Professional Practice

Making Time for Studio Courses (Ep. 348)

After Tim’s previous episode with AOEU academic advisers Juana Meneses and Jenny Borel, a number of listeners wanted to know more about AOEU Studio Courses. So today, Dr. Alyson Pouls joins Tim to share her experiences as both an associate professor and a student taking a course. Listen as they discuss the benefits to your personal work, how to find the balance you need, and the joy that comes with creating work and connecting with other art teachers. 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.

A couple of weeks back, we had an episode with Juana Meneses and Jenny Borel talking about the studio courses that they had taken, what they had learned, and what those courses had done for them. We had a great response to that episode. People loved hearing about the courses and they wanted to hear even more. I received a lot of questions, just a lot of follow-ups on that. So I thought a second episode would be in order. So joining me today is Dr. Allison Pools. Dr. Pools is an academic advisor and associate professor at AOEU, and she most recently took a studio course over the summer. Now, she agreed to come on and talk about her experiences as a professor and as a student, and also answer some of those more common questions that listeners sent my way after the last episode. So let me bring her on now. All right. Dr. Alyson Pouls is joining me now. Dr. Pools, how are you?

Alyson: I’m doing very well today. How are you, Tim?

Tim: I am thrilled to have you on. So doing very well. We did a podcast with a couple of your colleagues, Juan and Jenny, a few weeks back, and it was incredibly popular. So we want to talk a little bit more about courses and what’s available for people, all that good stuff that goes along with that. Before we do that though, can you just give us an introduction? Tell us a little bit about yourself, a little bit about the role that you play at AOEU.

Alyson: Absolutely. Well, first, I’m also very excited to be here to talk to our students and everyone else listening all about AOEU’s courses. So I’m an associate professor and academic advisor here at AOEU, but prior to being an employee and associate professor and advisor at AOEU, I taught K to 12 art in 41 classrooms traveling from room to room. Yes. I was highly organized. It really helped me become a master at organization.

Tim: Yes.

Alyson: Yes, I also taught pre-service art education majors at a couple of universities and started my higher education career teaching freshman level studio foundations in undergraduates art programs. So I live in Chicago with my husband who is working in animal rescue currently. So we have two rescue animals, a three-legged cat named Oliver, and a cute little poodle mix, Dally.

Tim: Very nice. I’m going to have to ask you to Slack me pictures of your pets later on when we’re done with this interview.

Alyson: Sure.

Tim: I really would love to see them, so that would be great. Okay, so let’s talk courses though. I think you had told me that you had done one over the summer. Can you talk to me about the course that you took as a student, and I guess what your inspiration was for taking that course?

Alyson: Absolutely. I took a course this summer called printmaking, and it was life changing for me. And the reason it was life changing in my undergraduate degree program as well as my master’s in art teaching, I was not encouraged to take printmaking or other mediums that were different than my undergrad, which was drawing and painting. That was my major. So for a very long time, I had a lot of people tell me that my drawings look a lot like prints. So I thought, well, this is a medium I’ve always been interested in. I was never encouraged to take, I embarrassingly skipped it when I taught elementary school because I was nervous about it. So that’s why I took the course. I did start the year with a resolution to take a course within the year at AOEU, so I can experience what students experience from the student side. So those were the reasons why I took the course, and the course itself was excellent. So it was very exciting.

Tim: So just kind of on a personal level, what was that transitioning from drawing to printmaking? Did it feel like a natural extension of what you were already doing, or was it just kind of crazy for you since you had not done it before? What was it like for you?

Alyson: Yeah. Well, the process was hard only because I hadn’t gone through a process like that and my current drawing style evolved from the time I was doing my dissertation and felt very guilty for not doing artwork, but also felt guilty for not writing. So I was stuck there in the center, not doing either. So I started doodling, which I always do, and those doodles really just lead to the artwork that I do. I really do it stream of consciousness, but it looks a lot like printmaking.

So when it came to being a student, I had difficulty starting with the medium, but once I understood the various ways that you can create prints, I embraced it and it started to connect more directly with my drawing skills because I ended up doing some work where I incorporated my drawing skills in with printmaking. So I was able to get some mixed media work out of it. So it ended up being, I was stretching, I was stretching and exploring just like our students do, and I persisted so that I could really move through the process. And now I’ve got prints that I make all the time and the holidays are coming. So it’s a perfect time for me to make some prints for people. And I’ve made a whole bunch of linoleum prints for birthday cards coming up this year. So not only was it great for me for multiple reasons in my own work, but it also benefited people I know.

