Professional Practice

Diving Into AOEU Graduate Courses (Ep. 344)

With a nod to both procrastinators and those already planning ahead to their New Year’s resolutions, Tim invites a couple of guests on to discuss AOEU’s graduate courses. Jennifer Borel and Juana Meneses—both advisors and instructors for AOEU—join Tim to discuss their experiences with recent studio courses. Listen as they discuss how to be present, how to let go of perfectionism, and how a grad course can help both your teaching and your personal artistic practice. Full Episode Transcript Below.

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Tim: Welcome to Art Ed Radio, the podcast for our teachers. This show is produced by the Art of Education University, and I’m your host, Tim Bogatz.

I was talking to my friend Andrea last week, and she told me that she had signed up to take a grad course with AOEU. She’s very excited about it, with good reason obviously. But my first thought was just like, December seems like it would be a crazy time to take a grad course. But as Andrea told me, it’s actually the perfect time to take a course. Her New Year’s resolution was going to make more art in 2022, and she never really got to it, which I can relate. And so that’s going to be her New Year’s resolution in 2023 as well. She wants to make more art. But then she came to the brilliant realization that an eight week course taken in December and January will help her complete both of her New Year’s resolutions, which I think is just so funny and so smart.

But it got me taking about how many people might be interested in taking course either now or in the near future. And I thought we should dive in and learn a little bit more about them. So I invited a couple of guests on today. First is Jennifer Borel. She is an academic advisor and adjunct instructor for AOEU. And second is Juana Meneses. She is also an academic advisor and I believe an associate professor, but they’re both former art teachers. They both work with perspective and current students. They both teach courses and they both have taken courses recently. So I thought it would be good to hear from them as we spend some time exploring grad courses today.

All right. I am here with two guests today, Jennifer Borel and Juana Meneses. Jenny, how are you today?

Jenny: I’m doing really well. It’s cold here, but doing good.

Tim: All right. It’s very cold here too. I think it was 17 degrees this morning, which I’m not excited about, but that’s okay. Juana, how are you? I’m guessing it’s not 17 degrees where you are.

Juana: No, it’s not. I’m doing great. And it’s about 85 today, so maybe even 80, which would be amazing actually.

Tim: Oh, every time I look at our preparation stuff, I just think about Juana in Miami and I’m like, “Oh.” I’m very, very jealous of how that’s like. It’s all right. But I wanted to bring you both on today so we could talk about AOEU grad courses. I guess for my first question, I’m not sure if you want to answer this from the perspective of an advisor who’s working with grad students or an instructor or just your own personal experience of taking the courses. I know you both just kind of do it all. But the question is I guess, how can studio courses help teachers kind of reinvigorate their own artistic practice and how can that also help teaching practice as well? So Jenny, can you take this one first?

Jenny: Sure. I probably would approach this from more of the stance of a student. Even though I advise graduate students and I teach our graduate courses, I have taken our AOEU Watercolor studio class. And really when I took that, the motivation was twofold. So in one hand I really needed to renew my teaching license, and so taking a graduate course is a great way to do that. But more personally, my goal was I felt like I wanted to be creating again. I think we can all agree that as the school year drone’s on and you just kind of feel a little bit in a rut, especially with us over here in 17 degree weather, it’s hard.

I have two very little kids and so I feel like my focus is split in a lot of directions, but taking a course really just reactivated a love of being in a medium. And having these deadlines and people who are expecting you to post was actually a really good thing for me because it made me sit down and make time to create. I’m not currently in a K through 12 classroom. And so when you talk about reinvigorating your own teaching practices, I can see how it’s 100% immediately applicable to being back in a classroom. But also it was applicable to me as an artist to sit down and create in watercolor. I mean, just last night I’m sitting in the living room pulling out my watercolors painting for my own pleasure, but that’s because that passion was just reinvigorated through taking a studio course.

Tim: Oh yeah. That’s awesome. No, and I think a lot of what you said there applies to so many teachers. A lot of times you do just get into those grad courses because you need licensure, you need PD hours or whatever, but then you find so many benefits that you weren’t expecting. Juana, I would love your perspective on this as well. What do you see either personally or with the people you’re working with when it comes to these ideas affecting either studio practice or teaching practice or both?

Juana: Yeah. I mean, I would echo a lot of the things that Jenny said as well, but for me what happens is that both the artistic practice and the teaching practice are fluid and they’re always informing one another. So I just took the Fibers class, which I loved. And the reason why I liked it was because it was a media that I was not familiar with at all. So it really forced me to think about the work that I make. I do have an active artistic practice, but I tend to go back to the same materials and I find myself in that kind of a rut. And so Fibers was amazing for me because it pushed me and forced me to look at the ideas that I’m interested in, but with new materials.

