Cera and Scott Kildall and then metal casting from these prints. Many of the students were interested in utilizing Rhino or Sculptris to design their patterns for 3D printing. Many of them have never used these programs so this was new to them as I did some short crash-course tutorials in Rhino, regardless that the course would not usually cover this content. I'm rolling with it...
I find it interesting that for the last several years we have looked at technology as something separate from the usual or traditional approaches to making. In Milwaukee the technology was severed from Jewelry and Metalsmithing so as to create something "new", and there became a separation between Digital Fabrication and Design and Jewelry and Metalsmithing. At that time I believe it was a response to a possible influx of Chinese students who were planning on attending UWM and we needed to create a program that would fulfill Chinese Ministry of Education requirements for students to get an "Industrial Design like" (whatever that means) degree from a US University. There was also need to protect jobs that had been created for sabbatical replacements and such. Splitting things made sense for those reasons, but not for serving our immediate students in the best way to assist them in building their future. In addition, I began to see digital fabrication programs popping up all over in academia and new media or physical computing programs that were adopting all things 3D printing/laser cutting/ and CNC machining. "Experts" are being hired in these areas and we are seeing the Maker community continually preach the gospel about these "new" processes but what happens when the processes and projects suffer from the same fate as the the feed on my Facebook page; when I see the same thing over and over and over. What happens when there is no grounding in traditional methods of craft and the work lacks depth due to the separation of technology from intense and specific knowledge about materials and process?
Now that I am at Appalachian State I see the need for integrated use and an adaptation of the methods in which we teach the traditional approaches to design, production, and artmaking. I need to infuse the new with the old and let the old inform the way in which we can create new ways of making and even more...new ways of teaching. Let's face it though, this is difficult when you don't have a roadmap for how to do this. In my opinion it's not sufficient enough to walk into to a Intro Intermediate or Advanced Metalsmithing course and teach the same exact content that we've all been teaching for the last 70 years, with just subtle additions or adaptations of particular processes. I believe things have changed so much that we cannot afford to be doing things as we have been doing for the past 70 years! With Universities becoming more driven by the corporate model, the number of jobs in the jewelry/metalsmithing/art field dwindling, the types of jobs available in the jewelry/metalsmithing/art field changing, the number of graduates leaving school and not finding jobs (and having school debt), and just an overall change in the value of higher education, I feel that we need to stop and reevaluate what it is that we are preparing students for. I'm sorry to say, but it all returns to classroom goals and objectives on the syllabus/ on each project description and how that translates into a wide set of goals and objectives that get our young people on down the road to better things than working a minimum wage job. Sounds bleak doesn't it?
On the positive side of this, I am witnessing an expansion of new kinds of jobs that didn't exist that require the same or similar skillset along with the creative process and a knowledge of how to harness technology and process to serve an idea or workflow. It requires serious foresight though to try and project what the students of the future need to know for a job that may or may not currently exist. That said, I feel like you can't go wrong with setting up students to have a strong work ethic, a broad range of skills that becomes "a toolbox" for them to draw from, an attention to detail, and teaching students methods to be creative by solving problems, and instilling the desire to never stop learning so that they can later use this to expand their knowledge when they leave school. Providing students with a set of skills is essential to their success! Most of my students coming into their Freshman classes have a very limited vocabulary when it comes to figuring out how to make something three dimensional from raw material. We have to cover a lot of information and give students an expansive set of tools for them to be able to draw from when it comes time to solve a problem creatively. I can't afford to divorce new technologies from traditional processes and I can't simply teach the same curriculum that was meant for Higher Education during the early sixties when the world was a very different place.
I am finding that there is a real commitment to teaching here at Appalachian State. It's impressive. I have found so far that the faculty here are really devoted to teaching students and making decisions that will serve their students future. There is also a commitment to making and teaching the necessary skills and processes that will insure students can be creative. I feel like this is a good place for me to be able to merge my ideas about technology and how traditional processes and depth of knowledge actually fuel and feed what you do with technology; thus creating innovation and contributing to new knowledge.
All of this leads me to how I should be integrating technology into the standard traditional courses that I teach. In this casting course I hope that we can begin to test the impact of the introduction of computer modeling as another resource to aid students in the creative process. I'm also intrigued by the use of the 3D printer as a way to create casting patterns. I know this specific example is not groundbreaking and that I have preached about this before, but what IS groundbreaking is NOT setting up specific labs/studios, and curriculum that focuses specifically on digital content and curriculum. What IS groundbreaking is finding a way to introduce these tools into current curriculum so it just becomes standard practice and the technology component get assimilated into "what we do" as creative practitioners.
I have had many conversations lately with one of my current colleagues, Travis Donavan about this. Travis teaches in Sculpture and I believe he is currently grappling with some of the same ideas that I am on how to be a more effective teacher and how our respective programs need to prepare students for the future. I think we're on the same page and see our students crossing over between sculpture and jewelry/metalsmithing and I also think we see that the integration of technology needs to happen at all levels until we don't even consider technology to be a specific or separate tool that needs to be taught in a separate classroom or a separate course. Technology just needs to become fully integrated so that we can actually just stop talking about it and get on with the making so we can reach new depths.
I hope that I am successful in finding ways to fully integrate new ways of teaching into the older style curriculum that I have begun to teach again here at Appalachian State. I'm starting off small with some of the things I'm implementing in the classroom, and ways that I am thinking about students accessing tools and technology. In some ways this new experience becomes phase two of the original concept that I had for the Digital Craft Research Lab in Milwaukee. I have the chance to assess and examine what I built in Milwaukee and the way in which that program prepared students for the future. I also get to integrate my interests in design, function, technology, and the role of Craft in society, more fully with my own background in metalsmithing and jewelry without feeling the pressure of fitting into a fake Industrial Design curriculum or worrying about stealing away majors from a Jewelry and Metalsmithing program, or worrying about people who liked to make decisions or say things to protect their own territory. It's refreshing!
I'm really loving teaching here and I see several students who are interested in taking in as much information as I can provide, so that's a great thing. I can't wait to see the completed chess set pieces next week and I'm even more interested to hear from the students about how this assignment expanded their knowledge and how they might see using this experience in the future. Stay tuned...