Media & Techniques

Introducing AOEU’s New Studio: Photography Course (Ep. 157)

In case a new University designation and a new Master’s Degree weren’t enough, AOEU is launching a new Studio: Photography graduate course on March 1st. Dr. Sarah Ackermann joins Tim to discuss teaching photography, creating your own work both digitally and in the darkroom, and how the new course tries to combine those two concepts into a unique learning experience.  Full episode transcript below.

Resources and Links


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

Now as you know, we’ve spent a ton of time lately talking about the Art of Ed becoming a university, the Art of Education University and offering a Masters degree and all the great things that come along with that. Just last week, Shannon Lauffer was on the show to discuss the application process and how to become part of the Masters program but now, along with all of those amazing things, we have another really exciting addition to talk about. On Friday, March 1st, we are debuting a brand new Studio Photography course. I’m really excited about it. I could give you the overview but instead today, I’m going to let you hear it from the person in charge and the person who designed the course, Dr. Sarah Ackermann.

She is the Chief Academic Officer at the Art of Eduction University and this course is something she absolutely loves. I will just tell you this, from my perspective, if you are interested in photography, either teaching or your own practice or ideally both, this is an incredible opportunity for you. It is a course that you are going to love. But, I want you to hear, like I said, from the source, from somebody who’s passionate, who’s excited about it. Let me bring in Dr. Ackermann and we will let her tell you all about it.

All right, and Dr. Sarah Ackermann is joining me now. Let me ask first off, how are you today?

Sarah: I’m doing great. Thanks so much Tim. I’m just so excited to be here on the show with you.

Tim: Good. I’m really excited to talk to you. We’ve worked together for years now and I’ve never had you on the episode and I’m not sure why. But, we’re fixing that today because we have a lot of exciting stuff to talk about.

Before we dive in and talk about the new studio photography course, I just want to ask you, how are things going overall with the new university? It’s been a lot of work I know and we’ve talked a lot about it on the podcast but can you just kind of give us an update on how everything is going with AOEU, with becoming a university, with Masters degree, with everything else that’s going on?

Sarah: Oh gosh Tim. We have been very busy at the Art of Education and emphasis on the word busy. Since we announced the launch of our Masters degree program, we’ve seen such a wonderful response from our audience, from our students and applications have been coming in for our program. That’s really, really exciting to see because applications means more students in our classes which inevitably leads to more active Masters degrees students any given month, which means more active instructors. It’s just a really excited buzz across the board among all of our team members.

I guess what’s really exciting for my particular role at AOEU is finally seeing the public response to all of this. To our students and our broader audience, our university status and our Masters degree program is pretty new but this is something we’ve been working on in the background for a really long time and to build a Masters degree program does not happen overnight, I tell you. And this involved a lot of creative, devoted, enthusiastic people at AOEU over a long period of time and it’s just so exciting and so wonderful to see it here. Finally here and being offered to students.

Tim: Yeah, for sure. I think that’s something that’s worth celebrating. That’s what we talked about when Jessica our boss was on the show. She was talking about how all the work that goes into this for years and years isn’t seen and all of a sudden we just kind of pop up with a Masters degree and that is something that’s really exciting. Kind of along those same time, I think we should talk about the new photography course because that’s something that’s been in development for a long time and now we can announce it. We can celebrate where we’re offering the first class. Can you talk about the new course? How it came about. And my real question there is like, does it come from requests from students? Something that needs to round off the variety of courses that we offer or something else? How do courses get decided on? And then, how do they get developed?

Sarah: This is great question. I just have to say Tim, why stop at offering a Masters degree, right?

Tim: Right, right. Just keep rolling out the new courses.

Sarah: Up and onward. AOEU, our mission is to constantly asses what it is that our students need on a regular basis. To look for inevitable gaps in what is our current curriculum. What I’m not saying is that we are wanting to fill every single gap in our curriculum overnight. We don’t want to do that. We want to work smart but also ensure that our evolving lineup of online courses are rigorous, are meaningful and help art teachers become better equipped for their own evolving classrooms.