And so that was amazing because it really sparked, again that love of learning for me. And at the same time, I was also thinking about… I’m also not in the K through 12 classroom currently, but of course I teach here at AOEU. So I was also reflecting on what kind of feedback I was craving so that I was making notes so that I could give it to my students. I was reflecting on things that were really enriching for me, like the written feedback as well as video feedback. So it was a very fluid process for me. A lot of times teaching does inform my artistic practice the way that I make and the other way around. So I loved it. I mean, I was really just amazed by how much I got out of it. And now I’m making these fabric books, so I’m super psyched. Something that I had no idea was going to happen, right? Because I do make artist books as you know Tim. So making them now with fabric and stitching was amazing. I loved it.

Tim: Oh, that’s awesome. Where you can bring all of those new ideas and new materials, new perspectives into what you do already. I think that’s really, really cool. Now I want to ask you, and Juana I’ll ask you to answer this first. As you’re talking, you’re discussing all of these things that you weren’t expecting yet or weren’t having ideas of what would happen when you went into the class, I’m just curious, I would love your perspective as far as what surprised you the most as you were taking the class? Like for me personally, I have not taken a grad course in years and so I wouldn’t know what to expect at all. It’s been a while. So what was surprising for you when you took the course?

Juana: The thing that I was surprised by that was fabulous for me was that I could see… Of course we know that there’s choice built into the courses. I mean, we do that really actively, right? Very consciously. But what I loved about it was as a learner, I was able to feed my curiosity, follow my curiosity. And I found that more than I expected, which of course is an excellent surprise that I was able to go in, see, take advantage of some of the resources and then back out of that and then investigate another avenue. I felt like there were many avenues. And as I said, I was new to Fiber, so I was a beginner and I was able to get a lot out of it. But I can also see someone that is more advanced would get just as much out of the course. So that’s the thing that even though I know how the courses are structured, I still felt that it was even better than I thought it was going to be, which was amazing.

Tim: Okay. Yeah. That’s awesome. Now Jenny, what about you? Was there anything that really surprised you as you were going through your Watercolor course?

Jenny: Yeah, I think we can all… I mean, we’re all art teachers and we’re all artists. But sometimes you think you know a medium, I’ve taught elementary and middle school and watercolor was something that we do a lot in those grade levels, and you think in your mind like, “I know everything there’s to know about this.” But when you really look back, I don’t know about you guys, but in undergrad we never touched on watercolor. It was never caught in undergrad.

Tim: Yeah. Yeah. Uh-huh.

Jenny: We kind of just roll into our teaching positions and pull out a pallet of praying watercolors and we go for it. But I didn’t have that education in undergrad and it’s something that I have pursued on my own personally because I enjoy the spontaneousness of the medium itself. And then I took this class and my thought was like, “I wonder what I’m going to get from this.” Because you kind of have this mindset of like, “I know this. I do this with my students.” But I think that was what was most surprising for me, is there’s so much more to learn. And it’s not just because the courses have these amazing resources in them and wonderful instructional videos that even better artists in watercolor have made. It’s your peers, it’s your instructor, they come with their own set of knowledge. And so there’s just so much knowledge ricocheting in the class. So I left with like a lot of new knowledge to a medium that I felt like I already knew. And so that was really positively surprising about being in the class.

Tim: Yeah, that’s really cool. And I would love to dive in a little bit more. If you don’t mind, I would love to hear the specifics of each of your courses and just I guess what you really enjoyed. So Jenny, just to piggyback off of that, what was your favorite part of taking the Watercolor course? Was there a lesson or an idea or a project that really stood out to you as your favorite?

Jenny: Yeah. In Watercolor, from week to week you create a visual journal. So every week when you dive into the resources, instead of writing notes digitally or writing them down with pen and paper, you’re asked to basically watercolor them into your journal, which really breaks you out of traditional methods of note taking. But I’m sitting here at my desk right now and right above me on the shelf is my watercolor journal from the class because it’s something I reference all the time now. It’s something that’s really precious to me, almost like an artwork itself. But it was just really fun to walk away with a class with something handheld that I can take with me wherever I go and reference it for all the things that I learned in that class. So that kind of spanned most of the class that we were making, that it wasn’t one specific week. So that is definitely just something that stands out from my time in the course that I really appreciated being able to make.

Tim: Oh, that’s really cool. And I love the idea that that can continue on past the course once you’re done with those eight weeks. If you’re still referencing things, if you’re still working on things, I think that says a lot about what you’re getting out of that.

Juana, you already talked about bringing some ideas into your own work and making some books dealing with fibers and things you learned. Is that something that was your favorite or was there another project or idea that really stood out to you from the Fiber’s course?

Juana: What I loved was in about the mid, I think it was week four, five, we were asked to prep textiles. We were given different options, fatigue and dying and all these different things and how to make these different textiles. And then we were going to do a project with that.

