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Davis Educational Foundation

Davis Educational Foundation

RISD has launched a new Academic Commons Program (ACP) to galvanize the teaching and learning initiatives identified in its 2012 Strategic Plan.

RISD has launched a new Academic Commons Program (ACP) to galvanize the teaching and learning initiatives identified in its 2012 Strategic Plan. Funded by a $160,000 grant from theDavis Educational Foundation, the two-year pilot program provides support to faculty, graduate students and post-graduates who are committed to furthering integrative teaching and learning across undergraduate programs.

Founded in 1985 by the former chairman of Shaw’s Supermarkets, the Davis Educational Foundation supports undergraduate curricular advancement and faculty development at colleges and universities throughout New England. The grant will enable members of the RISD community to engage in exciting new research to further develop meaningful models of innovative teaching and learning at a college long at the forefront of art and design education.

“The Academic Commons Program is an incubator for educators to make unexpected connections,” notes Interim Associate ProvostPatricia Phillips, who has been instrumental in establishing the program. “Hopefully these projects will deeply inspire faculty throughout campus.”

Based on the first round of awarded projects, the ACP appears to be virtually built on inspiration. For instance, poet and Professor of Literary Arts and StudiesMairéad Byrne is researching and inventorying writing produced by RISD students, faculty and alumni, indexing achievements, resources and opportunities. Her ACP project will take stock of RISD’s “distinguished, maybe even unique, writing heritage,” Byrne says, and define RISD-specific traditions and practices that can inform the enormous transitions in written communication now underway as page/screen, print/web and image/text relationships continue to morph. Ultimately, she hopes not only to probe the role of writing in the creation and appreciation of works of art and design, but to figure out what RISD can do best and differently from any other college when it comes to advancing written communication.

In another fascinating ACP-funded research project calledThinking Bodies, Making Minds: Educating with Movement in Art and Design, Associate Professor of Foundation StudiesLeslie Hirst is teaming up with gPascale Rihouet of the History of Visual Art + Culture faculty to conduct research and lead workshops exploring how movement might be consciously integrated into teaching and learning practices at RISD.

“Certain mental processing skills – such as fluidity in thinking and making abstract or remote associations – are directly linked to engagement in specific movement activities,” they note. Intrigued by this notion, they are exploring such fascinating questions as: “How might students develop physical/muscular actions to enhance intuition and provoke innovative thinking?” And “how do the body’s axes, core and forces variously affect painting, sculpture, architecture, filmmaking and other disciplines?”

Graduate-led ACP projects

As for projects graduate students are pursuing, Diana Wagner MID 14 has received a grant to support an exhibition, forum, and student writing that will highlight one of her greatest interests: material innovation across disciplines. An advisor to2ndLife – a thriving student-run resource center that collects and distributes arts supplies – the industrial designer is intrigued by the inventive materials students develop for their own projects. For instance, students taking part in furniture studios frequently use items like hair, gelatin and even baked soil to cook up inventive new composites. These materials have the potential to be spun into revolutionary textiles and incorporated in cutting-edge furniture designs.

“There’s no denying that amazing experimentation happens here at RISD,” Wagner says. “Students are making really interesting materials that should be showcased.”

To make sure these discoveries surface beyond the studio, she plans to organize an exhibition featuring some of the most innovative materials developed in RISD studios. A panel of materials experts will curate the final collection before it’s unveiled in April and added to the newMaterial Resource Center (MRC), a repository of 18,000 commercially made samples located on the second floor of the Fleet Library. “This exhibition will be the first step in making the wealth of material innovation happening in our studios known, both within our community and to a broader public,” Wagner explains.

Sara Raffo MFA 11 GD is leveraging her ACP grant to conduct a spring semester study of critique, an essential component of the curriculum that involves reflection and evaluation.“I’ve found that people think a lot about critique,” Raffo explains. “But they don’t often have the chance to talk aboutwhy they participate in the process.”

The notion of crits first piqued Raffo’s interest when she was teaching a typography class at the University of California/Davis and noticed that when she asked students and educators to provide thoughtful feedback to someone else’s work, the conversation fell a bit flat. “I felt as though the critiques were simply judgments instead of dynamic academic explorations,” she explains.

So, to uncover best practices going on in RISD studios, Raffo will interview both faculty members and students about their own methodology. “I want to see ifcritiques differ across disciplines in meaningful ways,” she explains. “If so, I want to record those discoveries.”

By the end of the process, Raffo will create a detailed report meant to be used as a resource for future practice. “I want to make critique at RISD more visible. Hopefully, my findings will add fuel to faculty members’ own teaching methods,” she explains. “And I ultimately hope that through critique, students can learn how to ask tough questions of themselves and others.”

The results of Raffo’s explorations and all the other ACP-funded projects will be shared with the RISD community on the program’s website and in shared forums. Students and faculty interested in conducting ACP projects this summer are invited to submit proposals by February 1. Those interested in conducting projects in the fall are encouraged to apply by April 1.