New seminar increases visual literacy for first-year students

Fine Arts

- John Threlfall

Wyatt, right, with AHVS undergrad Baylee Woodley in the new art collections classroom
Wyatt, right, with AHVS undergrad Baylee Woodley in the new art collections classroom. Photo: John Threlfall.

From large lectures and working with TAs to a lack of one-on-one time with professors, there's no question first-year classes can seem overwhelming to students.

The Department of Art History and Visual Studies is broadening its first-year opportunities with both a new classroom and a new class concept. AHVS 101—a seminar focusing on art, images and experience—launched last month and anchored in the department’s new art collections classroom.

“The idea is to create a context in which students transitioning to the university can have an experiential education by interacting with the instructor and their peers in a small group,” explains AHVS professor and course creator Victoria Wyatt. “My job is to create an environment that encourages them to engage actively.” AHVS 101 is open to just 20 students from any faculty and is already proving popular: the debut semester filled up fast.

Wyatt notes that first-year students are hoping for something beyond the traditional “sage on the stage” model, where they sit passively while taking lecture notes. “They used to rely on the instructor as a source of information . . . now they look it up on their smartphones,” she says.

“Rather than receiving information from an authority, they want to play an active role in navigating that information, actively discussing it. [This seminar] gives them some tools that will be transferable to whatever discipline they end up majoring in.”

Featuring purpose-built display and storage cabinets, pull-out painting racks and a hanging wall, a dedicated print cabinet and rolling furniture for a flexible learning environment, the art collections classroom allows students to engage with the paintings, prints, sculptures and other objects in UVic’s 19,000-plus art collection in an entirely new way.

This new class was designed with the room in mind, and I believe it's the first small-numbers, seminar-style class to be offered to first-year UVic students.
Erin Campbell, AHVS chair

As well as having hands-on interaction with art and meeting guest professionals, AHVS 101 students will develop blogs and hold workshops on visual thinking strategies, Photoshop and 3-D design and printing.

“We’ll be working with some Indigenous artworks from the Arctic and the Northwest Coast, which will bring some awareness to Truth and Reconciliation,” adds Wyatt.

She feels increased visual literacy is essential for first-year students given the diverse contexts in which we encounter art and images today.

“I’d like them to gain experience in how to think about and manipulate visual images in different contexts so they develop greater acumen in looking at websites. How would they use the artwork if they’re a curator at a gallery, for example, or use it as a background in retail, or put a banner photo on a website or a thumbnail on social media? How would they photograph it? What would they say about it?”

An open house featuring these new interactive learning spaces will take place on March 7 as part of UVic’s Ideafest.


In this story

Keywords: art history and visual studies, student life, arts

People: Victoria Wyatt, Baylee Woodley

Publication: The Ring

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