Blog Post

Learning to Learn: From Intentional Communities to Online Courses - "Participatory Media and Social Practice"

In light of the rapidly changing creative, teaching, and learning landscape in the arts and humanities vis à vis digital and new media, the University of Oregon's Arts and Administration Program is offering the course "Participatory Media and Social Practice" for the first time:

As a graduate student in Arts Management, I'm looking forward to taking this hybrid online course/in-person workshop taught by Helen de Michiel, former co-director of the National Alliance for Media Art and Culture (NAMAC). Developing this class is a testament to the UO Arts and Administration Program's commitment to the future of the arts management field and the ways in which publics are engaging with, reflecting on, making, and discussing contemporary art, media, and culture.

While the class won't begin until later this week, this is the first time I have ever felt comfortable with the idea of taking an "online course". And while a web-based format is particularly conducive to a class focused on how we interact with and through digital media, my openness to a course conducted in this way is nevertheless a sign that interpretations of and relationships to the internet and online platforms are dramatically shifting and opening up, and we are all becoming more comfortable with, or finding our niche in, a new cyberspace.

My educational philosophy and values have long been grounded in my experience from 2002-2006 as an undergraduate at the Johnston Center for Integrative Studies in southern California, an intentional community for interdisciplinary learning that allowed students to personalize their education through customized majors, contracted courses, narrative evaluations in place of letter grades, student/professor collaboratively taught courses, autonomous/self-governed campus living in dormitories that doubled as professors' offices, and weekly, fiery community meetings. Suffice it to say, my undergraduate education couldn't have been more place-based, and I would have scoffed at the idea of taking a class online over the privilege of intensely engaging, arguing, and laughing with my friends, colleagues, and teachers in studios, seminars, shows, and social settings. Times have changed, and with them, my notion of meaningfulness, and how we collectively make meaning, in and through educational and intellectual experience.

The notion that students cannot grasp or engage with intellectual or academic material online as richly or dynamically as we can in person or face-to-face with our professors and peers is no longer valid, at least in the context of privilged, 21st century, higher education. Not when we consider the level of internet literacy in this realm; the quickness to harness technological tools for DIY creative endeavors; web publishing's increasingly sophisticated methods, styles, and content; and the virtual communities that have long been developing online that help make room for infinite possibilities of individual and group identity, community, and connection. Notions of what makes us feel connected have drastically altered, and it is no longer so easy to dismiss online social or intellectual engagement as a lesser form of connection when it is ever moreso a parellel or, even better, embedded and intertwined form of connection intimately entangled with our "nonline" selves.

And yet, I cannot help but think that come December, I will have identified more similarities than differences between my experiences at Johnston and in my first online course. Community building possesses common elements wherever it takes place, and I look forward to seeing how those commonalities reveal themselves, how intentional community crops up digitally and virtually as well as interpersonally, how our understandings of tangibility are complicated by the intensely visceral relationships and encounters we experience in and through real virtual worlds.

Not only as a student, but as an aspiring arts administrator, I see the value of learning to learn in new, increasingly complex ways as imperative to the future of my professional, intellectual, and creative communities. In the future, I know I will be curating, programming, and facilitating contemporary art using online tools to both organize and present work, manage projects, and provide educational and engagement opportunities to publics. As people continue to participate in the arts in unprecedented and innumerable new ways, the tools used to teach us how to facilitate, channel, open up, challenge, or inspire that engagement with arts and culture should reflect the ways in which the people we are trying to reach are actually engaging and connecting.

I look forward to sharing my perceptions of and reflections on this course--its methodology, structure, content, and outcomes--over the next few months. In the meantime, you can read a brief interview with Participatory Media and Social Practice course instructor Helen de Michiel at


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