Here at AOEU we think really deeply about our curriculum development process and our curriculum development schedule. We write strategic goals and plans which help frame things like our curriculum process over time and let’s face it, eduction itself is ever changing. It’s an ever evolving canvas of topics and initiatives and we want to be flexible enough during our evolution to address both the timeless subjects that our students need but the things that they need in the here and now as well.

All of those things are factored into our curriculum development process, with our curriculum development team and it’s just exciting to share a little bit about that overarching process with you today. When it comes to something like our brand new Studio Photography course and deciding if we were going to create that and when we were going to create that, that was really a no brainer for our curriculum development team because of several factors that went into deciding that this was course we needed to create and offer to our students.

Probably the number one factor involved there was student voice. We listened. We listened to our students, our current students and our prospective students and there’s a lot of ways that we hear from our students what they want in the way of emerging courses. Any student that is enrolled in a course, they complete an end of course survey in any of our classes and in that survey there’s an opportunity for them to share thoughts and ideas on how we can grow on our end. And then there’s a lot of other ways that current and not current students can share insights and ideas and thoughts and recommendations to us through our website, through email and something like photography, we were just getting bombarded with requests. We knew that this is something that our students wanted and needed from us. We were really excited to oblige.

We’ve got student voice involved. We also have instructor voice. We have a really dynamic, growing team of instructors with very diverse experiences themselves and they’re regularly looking at our lineup of courses and they’re like, where’s photo? We need to get photo in here. And I will say, as a photo person myself, we have several photo people on our team and those voices were a little bit louder than others just because of the enthusiasm for the subject matter, for the media. Instructor voice has a play in the this.

Number three is us constantly assessing how can we further diversify our offerings? We’re regularly sitting down at the table looking at all of our courses and part of that curriculum development process is having long term set goals of how we want to grow but also looking at the nitty gritty. Where are the gaps in our curriculum that we can fill? And then of course, applicability. We want our students to be able to grow in a studio course like photography in their own artistry but we also want to give them really practical ideas to turn around and use with their own students. If they are teaching photo at the moment or if they’re interested in starting up a photography program themselves, this is a great place for them to start.

Four different factors kind of went into the creation of that studio photo course.

Tim: Okay, cool. No, that’s good. I think people like hearing kind of behind the scenes how these things get developed. There are two things you talked about there that I want to ask about. I’m going to try and wrap it into one question here. You talked about how you are passionate about teaching this and a lot of our team is as well. But you also talked about how to make this applicable to what people are doing in the classroom. If you’re taking a topic that you’re so passionate about and you’re developing a course on that topic, how do you turn that passion into something actionable? Something that people can take back to the classroom?

Sarah: This is great question. I think you’ve guessed it, I’m really passionate about photography Tim. I love it. I was actually a double major when I was in college between art education and photography so the camera, the darkroom, the digital darkroom, that is all my wheelhouse. Naturally this was a project that I felt I needed to lead. I was really excited to lead this project because it allowed me to geek out a little bit with my media of choice. But, that being said, you have to be careful. When you are so passionate about something, you can get a little carried away, right?

Tim: True, yeah.

Sarah: This was a project and all our curriculum builds, whenever we develop a brand new course, it never happens in isolation. It’s never one person putting the course together. It’s truly a team effort that involves a variety of voices, different perspectives and different eyes looking at the course at various stages of development to ensure several things that one, it follows our general template for ebb and flow for a studio course because we find that designing our courses in a consistent manner really appeals to learners. It makes things approachable. It makes the content reliable. But in addition to that, we also want to make sure that the content is really meaningful for students. We want our courses to challenge students in dynamic ways but also be flexible and give students a level of choice so they can make the course what they need it to be.