Tim: Yeah, I love it. I love that so much. That’s very cool. I need to tell just a quick story here, just because you reminded me of this and the classes we never take. And I’ve talked about this on the podcast before, but I got all the way through my undergrad work without ever taking a ceramics course. I avoided it in high school, which is easy to do.

And then I somehow avoided it in college, which is not as easy, but I did. And then all of a sudden, as soon as I started teaching high school, it’s like, oh yeah, also you’re teaching pottery. And I’m like, ooh, I better learn more real quick. So that was not a great situation, but I love the idea of just taking something new, being forced to learn it and then actually embracing it and enjoying it. And I got to the point where teaching ceramics, teaching potter is one of my favorite things to do. And so I think there’s just a lot of value in learning something new, which I guess is the point I’m trying to make here. But my question for you with that is if you were still in the classroom, do you think that you would be able to teach more printmaking? Would you be able to do that now? Would things from the course, would those transfer to the classroom or transfer to teaching if you had that opportunity?

Alyson: Oh, absolutely. And that was one of my favorite things about the course, and that’s one of my favorite things about all of our courses, that there is a relevancy where we’re learning theory or in this particular course we’re learning skills and we’re learning concepts and we’re putting them all together. But one of the things that we also do in the course is we take what we’ve learned and we create lessons and experiences for students. So there’s a practicality in the course as well as the encouragement to connect with our artists’ souls and continue evolving as artists. We really do bring that back into the classroom. And in terms of mediums I would bring in, I learned this wonderful technique with this wonderful thing called a gelli plate.

Tim: Oh god, my gosh, I love gelli plates. Yes, they’re incredible.

Alyson: It was incredible. So if you don’t know what a gelli plate is, it’s this little rubber square. You can actually make them, but you can buy them. And then you put acrylic paint on top and you can use all of these combs and different tools to make lines in them, and then you put your paper on top and you get these wonderful prints. So I can see that being something I bring into in elementary or even middle school lesson where students can take and collage those materials and create something new. So it’s so relevant to the classroom, and I haven’t been in the K to 12 class for quite a while. But once I can get back in there, I think I would jump right back into printmaking and challenge myself.

Tim: That’s awesome. That’s good to know. I love hearing that. And I was just going to say with high schoolers, I used to use jelly plates even to collage backgrounds and then do drawings over the top of those background. You can just create all of these great layers and textures and really, really cool prints with jelly plates. A lot of possibilities. I feel like that’s a whole different discussion though.

Alyson: That’s awesome.

Tim: Now I wanted to ask you, people just want a look into courses. I think just a lot of the feedback I got from that podcast I mentioned with Juan and Jenny, a lot of people had questions about different stuff involved with courses. I was hoping you could maybe answer a few questions that have come in, if you don’t mind.

Alyson: Absolutely.

Tim: Yeah. So first one is, what is the structure of an AOEU course? What does it look like to take the course? What is the structure of it?

Alyson: So the structure of the course, what is great about the structure is that it’s the same in all of our courses. So courses in this case, three credit courses, so printmaking is eight weeks long, and each week the instructor puts out an announcement, sometimes a video just covering the week’s module. And each module begins with an overview. So each week starts with an overview of the week and the objectives for the week. And within that overview, there’s resources for students to watch, read, look for, look at.

Then there’s a discussion board post that’s due every Wednesday at 10:00 PM Central Standard Time. And that discussion board post is based on questions that are given to all the students based on the overview with the resources and the objective. So those are always due on Wednesdays at 10:00 PM Central Standard Time. So in each course a student takes, you really can plan your time because you know that within teaching you’re going to also have something to do on Wednesdays, you’re going to live your life as well and have something to do on Wednesdays.

So from there, there’s important interaction that takes place on the discussion board. So students are required to respond to at least two other people’s discussions. I always encourage three, but because that’s what the rubric says for the highest score, but you want that highest score. Yes. So those are always due on Fridays at 10:00 PM Central Standard Time. And the weeks module also presents an assignment that’s also due on Sundays at 10:00 PM Central Standard Time. So again, you are focused on an overview resources, a weekly objective, then you are discussing it with students as well as your instructor. Then you’re creating an assignment based on what that overview was. So just to give an example of this, the jelly plate assignment. I learned all about jelly plates is the overview. I then had to answer questions in the discussion board about my experience with jelly plates, which was none.

