I think of the space of learning as a dialogic space in which the students and I participate in discussion and explore theory. Seeing meaning-making as dependent on social and contextual interactions, I take a constructivist stance with regards teaching and learning. Within constructivist theories of teaching and learning the underlying conception of knowledge is a post-structuralist one, in which knowledge is understood as contingent and contextualized. In the words of Davis “we make the world and the world makes us” (Davis, 2004). When designing curricula I consider my own theoretical position and my students’ identities. Initially, I use examples that students can relate to and then choose examples that extend their frames of reference and imagination of the possible.
Student participation in discussions is encouraged so that students learn from each other, as well as develop skills to articulate what they are thinking. These discussions help students to develop clarity in their own thinking and a sense of confidence. Further, through these class discussions I am able to monitor students’ understanding of concepts. As the theory courses progress, I ask students to find visual material of interest to them for use within the class discussions. This means they have to bring something for the lecture and they are often excited to talk about their own images. It also ensures that students are thinking about the course outside of lecture time, and are active participant in the developing of the course, since the discussions emerge from what they bring as well as from what I bring. I also give students work to do in groups in class, or before a lecture to help them feel comfortable about talking about what they think. I try to link theory to practice by taking students on outings, or including ‘making’ as part of theoretical investigations, for example I arranged for a group if graphic design students to bake cakes in the ‘home economics’ kitchens at the Wits school of education when they were learning about Barthes’ semiology. I took a group of Education students on a walk down Ellof Street and then to visit the top of the Carlton Centre to help us conceptualise the looking at the world from a range of perspectives. Sometimes these outing show how we can explore the world critically, and at other times they show how academic discourse is divorced from lived experience.
In this way I hope to make not only visual culture but also ‘academic theory’ visible, and to show students that what we learn at university is relevant to their lives outside university.