The course isn’t just about okay, Sarah’s geeking out and creating an exciting course, it needs to be about the student and what they need from us in order to grow. We’ve built in several checks and balances to ensure that, that this passion turns into exciting but also really practical content for art teachers. And that’s, like I said, an overarching expectation and goal of curriculum development at AOEU, that we get the most passionate, most informed voices, leading the course projects but then also ensure that other voices are present in assessing the course and also producing different parts of the class.

Having different voices in the videos. Having help with the supplementals. Helping with the design of the projects intertwined throughout the course. That’s all very collaborative.

Tim: That makes sense. I want to talk a little bit about the specifics of that. If we can talk about the curriculum of the course. How we can take those, what did you say? Exciting but also practical content. What did we put together for this? I think first off, people need to know if we’re going digital? Are we doing film for people who still love and still use the darkroom? Outside of camera selection, film selection. What type of topics are going to be covered in the course?

Sarah: This is a great question. Tim, you’ve written a couple of things about photography in the past.

Tim: I have, I have. I’ve staked my claim on where we should be.

Sarah: And I’m very aware of your claim but I love that we can have this conversation and just an open conversation about it. To be honest, I’m going to date myself a little bit Tim in that when I was going through my photo program and also when I was first teaching high school photography, it was a majority film. My classroom, I had an awesome 12 enlarger station darkroom and then I had four desktop computers. Talk about worlds different now. I tell you, it wasn’t that long ago. It wasn’t that long ago. But, when I was teaching, I was teaching a majority of film but I was also teaching digital concepts.

When I think of my own photographic work, when I’m shooting fine art photography, I prefer film. That’s just my preference. I like having the complete and utter control of the image from inception to fruition. But at the same time, there is a very important place for digital. I would never shoot a wedding or a baby shoot with film because you want to ensure, have certain assurances there.

Taking my own history with the field and also taking into account some of the really good conversation happening, film versus digital, we wanted to work in some flexibility for our students without assumptions. I genuinely appreciate film and digital and I think a highlight of this course, well I know a highlight of this course, is that students could shoot either film, either digitally and find success with this class.

The main piece of equipment that’s required is an SLR camera. We need you to have the ability to control aperture and shutter to a certain degree but whether that’s a film SLR or a digital SLR, that is truly up to you. I could see some students shooting film throughout the whole course. I could see some students shooting digital throughout the whole course. I could see some students shooting a combination. Like hey, I want to try out film for this one week and if it doesn’t go well or I just want to try something different, I’m going to shoot digital for the rest.

Regardless of the actual physical device that you bring to the class, we want you walking away, understanding light, understanding exposure. We want you to get your hands on that advanced equipment, really understand the functions of the equipment and to be able to manipulate the camera and your equipment. To create the images that you really want as a photographer.

Tim: Yeah, that’s really cool and I think that that gives some good direction as far as what’s there. And I guess the next thing I want to ask about though is how much of the course is studio based, personal work and how much is applicable to teaching photography, being in the classroom? ‘Cause I know with all of the AOEU courses, we always try for that balance but can you talk specifically about what people can or what they should expect for the personal side versus the classroom side?

Sarah: This is a great question and one that I sometimes struggle with to be totally honest Tim because it’s difficult for me to give an exact percentage in these different ways. My instant reaction when it comes to this course, studio photography, is that it’s 100% applicable to the classroom. Especially when I think about if this course would have been offered when I was teaching high school photo when I did, I could take almost every single nugget from this class and either integrate it straight into my high school studio photography classroom, or modify it slightly so it was ready. But I know that you want, you’re asking me for kind of a line in the sand, what’s personal? What’s really truly applicable to the classroom? In response to that, I would say we’re probably 50/50.

From the application standpoint, I would categorize things in the course like looking at the history of photo. We do that pretty extensively in discussion board too where we look at the history of photo. We look at historical figures and contemporary artists and a lot of that information is really good to know when you yourself are trying to find inspiration for your own imagery but it’s also really great information to give to your students in some fun ways that we present to get them into the history of photo and into the evolution of the field.

