Laura E. Smith

Associate Professor of Art History, Michigan State University

Developing A Large Art History Survey and an Art History Capstone Course (2010-2011)

Besides affirming the essential nature of the Americanist position to the department’s revised curriculum agenda and future vision, I consider the development of two art history core curriculum courses a highlight of my teaching achievements at MSU.  In 2010, I was asked to teach the second half of the Western art survey, HA102 Renaissance Through Contemporary Art and the art history capstone course (HA499), revised by the art history faculty in conjunction with the university’s “Shaping the Future Initiative.” http:// Among the primary goals of this updated curriculum were to enhance the global diversity of foundation survey courses and the professional development of students.

I was fortunate to have collected resources from my graduate student experience as a teaching assistant for the second half of the Western art survey.  But in having been assigned sole responsibility for the design and implementation of both of these new classes, I began further research and training in the spring/summer of 2010. I consulted with colleagues across campus to best delineate the most appropriate and up-to-date technological and methodological methods for a large lecture and a small seminar course.  A few of these resources included the Libraries, Computing, and Technology Training programs on ANGEL and iClickers, the Writing Center, Career Services, the AAHD Visual Resources Library, and LON-CAPA guru, Gerd Kortemeyer. 

For the large survey course, I settled on working with AAHD’s Academic Technology Coordinator Alex Nichols and Gerd on a multi-year plan, using LON-CAPA as a course management system.   LON-CAPA makes possible computer generated and graded exams, practice exams, and an online library of art history images and test questions that would be available to our department no matter who taught this course, as well as other MSU faculty.  Our initial goal was to build a strong base of images and questions that could be supplemented in future years.  Since 2011 when I first taught the course, Alex and I have continued to work out the bugs with the writing and construction of the exams and modify the course based on student feedback.

To invigorate learning in this large class, I enrolled in a Faculty Learning Community course on “Active Learning in Large Lecture” classes.  As a result, I developed various means to create community among the students, to reinforce knowledge learned in lecture or readings, to stimulate critical thinking, and build skills in visual analysis in relation to Western art.  A few of the strategies I incorporated as a result of this workshop are partner and small group discussions, short in-class writing response questions, online writing assignments related to readings that reinforce lecture topics.  The FLC group presented its recommendations to the MSU faculty at large in a poster session at the 17th Annual Spring Institute on College Teaching and Learning in May 2011. I presented those same resources to the art history faculty.

In order to further enhance active learning in HA102, in the spring of 2015, I introduced two new teaching methods: weekly review sessions and periodic flipped classrooms.  In the former, student groups lead reviews of images and terms they need to know for the exams.  For the latter method, students review readings and visual materials before class.  During class, rather than a lecture, they work on assignments with the assistance of my GA and me.  Class enrollment has averaged between 90 and 110 students. The support of a GA has made taking attendance and the review of eight essays possible. 

Lastly, while the class is focused on the visual expressions of Western Europe, Russia, and the United States, I created “Global Moments” in most of the lectures so that students would grasp the consistent creative dialogue between the West and the rest of the world.  These global moments respond to the art history faculty’s desire to enrich our curriculum with diversity, as well as introduce prospective majors to the array of the department’s course offerings.

For the capstone course HA499Senior Research and Professional Development Seminar, I greatly benefited from Career Services in outlining the syllabus and in designing mini-workshops on various career-building skills.  To introduce the students to a variety of potential employment opportunities for art history majors, I invited MSU art history alumnae and other art related career professionals from the greater Lansing area to talk about their careers. 

Above and beyond what was expected of my non-tenure stream faculty appointment in terms of contributing service to the department, I participated in the 2011 College of Arts and Letters (CAL) Tier II task force that revised the CAL writing requirements for Tier II classes.  In consultation with art history faculty and drawing from student feedback from last fall, I used this workshop to reconfigure the writing and research component to the 499/499s class.  I developed both short and extended writing and research assignments related to self-marketing, job interviews, and public presentations.  The course culminated in a fall symposium, which I coordinated each year from 2010-2013.  In this public forum, students presented research papers they had conducted under the guidance of an art history faculty member. I presented this revised syllabus and other teaching of writing resources to the art history faculty in September 2011.