Category Archives: Self-Reflection

Cumulative Self Evaluation

First Year Learning Community at The Cooper Hewitt

First Year Learning Community at The Cooper Hewitt

“Community Collaboration”

Teaching

Course Improvements and Coordination:

Over the last five years, as more of my workload hours at City Tech have shifted from Teaching to Service, I have had the opportunity to focus on what is most essential in my work with students. I feel fortunate to have been able to devote my time and energy to the development and coordination of one course, Graphic Design Principles 1. This course, a first semester required course for all COMD majors, serves as a critical foundation for incoming freshman. As Course Coordinator, I have worked with part-time faculty to develop a framework that better connects the course content to its counterpart in the second semester, Graphic Design Principles 2, and to create unified learning outcomes, specifically with regard to a shared design vocabulary and design process.

Additionally, I developed a series of digital projects to help faculty integrate the use of digital tools. Several faculty members have been teaching the course for decades and had focused on the use of traditional, hand methods. This transition was a challenge for many, but all faculty have now incorporated several digital projects into their course sections. I supported faculty through this transition with workshops, individual tutorials, use of our OpenLab Course Coordination project, and by encouraging the incorporation of OpenLab student ePortfolios into the course learning outcomes.

Learning Communities:

In Fall 2013 I began collaborating with Professor Jody Rosen, English on our Learning Community, “Ways of Seeing: Adventures with Image & Text.” This Learning Community for COMD students taking COMD1100 & ENG1101 includes field trips, hands-on projects, and cross-sensory experiences to help students discover and express their creative vision and supports their first year learning experience.

As our Learning Community has evolved we have explored cooperative (small-group) learning, alternative assessments using peer critiques through blogging and commenting on our shared OpenLab Course Site, low-stakes writing assignments, field trips, shared assignments, and critical thinking activities.

Our 2015 semester-long, cross-disciplinary student project “A Humument,” which was based on artist, Tom Phillips’s altered text, culminated in an exhibition at the Ursula C. Schwerin Library and also a student research poster at the City Tech Student Research Poster Presentation. Both were well received and gave first semester students the unique opportunity to showcase their creative writing and visual design to the college community.

CUNY BA Mentorship:

As a CUNY BA mentor, I have worked with twelve students (six in the last five years) to guide them with the development of their own curricula, tailored to their career goals and interests. I am currently mentoring Shofiyaa Abdul Samad and Sara Solomon. Both students are working toward their CUNY BA degrees for anticipated graduation in 2018. Being a CUNY BA mentor is a volunteer position, but it has helped me to look at my teaching in a different light. My CUNY BA mentees are often self-driven, independent, mature students. By comparison, the freshmen I teach are at a very different point in their education, requiring academic and emotional support at a much more basic level. I find this diversity of experiences invigorating, and it has pushed me to grow as an educator to meet the needs of all my students. I love the contrast and enjoy the intellectually stimulating conversations I share with my CUNY BA students as we work together to navigate their curricular and professional paths.

Online Teaching Resource & Portfolio:

When I built the initial iteration of my online teaching resource profspevack.com during my first year at City Tech, the concept of open access to educational resources was not widely accepted among my colleagues. As a teaching resource, my site has provided a way to document and reflect on my activities over the years, but it has also been of benefit to other faculty who work on related courses and initiatives. My teaching materials have been open and available for all to use for over fifteen years. Faculty from City Tech and other colleges have used my site and its contents for their courses. On many occasions, I have had the opportunity to help new faculty avoid the “trial by fire” that I experienced in my first year of teaching by sharing my course content and giving them a structure to build upon.

Profspevack.com has grown and evolved, archiving over a decade of my teaching sites, housing my teaching portfolio, and more recently a blog, which I have used to document and share certain scholarly activities and observations. My teaching portfolio is used as an example for faculty on the City Tech Faculty Commons website and in professional development workshops. As an early adopter, I am pleased to now see a growing number of faculty build and share their course content and teaching experiences with the College community. Continue reading

Not STEM, STEAM

Science Wonder Art ven diagram

The Imaginary Foundation

“The neurobiologist Antonio Damasio has written about Descartes’ error that, to put it in shorthand, “I think therefore I am.” Damasio instead makes the compelling argument, empirically based in neurology, that feeling and emotions as expressed in art and music play a central role in high-level cognitive reasoning….. much of the focus in education these days from Singapore to Shanghai to American schools is on STEM — science, technology, engineering and math. As important as that is, it is short-sighted. We need to add the empathetic reasoning of the arts to the mix — STEAM. The values behind arts integration — collaboration, flexible thinking and disciplined imagination — lead to the capacity to innovate.” Behind The Cello, Yo-Yo Ma – adapted from a conversation with WorldPost 

