TLC Talks

TLC Talks…Aesthetics

By Kaitlin Mondello and the TLC Staff

Every week, we as a TLC staff meet to discuss our projects. These conversations are enriching opportunities to think deeply about pedagogy within a committed, interdisciplinary community of scholars and teachers. We want to share some of these conversations here in this new series called “TLC Talks,” which will make more visible the thinking at the heart of our work.

Prior to each semester, TLC staff brainstorm ideas for upcoming workshops. This fall, we had many ideas on the table, so we began to look for places where our expertise and experience overlap in complimentary but not redundant ways. We settled on the idea of workshop “tracks” that would help us explore recurring themes throughout the semester from several different perspectives. This would allow us not only to delve into particular topics more deeply, but also potentially build community for participants around these issues through workshops as we have done with some of our other ongoing work around Socially Conscious Pedagogy, Teaching as an International Student, and Open Digital Pedagogy.

One of the tracks we decided on this year is “Aesthetics,” which we are thinking about in several ways. We rarely think of aesthetics as part of pedagogy; when we do, we may begin by considering our visual and aural communication with students, but we can also attend to the aesthetics of our course materials, websites, and even the ways we organize our classroom spaces. (You can read more about the tracks here).

Prior to each workshop, the facilitator(s) present to other staff a preliminary plan and outreach language, followed the next week by a discussion of the full agenda/lesson plan. These are unique opportunities to get meaningful feedback from many different perspectives at two different stages in the planning process. These discussions have both a theoretical and practical function as we talk through ideas, structures, and activities. Sometimes we test parts of activities we intend to use in the workshop. Opportunities like this for focused feedback from a community of scholars are rare, especially when the topic is pedagogy.

Our first TLC Talks is a snapshot of our staff discussion for the “Teaching with Images” workshop facilitated by TLC Postdoc Asilia Franklin-Phipps (Education) and TLC Fellow Sarah Litvin (History) that took place on Weds. Oct. 24, 2018.

The discussion of the workshop began with an idea and a question: In teaching, “the default mode is often to use images to illustrate a concept or to break up a slideshow full of text, but what happens if images become central to your teaching/learning?”

This question led us to examine what images can do in our teaching. Asilia and Sarah had already come up with a significant list of possible entry points for a group discussion in the workshop, all of which centered around visual learning as a kind of epistemology, both for students and the instructor, that can

  1. Offer different viewpoints and perspectives
  2. Disrupt traditional hierarchies of knowledge that privilege the written text
  3. Slow us down to see what we don’t know, hadn’t considered, hadn’t processed, or cannot know
  4. Increase the accessibility of material
  5. Allow students to engage with ideas before being able to articulating an opinion or understanding of a concept

Staff responded to and built from this initial list. In particular, we discussed the ways that “close looking” (studying an image intently, often without much initial context) can make students more comfortable with abstraction and complexity because they don’t necessarily have to think about something to say, but rather can react more directly. By creating space for students’ reactions up front, the class can explore how feelings and emotions themselves are a kind of knowledge. This knowledge may need to be built on and refined with additional information, but so often it is not even acknowledged in the process of learning.

This led us to discuss how a failure to consider affect in learning can leave students disengaged and/or deny their emotional engagement with material and the ways that feelings affect learning. Considering affect in student learning is particularly important when teaching controversial or politically-charged topics where images can be especially powerful. This part of the discussion resulted in the creation of specific guidelines for teaching with images that were distributed at the workshop, including the need to consider the politics of the image itself and potential student reactions in advance.

The focus in our staff conversation on the role of affect in response to images inspired the facilitators to design an exercise in which attendees would begin the workshop by making a collage in response to a particular feeling. They chose “anticipation” as the theme and curated related images such as a picture of the subway schedule display board. Rather than begin the workshop with theory, overview or context, as we might normally do, Asilia and Sarah asked participants simply to start with the image-based activity. This produced some levels of anxiety and confusion that then became part of the participants’ collages and their discussion of their feelings afterward. Asilia and Sarah were able to use the destabilizing effects of starting with the images themselves productively in the group discussion to get to some of the ideas and issues about feeling and types of knowledge that were raised in their initial plan and our staff discussion. Participants added to this conversation as they considered the roles of images in language education and comparisons between acts of translation between media and languages.

Here are some other resources from the workshop:

Lots of great visual assignment ideas!

Everything digital art!

Museum Pedagogy Resources

“Teaching Emotions Through a Portrait Gallery”


The Arts and the Creation of the Mind  by Elliot Eisner

Art as Experience by John Dewey

Spectacle Pedagogy: Art, Politics, and Visual Culture by Charles R. Garolan

Landscapes of Learning by Maxine Greene

Citizen by Claudia Rankine


Leave a Reply