Teaching Practice and Philosophy
In my role as an educator, I am specifically interested in student-centered, collaborative team and project-based learning. Regardless of the subject matter of the class, I find that this approach allows me to demonstrate and model the act of learning and finding solutions as opposed to the more traditional idea of demonstrating knowing.
My passion for education and media arts has recently brought me to pursue a masters of education degree in instructional design and technology with an emphasis on connectivism, using social media for community-based learning. I am also very interested in hybrid-flexible learning, which allows for a broader access to classes in person and online. Adult learners, whose schedules are often heavily circumscribed by work and family commitments, are empowered by hy-flex learning to complete courses they otherwise would have had to drop due to a lack of attendance.
I am also aspiring to develop courses that embrace the flipped classroom model and virtual badging, in an effort to create more meaningful and nuanced assessments for a life-long learning curriculum.
Demonstrating Learning instead of Knowing
Rather than the “full frontal” teaching method of large lectures or autocratic seminars, I prefer student-centered teaching that encourages asking questions by both students and teachers. In the classroom, I model active learning by holding Q&A sessions based on SCRUM at the beginning of class and demonstrating how I find answers in class. I favor classroom dynamics that permit dialogue and foster a degree of student input into curricula and even grading criteria.
I believe that modeling my own process of connecting to the larger community of artists and technologists creates a learning environment that challenges students to think and discover for themselves. I am specifically interested in making students develop their ability to discern valid information from hype and marketing language and to discover principles instead of quick fixes.
In this way, I believe that I support my emphasis on life-long learning strategies in my students over test-based assessment. While more challenging in terms of sequencing of outcomes and goals, I have found this style of learning to be more engaging to students, and ultimately the results are more satisfying.
In a recent student evaluation, a student wrote in the comment section that she was forced to retake my class because she was not able to complete the course. She added that she was pleasantly surprised to discover that rather than sitting through the same lectures, I was presenting a significant amount of new information and in a new sequence.
I want to highlight this student’s experience as an illustration of my commitment to staying current in a field which changes very rapidly, often introducing and then removing techniques and features in the span of 12 months.
In the 21st century where much of what we know becomes obsolete within a few years, I understand myself as a learner, not a knower, and strive to inculcate this difference in my students.
Commitment to Diversity
In my time teaching in Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Lebanon, Germany and at CSU East Bay, I have enjoyed the incredibly rich diversity of the student bodies and institutional cultures. I celebrate these differences in the projects I design and the classes I teach. At times this has manifested in creating exchanges across borders and continents, and at other times in bi-lingual typography assignments or culturally specific projects such as projects for the dias des los muertos celebrations in California. I have also created extended learning communities online which continuously connect course alumni with current students in the class and which currently connect over 60 students from CSU East Bay. These networks serve as a way to connect alumni and current students in order to share technical information and jobs leads. I like students to think about the class as a community and have been called a community designer by one of my students.
My interest in extending learning outside of the classroom has also led me to implement extra-curricular film screenings, restart the multimedia student club, and most recently to pursue funding to develop an extended art and technology conference based on the LASER event series (http://www.scaruffi.com/leonardo/) already hosted at USF, UCSC, and Stanford University.
I try to incorporate the concept of multiple intelligences developed by Dr. Howard Gardner, professor of education at Harvard University. In curriculum design, my awareness of cultural as well as intellectual diversity manifests by incorporating teaching resources that address multiple learning styles and input modalities, from project-based learning to drawing on a mix of lecture, hands-on projects, reading, audio and video.
Drawing on my life and career as a traditionally-trained fine artist, I embrace ambiguity as a way to make room for multiple and divergent interpretations of assignments. This is often lauded in my reviews as students feel empowered to express their own ideas.
Over the past two decades, I have experienced the incredible challenges and opportunities of otherness and marginality and am of the firm belief that it is a place of strength and resilience which must be celebrated in academia, and in all other aspects of our lives.
The Teacher as Servant-Leader
In working with students with widely varying proficiencies, I try to apply the concept of servant-leadership as pioneered by Robert K. Greenleaf. I try to implement these ideas by de-emphasizing traditional modes of control and accountability in the forms of deadlines and exams, preferring instead that students realize the usefulness of assignments as a way to solidify and integrate knowledge and information. Where possible, I try to explain the reason for each assignment and what they should be able to take from it.
I also try to measure my success and test my approach by asking myself at the end of the semester if my students grow as persons; am I able to see them become healthier, wiser, freer, and more autonomous; and finally are any of them likely to become servant-leaders themselves? In the past, several of my former students have made themselves available to current students as mentors and tutors, often without remuneration, or have decided to become teachers themselves, crediting my class as a point of inspiration for their decision.
Teaching as Social Sculpture
Teaching is a form of social sculpture, and the art is to bring out the potential of the student. At the same time, we are never just a teacher but also a student. My first experience of this was when I taught painting and drawing at the downtown San Francisco Senior Center. Several of my students had been schoolteachers. They taught me about life and myself and that teaching is collaboration.
Someone once asked Michaelangelo how he was able to produce such extraordinary sculptures. He answered, “First you look at the stone and see what is inside, only then do you start carving into the stone and stop at the skin.” The biggest thrill of teaching art is looking into each student, and, like that famous sculptor, releasing the creative potential that is already present.
I define myself as a successful art teacher to the extent the students learn to formulate questions that they find compelling. The questions energize their own creative process and inspire them to be active participants in their art and in their life; they are then motivated to be active learners and to pursue knowledge with sincerity.