Link Between Art, Perception, and the Self

Lithograph of the brain (via Wellcome Library)

Lithograph of the brain (via Wellcome Library)

“When you look at a painting and feel that somehow it was made just for a person like you, it might actually be true. New neuroscience research shows that deep feeling of personal resonance from some works of art is linked to your brain’s sense of self.” Neuroaesthetic Research Probes Link Between Art, Perception, and the Self by Allison Meier

“‘…certain artworks, albeit unfamiliar, may be so well-matched to an individual’s unique makeup that they obtain access to the neural substrates concerned with the self—access which other external stimuli normally do not get. This mediates a sense of being “moved,” or “touched from within.’ This account is consistent with the modern notion that individuals’ taste in art is linked with their sense of identity, and suggests that DMN activity may serve to signal “self-relevance” in a broader sense than has been thought so far.” Art reaches within: aesthetic experience, the self and the default mode network by Edward A. Vessel, G. Gabrielle Starr and Nava Rubin

Self Reflection: The Glorification of Busy

“It is not enough to be industrious; so are the ants. What are you industrious about?”
– Henry D. Thoreau 1857

I’ve stayed at City Tech for the last 11 years, because I love teaching and I love the students and faculty I am honored to work with.  When I look back on those years and reflect on the amount of time I’ve spent doing administrative work, I am saddened that I couldn’t have spent more of that time working with students or working on my own scholarship. Like a few of my colleagues, I have started to keep track of the hours I spend doing administrative tasks.

I’ve been told that the College administration takes pride in the College’s low administrative overhead and that this allows the College to hire more full-time faculty. A good thing, but…

The full-time faculty at City Tech currently carry a 24 hour teaching workload (more than other Senior Colleges in the CUNY system).  The standards for scholarship that contribute to tenure and promotion have recently increased, but the time allocated for scholarship has not. Without sufficient administrative support those tasks land on the desks of an already over-burdened full-time faculty. This means less time we can devote to students and research.

The Self Refection that I am writing here is a part of a larger document the “Professional Activity Report and Self‐Evaluation”, which all faculty must compile each academic year. Working on this document has already taken up 10 hours of my time and I have yet to collect all the documentation required. It is due in three days. I certainly see the value in this document, but the unrelated Scholarship report that was due on Friday, the four faculty observations that I must complete in the next week, and numerous other administrative tasks that need to be completed for the Department or College push me to a point of feeling like I have a dangerous number of plates in the air.

At the end of most semesters the full time faculty you run into at City Tech looks as though they have just run a marathon. Response to the question “How are you?” is rarely joyful, it’s an exasperated “busy, too busy.” They are trying to juggle numerous committees and commitments for the department, the college and the university — time for students and research is increasingly pinched. Not only does this affect our ability to commit quality time to students and our own research, it also affects our families, health and emotional well-being.

Being busy is glorified, as a recent article in the Huffington Post  addressed. And in the NYT a few years ago. This blogger wrote about the subject and pointed a NYT article “The Island Where People Forget to Die,” which I had read a couple years ago. I seriously contemplated leaving NYC altogether after reading it.

Busy is not the same as productive and for most it is certainly not happy, healthy and at peace.

Many people say, “well, you’ve got the summer’s off” but the amount of “busy” that many of us must shoulder during the school year is not equaled in pay and often takes away from teaching – the very thing we came here to do.

How does this tie into a self-reflection on teaching, scholarship and service?

I’ve done a ton of amazing things this year at City Tech. I should list them and reflect on them, but I’m too tired.

I have high standards for myself and maybe I should accept the time that it takes is the time that it takes. As I get older and realize I’ve been running a marathon for 11 years, without real time for sufficient creative reflection or thought, I wonder if the way we busy is the way we distract ourselves – trying to out-busy death.

Next year I will aim for less.