And then had to discuss how I might use that in this week’s assignment. And the assignment was to create six mini jelly plate prints that I felt were the strongest of the whole bunch I was making. So that’s an example of a course and how the cadence goes. So eight weeks go that way. And studio courses culminate with a two week project, which is a teacher showcase series where you’re taking something you’ve done previously in the course and you’re adding two more pieces to it to connect by skill or concept or both. And it’s just a wonderful… It makes it easy for students and it made it easy for me to incorporate knowing what those due dates were into my life as a full-time social professor and advisor, a full-time mom to animals, a full-time wife, a full-time person who likes to enjoy life and it works. So in a nutshell, that’s my explanation.

Tim: No, that’s good. I think that structure is helpful. And just if I can add one thing to that, just in my experience with courses, my favorite part was always just seeing the interactions between our teacher after people post their projects and were talking about those. And it was so nice because I went for my master’s degree at a traditional university and I was the only art teacher in any of those non-studio courses. And just to be able to talk with eight or 10 or 12 other art teachers about what’s going on, and it’s such a good opportunity. It’s so nice to be able to do that. And I think that’s incredibly worthwhile for people.

Alyson: Oh, yes.

Tim: Sorry, go ahead. Were you going to say something else there?

Alyson: I was just going to say that it can be lonely being an art teacher. When I taught K to 12 and I was in 41 classrooms and it was just me going to four different schools and it was lonely and I didn’t have others to bounce those ideas off of. And what I noticed being a student in that course as well as teaching the courses is that interaction and how essential it is and how amazing it is in the online forum and the way that we manage the courses. So I agree.

Tim: All right, good. I love to hear that. And I’m hoping that people have taken those courses are thinking the same thing. I’m guessing they probably are. Next question we got from a lot of people. They’re very curious, and I think you can speak to this well since you were embracing a new medium here, but how challenging is the work that’s in the courses?

Alyson: Well, it was challenging because for me, again, it was a new medium. However, I really believe that any medium would’ve been challenging. And for example, I’m a skilled watercolor or I like to think I’m a skilled watercolor. But if I took that course, I know that I would still be challenged because the techniques of watercolor were things that I never really learned as an undergraduate or doing my master’s degree. So breaking down and learning those techniques does take time. I try to tell myself that the thing that we are primarily telling our students all the time is that they should take risks, they should persist, they should persevere and get to the other side of those challenges so that they can get to that moment of flow where everything starts to just materialize and come together. And it’s so worth that moment.

So it was challenging in the time that I needed to manage, but once I figured out how to manage that time, I was able to go through it and I built my skills slowly. I thought to myself, I’m just taking it a day and a week at a time. I didn’t really look ahead because I thought that might be overwhelming. And since I haven’t been in a class in a long time, I had some anxiety. But then I realized that every single student in the class had anxiety. Whatever their experience with printmaking was, they were new to it again in this course. And when you realize that everyone is just as nervous, you can let go of that and be vulnerable in the way that we want to be vulnerable with our students as well and in the way that we need to be vulnerable in order to connect to a new medium. So I think I answered that question. I got a little lost there.

Tim: Absolutely.

Alyson: But I think I answered.

Tim: Absolutely.

So, okay, the next question was just about how much time you’re spending on things. You talked about time management, you talked about stuff being due Wednesday, Friday, Sunday. But just overall, how many hours per week were you spending on things during the course?

Alyson: I would say between eight and 12 hours, depending on the week. The first week in the course, in many of our three credit courses, there’s not an assignment due. There’s the discussion board, there’s an overview, there’s responses to the class. But that first week really allowed me to think about, okay, there’s less hours in this week. How would I space this out? And so I would say 12 hours was the max I was spending. I think you could probably spend more time, depending on how much you want to explore in a course. That first week will be a little less. And as you matriculate through the course, it gets a little bit more demanding as you start learning the medium. But the demand of it is a pleasurable demand. Because I was able to give myself space to say, well, I’m doing artwork here. Everybody needs to not bother me during this period of time. So I looked at it like a job and that was how I was able to… A job that I love, just my current job that I love. It felt like it was incorporated into my life.