Now, the project itself of course was completely self-directed and open-ended, but we were aware that we were going to transfer that material that we were prepping into this other project. And that’s how the textile books came into being. So I just loved… First of all, I made these glue batiks, which I had not made before. So like I said, I’m a total newbie at this. It really just helped to add more content to the work that I was already making. I mean, I made work about home and different things.

So taking that textile and being given the chance to look at that material in a different way from a different point of view and then build out something from that, an object from those textiles, just really I feel like reinvigorated and changed the dynamic of the things that I was already making. But I was completely also open to that, right? I was like, “Okay, here we go. Let’s make some glue batiks.” And to be honest with you, I had to make them three times. Every single story said that it was the easiest thing to do and I failed three times.

Tim: Oh, no.

Juana: So I was open to the technique and it came. But anyway, it was really fun though. I felt like I had room to do all of that in the course. And I love that.

Tim: Yeah, that’s awesome. Well, that’s what we tell our students all the time anyway, you learn the most from failing. So I don’t know if you’re going to border on the level of expertise just yet, but it’s probably good for you to go through that.

Juana: Yeah, absolutely.

Tim: Okay. So I’m just thinking. Like I said, it’s been a while since I’ve been in a grad course and I know that a lot of people are thinking, wondering what it’s going to involve. So I’d love just some guidance from each of you, I guess, with the last couple of questions that we have time for. But Jenny, I’ll have you answer this one first. As you were taking your course, what do you think it was that helped you get the most out of the course?

Jenny: Sure. I think for me it was just the mindset of I’ve got to be present in the course and almost do a little bit more work at the beginning to work ahead. I’m reflecting back on the experience right now and this is kind of ironic, but I made the decision to take this course. The first week in the course I decided I’m going to knock out my discussion board post really, really fast and spend a lot of time in the first few days diving into the resources. And then beyond that, I knew I’d be submitting process boards. So that first week I sat down and I made a template so that all of my process boards could just fit into it and I didn’t have to reinvent the wheel every week.

I’m kind of chuckling because after that first week of the class, my husband got deployed to a hurricane.

Tim: Oh my God.

Jenny: I had a little kid at home and I’m like, “Could any more life events happen?”

Tim: Yikes.

Jenny: It makes me chuckle a little bit because it’s like, that’s so true for all of us. Life just happens. And so me sort of putting in an extra effort in the beginning actually ended up really benefiting me as I got into the course because I was then solo parenting and trying to still meet deadlines. Honestly, that mindset of I’m going to be present gave me then more time to really dig into what my peers were saying and provide resources for them that I thought would be helpful based on what they were sharing. And that in turn really just made the class richer by being able to not do what so many of us do and wait until the final hour to get stuff in, but actually try to be ahead of the game and plan ahead so you build that margin so you can be present.

Tim: Yeah. Wow, that sounds like an adventure. But kudos to you for being able to complete that.

Jenny: Thank you.

Tim: That’s pretty awesome. Juana, what about you? What were the things that helped you make the most of your time in the course?

Juana: So to be completely honest, I remember that Jenny had mentioned that she had made that template. Jenny and I did something very similar because I made something that I also kept switching images and text out of, just because I knew that I was also going to need a little bit of an extra bandwidth so that I could give myself more time working because that was basically my strategy. I’m a very hands on person, and so I need to give myself time in that making process. Like I said, with the glue batik, I mean the easiest thing ever, and I messed it up three times.

Tim: I was going to say, if you’re going to fail three times, you need some extra time.

Juana: Right. Yes. So I made the template just like Jenny did. And I also would scan the resources for the week ahead so that I could… And I don’t mean what I would sit at for hours or anything like that, but I did sort of scan the resources so I knew where we were going the following week. And that allowed me to… Because I’m driving, and I’m like sure all of us, I start thinking in the back of my head, “How could I make this my own?” But if I don’t know where I’m going, I don’t have that flexibility.

So I literally would go in and just kind of look at the titles, the bold titles, and just go in and scan maybe even just the first paragraph of an article or see the beginning of a video, just even speed it up to be honest with you, just to get a feel for it. And that way I would start thinking about how I was going to make this better or build it into what I was making the week before. Then when I arrived there, I already had… Because as adult learners, obviously we have all this other just life experience and art making experience, so I was able to take what I know and added to those resources and then really give those resources more time that week. And that kind of helped me also with the discussion boards when I was answering my peers and just give me a little bit more flexibility in the way that I was making and responding to my peers. So that’s kind of how I built in that extra little bandwidth or time that I needed flexibility.