SELF EVALUATION 2011-2012

Returning to teaching and service after a year-long sabbatical devoted to creative scholarship has been both challenging and invigorating. The key concepts I have brought back to inform my teaching and my service are sustainable innovation and community collaboration. I have tried to continue the momentum I found last year in the studio as I prepare for a solo exhibition at Mixed Greens gallery, NYC this coming spring/summer. It has been difficult to find a balance between teaching & service and scholarship.

TEACHING

Highlights:

  • Integrating ecological design principles into pedagogy
  • Developing a teachable Design Process for sustainable innovation

During the development of Emerging Media Technologies Program a few years ago, I incorporated a concentration called “Ecomedia” and wrote the University’s first course in Ecological Design. As part of my sabbatical, I tried to bring together the four areas of my life: artist, educator, design and advocate through new ecomedia projects, learning experiences, and exhibitions. I admit that I am a little stumped as to how to integrate the momentum from my own creative experience with ecological creative media into my teaching. Except for individual class projects, such as those that engage an environmental issue into a design project, I have yet to find a successful way to bring the synergy I finally achieved in my creative work to my classroom projects.

Sustainable innovation and community collaboration are the two areas that do have some overlap with my creative work and I have tried to translate these concepts into classroom pedagogy.

Sustainable Innovation: In my ADV1100 course I ask my students to follow a design practice, which incorporates the expectation of failure as part of the process of innovative design. This is alarming to most students many of whom are trained to avoid failure at all costs. I have found that expecting and embracing failure as part of the design process easily reduces the fear and increases the level of enjoyment. For students, that also means supporting a life-long love of learning and a love of creative effort for it’s own sake. I have observed students who are convinced that they cannot draw or are who unable to come up with a compelling concept, rise to the occasion when the iterative techniques are integrated into the project. When they are allowed the freedom to make multiple trials, there are no real mistakes and risks can be taken.

I am driven to make things. I enjoy the process, even more than the result. During the last two years while working on my “8 Extraordinary Greens” project I spent a great deal of time experimenting with materials and conceptual approaches to the project. The project itself contained elements at great risk for failure. The simple act of trying to keep plants alive in a gallery setting is a huge risk, but beyond that, trying to bring together these different interests into one project was also a risk. The project became part performance, part educational, part art installation. It was more than simply the act of making objects and installing them in a gallery. As someone who prefers to be behind the scenes (making drawings in my studio), I forced myself way outside my comfort zone.

Many students (and professionals too) suffer from a paralysis that prevents them from starting a new project or completing a work in progress. The fear of failure limits innovation. Pushing oneself outside of the comfort zone and making time and space for failure is one thing that will help sustain the creative process.

Finding ways to develop an individual’s creative process is a primary goal of my foundation classes. It is the one concept I hope they recognize as critical to their success as creative thinkers. Embracing failure as part of that process is essential.

Community collaboration is another part of the creative process that I try to bring to the classroom. Throughout the semester students are given collaborative projects that guide their research, iterative designs and final products. Without much coaxing they are able to see the value in this collaboration, especially in the beginning research stages of a project, whereas it can take experience, patience, and maturity to successfully realize a collaborative project.

Scholarship and Professional Growth

Highlights:

  • Solo exhibition at Mixed Greens Gallery- reviews and exposure
  • PSC-CUNY 42 Research Award for Birds of Brooklyn
  • Group Exhibitions: Horsplay & Platte Cove

I wanted to direct my pedagogical efforts toward integrating ecological design principles and practices into the study of creative media design, but have recently realized that the first place to explore this effort is in my own studio. Having the extended, uninterrupted time to focus on this during my 2011-2012 sabbatical has been life changing.

For the last ten years my creative work has centered on the tenuous relationship between humanity and the natural world. I make drawings that reference biological processes, scientific theories, and human interactions as a way of examining the delicate balance of natural ecosystems and exploring the visible and invisible forces that create conflict when humans alter these systems.

Independent of my artistic practice, I studied ecological design and permaculture design practices and devoted volunteer hours to community, urban agriculture projects and environmental advocacy events.

With the goal of integration in mind I began to develop creative projects that bring together the seemingly disconnected areas of my life (art practice, ecological/permaculture design, environmental advocacy, and education) into one creative effort.

While on sabbatical during the 2010-2011 academic year, I began experimenting with growing food in my small Brooklyn apartment and on a slightly larger scale in my art studio. I wanted to spend more of my time growing my own food and perhaps growing it for others. I wanted to experiment with a different type of exchange system, where I could sell greens by donation and explore, through my artistic practice, the value placed on food and community. Lastly, I wanted to share this knowledge with others. By converting furniture objects into food growing systems, I developed the “domestic microfarm” – an efficient system for growing microgreens in small urban environments.

