Teaching Philosophy

            I believe in active learning. This is not necessarily a profound or unusual statement and probably puts me in a predictable majority but I want to start with that. A lecture, an audible list of ideas and ensuing discussion is good for things like science, history, and philosophy (and also therefore useful for critical art education). Teaching art requires a demonstration of the process by a skilled practitioner of that art and then the students need to be allowed to solve new problems with what they’ve learned. That way, the demonstration will hopefully be like a bag of seeds which each student can then nurture into their own unique processes and idiosyncratic productions thereof.

            I do not want to cultivate mindless technicians. I am interested in helping my students become artists and that involves cultivating their intellect and critical thinking skills. Creativity is not only about skill in the craft but also about substance, otherwise what’s the point of making anything? I show many short films as examples and afterwards I open a discussion with the class. I like to show at least two films that are opposites, not necessarily in content but at least in form. One film is usually a straightforward narrative and the other is usually a little less conventional or off kilter. I have found that comparing and contrasting helps form a useful binary for students’ critical thinking. The strengths and weaknesses of each become more pronounced in such a juxtaposition.

            After watching my films and reading my thoughts on the alleged conceit of the narrative, one may be inclined to think that I am interested in forcing that same experimental way of thinking upon my students. However, I think that before you break the rules you need to learn the standards first. In order to learn the standards you have to be competent in the craft and constantly aware of what is happening in the industry and it’s current pipelines. Even then, when you do start breaking the rules and exploring more experimental means of expression, you can’t start using your indie spirit as an excuse for ignorance or shoddy execution. Skill and awareness of contemporary animation practices do matter and by extension, industrial filmmaking.

            Teaching students how to talk about their own work and to clearly articulate their thoughts on the works of others is an extremely important skill set. In addition to discussing the animations of professionals I hold class critiques for the majority of assignments. Every student is expected to exhibit and participate in those discussions. After things wind down and I close the teaching subject of the day I like to dedicate a chunk of time to navigate through the classroom. This allows me to identify students with different learning curves and design an action plan to help them succeed.
Michael Edwards