In that same category of application, I probably also include our DB three which is learning the camera. You really, we’re sitting down with you virtually of course. We’re sitting down with you and going through your camera. The basics of it, the functions, how to control it and that’s something that you can in turn do with your students.

And we also talk about establishing a digital workflow. We highlight digital programs like Photoshop and working in different camera photo file types. That’s very much applicable to teaching it with students. And then a good, a whole discussion board of the course is devoted to creating materials like lesson plans and supplementals for you to add to your curriculum. And that particular discussion board is great for not only people that are potentially teaching photo like I was the photo teacher in my school, but it’s also good for art teachers. Even if they want to plan one unit of instruction in which they’re teaching photographic concepts to students, that’s a great opportunity.

Application, we got about 50% and then other half of the course is you exploring the media, getting familiar with the media and then creating some interesting imagery from that. We talk about visual storytelling, we talk about composition. We even expose students to some alternative processes that they can play with when creating their imagery and then by the end of the course, you have a really nice interesting teacher showcase and teacher portfolio from the course to celebrate your learning from the studio experience.

Tim: Yeah, that’s really exciting. I think that’s a good breakdown. I love kind of hearing about all of that in one place, just everything that’s going to be offered. That’s really cool. Now we probably need to wrap things up so I just wanted to let you share any closing thoughts you might have. Can you tell us how many people are enrolled? What you’re looking forward to? What people should be looking forward to if they decide to take this class.

Sarah: Great questions but I don’t want to give an actual number of enrollments because I know Tim, after listening to this podcast, everyone’s going to go and enroll.

Tim: Obviously, obviously.

Sarah: In studio photography. That is my expectation. Everyone’s going to be so excited and they’re going to hop on their computers and click away. By the end of the podcast, my projection if I gave you one would be totally inaccurate.

But I’m really excited about the initial response of this course. It’s been blowing up on social media. People are really excited about it. I’m just looking forward to the opportunity for students to continue to push themselves as artists in the AOEU studio classroom. What I love about our studio courses is that you can push yourself as an artist, you can learn new ways to create imagery but you’re also walking away with tools and ideas for classroom implementation and photo just like any of our other studio offerings, it’s a great place for students to get familiar with AOEU. Get a sense of what it’s like to take a class online and create some really great work along the way.

When it comes to studio photography particularly, I’m just so proud of the caliber and the variety of supplementals that you’ll find in this particular course and of course the way that you can really customize the class. If you’re shooting film, if you’re shooting digital, we got our basic learning that’s going to happen but you can really fly with this class and make it something that you’re really proud of in the end as well.

Our first run of the course, it’s happening in March and it’s not too late. Get in there. Get in the first cohort. And then it’s going to be running there after. Just super excited to share out and to celebrate this new course offering for the Art of Education University.

Tim: Yeah, it’s all awesome and I want to just say thank you for coming on and sharing all of this with us and like you said, we need people to go sign up.

Sarah: Indeed. Well thank you so much for letting me geek out a little bit about studio photography and I hope I get invited back to another podcast. This has been fun Tim.

Tim: Yes, it has been fun. We’ll definitely have to have you back on. Thank you.

Sarah: Thank you so much.

Tim: Okay everybody. You heard her. Go sign up. Go the and find the studio photography link. There’s even a brand new little star on there that says, “New.” Makes it really easy to find. But the course will help you put together a comprehensive portfolio of studio work alongside of all of those practical tools for the classroom that Dr. Ackermann was talking about.

If you are interested in photography, this is an amazing opportunity for you so go check it out. If March 1st is too soon for you to sign up for a course, there will be new sections of the course starting on April 1st, May 1st and June 1st. Make some time for this class if you’re interested. I promise you won’t regret it.

Tim: Art Ed Radio is produced by the Art of Education University with audio engineering by Michael Crocker. Thank you for listening and we will talk to you 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.