This research grew into a project called “8 Extraordinary Greens” and culminated in a well-received, solo exhibition at Mixed Greens gallery in the gallery district of NYC from May 3 – June 2, 2012. Reviews in the press included: PBS’s Art21, GOOD, Grist, Hyperallergic, NY Post, Treehugger, Fast Company, Inhabitat, among many others.

One goal of this exhibition was to encourage visitors to think about the value of their creative efforts, be it growing food, community and educational efforts, or art making. The exhibition and the project received so much press from so many different types of media angles (urban farmer, artist, environmental advocate, educator) that I felt that the exhibition successfully integrated all of my creative efforts while effectively collaborating with a range of communities.

Additionally, I received a $3500.00 PSC-CUNY 42 Research Award for my on-going community-based audio project, Birds of Brooklyn and was invited to participate in two group exhibitions: Horsplay, University of Buffalo (catalog) & Platte Clove Artists, Erpf Gallery, Arkville, NY.

Service

Highlights:

  • OpenLab Co-Director
  • Title V Grant – Living Lab

My experience with my “8 Extraordinary Greens” exhibition has also enhanced my view of the value of community collaboration in creative media projects. As a fine artist (and introvert) who is most comfortable “doing it all herself,” partnering with community groups and colleagues on this project was an eye opening experience and essential for realization of the project.

One of the goals of City Tech’s OpenLab is utilizing an open source platform – a community-focused approach to development. With the aim of encouraging openness: sharing and critiquing of ideas and working together to further a project or goal, the OpenLab is a wonderful example of community collaboration. As Co-Director with Jody Rosen, I focus on the architecture, design and development of the platform. We look not only to our internal development team, but to OpenLab users (faculty, students and staff), members of the University who are working on similar projects, and members of the Open Source WordPress and BuddyPress communities for inspiration, support, and innovative suggestions to make the project the best it can be. We shared case studies and lessons learned in our first semester at the CUNY IT Conference this year and highlighted future plans to continue to foster connections and strengthen the intellectual and social life of the City Tech community.

It has been a joy to work in this collegial supportive environment. I look forward to continued participation in this five-year initiative funded by a $3.1M grant awarded to City Tech under the U.S. Department of Education’s Strengthening Hispanic-Serving Institutions (Title V) program. I’m excited to see how OpenLab grows and evolves.

Honor Your Dreams

Top 5 regrets people make on their deathbed

1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
This was the most common regret of all. When people realize that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honored even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made.

It is very important to try and honor at least some of your dreams along the way. From the moment that you lose your health, it is too late. Health brings a freedom very few realize, until they no longer have it.

2. I wish I didn’t work so hard.
This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship. Women also spoke of this regret. But as most were from an older generation, many of the female patients had not been breadwinners. All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence.

By simplifying your lifestyle and making conscious choices along the way, it is possible to not need the income that you think you do. And by creating more space in your life, you become happier and more open to new opportunities, ones more suited to your new lifestyle.

3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result.

We cannot control the reactions of others. However, although people may initially react when you change the way you are by speaking honestly, in the end it raises the relationship to a whole new and healthier level. Either that or it releases the unhealthy relationship from your life. Either way, you win.

4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
Often they would not truly realize the full benefits of old friends until their dying weeks and it was not always possible to track them down. Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years. There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved. Everyone misses their friends when they are dying.

It is common for anyone in a busy lifestyle to let friendships slip. But when you are faced with your approaching death, the physical details of life fall away. People do want to get their financial affairs in order if possible. But it is not money or status that holds the true importance for them. They want to get things in order more for the benefit of those they love. Usually though, they are too ill and weary to ever manage this task. It is all comes down to love and relationships in the end. That is all that remains in the final weeks, love and relationships.

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.
This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realize until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called ‘comfort’ of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content. When deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again. When you are on your deathbed, what  others think of you is a long way from your mind. How wonderful to be able to let go and smile again, long before you are dying.

– See more at: http://www.ariseindiaforum.org/nurse-reveals-the-top-5-regrets-people-make-on-their-deathbed/ and http://www.hayhouse.com/the-top-five-regrets-of-the-dying