Tim: Okay. And then one last question, just final question for both of you. I would love any advice you have for anybody who’s listening, students or teachers who are thinking about taking a studio course maybe in December, maybe in January, maybe sometime next year. Jenny, I’ll start with you. What advice would you have for somebody who’s considering taking a course?

Jenny: Okay, so this one’s really big. I feel like if anyone can jump on this, they will excel in courses, but they’ll also could excel in the degree program if they are in the degree program.

So for me, what I realized that it was all about my mindset. So you both know me, but I have a tendency to be a perfectionist. I just really like all my ducks in the row. And having that tendency, I went into the class really wanting to get 100% on everything I submitted. And I think there’s probably lots of teachers out there who are like, “Yeah, that’s that student in my class.” Because don’t we all when we taught K through 12, have that student who really needs to get 100% on everything?

Tim: Yep. Yep.

Jenny: And so I kind of went in with that mindset. For me it really shifted at the beginning because I felt like this pressure and I was like, “This is not why I took this class. I took this class to learn and grow and get creative. And if I’m just in it to get 100% on everything, then maybe I’m not approaching this the right way.”

So I shifted that and I started to look then at the instructor as the content expert. That’s why they’re teaching that class is because they have the expertise. I even started to look at my peers as being valuable resources too, because they came in with experience and they may know something I don’t know, and that’s okay.

Tim: Right. Right.

Jenny: So instead of trying to get 100% on everything, I really just tried to hit the targets of the rubric in the exemplary category because I wanted to push myself to do good, but I didn’t then hold my breath and get disappointed or get riled up if I lost some points. In fact, I almost started welcoming it because then I had this conversation with the instructor and I could know like, “Okay, these are things that I could improve for next week” and grow. And I appreciated it almost because it gave me more of a chance to advance my practice as an artist. So I just think that’s a really good mindset to keep in mind. Think about your own class, your own students, it would drive you nuts if they all wanted to get 100% on everything and got upset when they didn’t because that’s not a growth mindset. And so that’s really my biggest feedback, is to change your mindset and really go in wanting to grow and it’s okay not to get 100% on every single thing you turn in.

Tim: No, I appreciate that. So really we can just shorten that to, “Don’t be that person” like you’re just arguing over every grade. No, I really do like that idea though, of just going in with the idea of, “I want to grow here, I want to get better at this.” I think that’s a great way to approach it.

Juana, what about you? What advice would you give to people who are looking at taking a course?

Juana: I mean, I 100% agree with Jenny. I think that that’s really strong advice. Again, I try to build that margin in because I tend to push the technique further or in wrong direction. So I think being open to not being so focused on the grade. And I agree. I think that for me, being able to learn something and being able to be surprised, even though if it’s not a perfect outcome. It’s okay. That’s actually fantastic. That moment where you’re surprised by what you made, and again, it might not be the final piece or the final way that you want the technique to go, but that surprise I think is really… I think aiming for that, there’s just more growth there as Jenny was saying than if you get what you expected.

And I think that’s something that just being more focused on process rather than the finished product. And that’s definitely something that you can bring to your students as well, because showing your students, “Look, I made this and it doesn’t work out. And now I’m going to figure out how to change that.” Add less ink, add less glue, do whatever I need to do to get a better outcome. And that that could take 2, 3, 4, 5 times to attempt a process.

And then you discover something. I think go in, try to discover something. And so my second part of that advice would be choose a studio class that you are really not comfortable with. I mean, rather than choosing something that you’re like, “Well, I could learn more about this,” choose something that you’re completely new to, I think it’s just wonderful. It’s a great surprise to walk in that way.

Tim: Well, I think that is a really good place for us to wrap it up. So Jenny and Juana, thank you both. I appreciate giving us some time for the conversation and kind of talking us through your experience and sharing some guidance for everybody who’s listening. So thank you both.

Juana: Thank you.

Jenny: Our pleasure.

Tim: All right. I really enjoyed hearing about their experiences and I love the perspective that Jenny offered when it comes to taking courses. Just the idea that you don’t have to be perfect, but you can use the course as an opportunity to learn, to grow, to improve. And like I said, you don’t have to do anything perfectly. And I want to echo that. I loved hearing about how she tried a medium that was completely new to her, completely foreign. And because of that she just learned so, so much.

And so if this conversation today piqued your interest, if you’re interested in graduate courses, I would encourage you to spend some time exploring the AOEU website. We’ll link to it in the show notes and see what courses might interest you and see what might work for you as we talked about maybe you need to renew your license, maybe you need to get some PD hours or maybe you just want to learn in order to improve your own artistic practice or improve your own teaching practice. But no matter what your goals, there are some great opportunities available and I would definitely encourage you to pursue them if that’s something that you can make work for you.

Art Ed Radio is produced by the Art of Education University with audio engineering for Michael Crocker. Thank you for listening and we’ll talk to you again next week.

Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.