Tim: Well, and I think so many times we just say, oh, I don’t have time to make art. I don’t have time to create. But if you’re in a court, you have to. You have to set aside time. And I think there’s some value in doing that.

Alyson: Yes. And the fact that I made this a New Year’s resolution, I knew that I was going to do this, and with the new year coming up, I have a new resolution to take another course.

Tim: Yes.

Alyson: And I think it’s a great time for our students to do that. Because you’re jumping right back into the new year. You are continuing to take courses for PD. Primarily, I oversee the master’s program, so continuing to matriculate through the program, it’s essential. So the resolution for me is something that’s going to carry over to this year, and I hope students feel the same way about 2023.

Tim: Yeah. Yeah. That’s perfect. Okay. I want to guess just go back to your own thoughts, your own personal experience with things. But just looking at the course as a whole, what did you get out of taking that course? What were your takeaways when you were done with the eight weeks?

Alyson: Well, the first takeaway was realizing that I can learn something new. I know that I am a lifelong learner, but when it comes to art mediums, although I’m an artist and I’m still a practicing artist, I am one of those students who was afraid to take risks. This course really forced me to take those creative risks so that I could become more creative. And I’ve been incorporating it into my own work now as well as created things for other people. So that was one takeaway.

I’d say another great takeaway away was seeing the courses from the perspective of a student and realizing how important it is to incorporate what I’m learning into my life and manage my time in that way. I felt that that was very important in the course. And holistically. I really enjoyed the interaction with the other students and with my instructor.

My instructor was a master at printmaking. And was not only able to give me excellent feedback, but the feedback that was given to every single student in the class was phenomenal. And even equally important was the feedback I got from other students. So I would say that’s another takeaway, connecting with other art teachers and really refining what my knowledge was throughout the course by getting more knowledge from everyone around me. So I’d say that was another takeaway. And then really the last takeaway was being proud of myself for taking a new course and taking on a new challenge. So there’s probably a lot more I could talk about, but I think that encompasses all of what I took away from the course.

Tim: Yeah, and you got your New Year’s resolution done, so you’re in good shape.

Alyson: Yes.

Tim: Okay.

Alyson: Exactly. I actually got one done.

Tim: There you go. I’m proud of you because I rarely do mine. So that’s impressive. One last question before I let you go. I always love to ask for advice and things that the teachers who are listening to this. So we’ll put this out there. For anyone who’s thinking about taking a course over the next year, what advice would you have for them?

Alyson: My best advice is to jump in. If you’re interested in a course, if you’re doing a New Year’s resolution or you’re just interested in a course, don’t be afraid. Don’t be afraid to take the class because when you do something that you’re afraid of and you allow yourself to be vulnerable, it really connects you back to your own students’ experiences where they’re feeling vulnerable, they’re feeling anxious, they’re nervous to start something new. So it puts you back into the shoes of a student and allows you to really connect and see how you might reflect on your own instruction so that you can really push those students to feel that safety that you want to feel as you’re taking those creative risks. So that would be my advice.

Jump in and do it. Don’t be afraid. You can do it. If I can be a full-time associate professor and advisor, have a family, and live my life and deal with my animals who wake me up in the middle of the night all the time. Then if you have a cat, you might know what I mean, but then you can do it also. And this is a perfect time to start.

Tim: Oh, that’s great. I could not have said it any better. So Dr. Pools, thank you so much for the interview, for all of the advice, and we appreciate you coming on and sharing your story here.

Alyson: You bet. It was my pleasure, Tim.

Tim: All right. I hope that today’s conversation with Dr. Pouls answered some of your questions about AOEU courses and studio courses in particular. I know that we had a lot of different questions come in after that last episode with Jenny Anana. So my hope is that today’s episode has given you a little bit more insight, better view at what taking a course is like, and a better understanding of what you might gain from a studio course.

So if you are looking at registering for a course, I believe the deadline for January courses is on December 27th. So just about a week still available for you to complete that signup and registration. Or if you’re just wanting to learn more about courses, explore everything that’s available or learn anything else, you can find all of that information at

Art Ed Radio was produced by the Art of Education University with audio engineering from Michael Crocker. We are going to be taking a couple of weeks off for the holidays. So just FYI for everyone on no new episodes until January. But I will make sure we have some good episodes from the archives if you want to give them a listen next week and the week after. We’ll talk to you again soon.

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.