Jane Venis – Tertiary Teaching Excellence Teaching Profile
Teaching profile from Jane Venis (School of Design, Otago Polytechnic) – Award for Sustained Excellence in tertiary teaching 2012.
The Shared studio as a site for a positive learning experience
My background as a community worker and practicing artist informs my learning and teaching philosophy which values creativity, critique and collaboration using active learning methodologies. My students learn in open plan shared studio spaces, so I am always aware of how important it is to help foster a positive learning environment.
The atmosphere in the teaching studio has a huge amount to do with the energy level of the students. To create a positive studio atmosphere, the group has to have enough fully participating members that an ‘up energy’ is created. Then the work ethic of the majority helps ‘infect’ the minority with some of this enthusiasm. I find it essential to work towards this positive and energised atmosphere from day one, which students appreciate.
Humour can be a hugely creative tool that helps people relax and gets energy flowing. Early in the group ‘bonding process’ I introduce humorous projects so that laughter flows and an appreciation of the absurd becomes part of the class culture. Exercises that have a humorous outcome remove the stress of ‘getting it wrong’ and real creativity begins. Once learners problem-solve in fun projects they can apply these skills in more challenging contexts in the future.
For example, in the Bachelor of Design Sculptural Design course I use chindogu (a Japanese art form for creating purposefully useless products) to engage learners in finding unexpected solutions to problems. Chindogu objects are visually humorous and offer absurd solutions to problems that aren’t particularly pressing. As visual humour crosses the borders of race, ethnicity and language, this process is accessible to all students in the class.
Deeper concerns can also be considered through making chindogu. For example, engagement with the almost useless object opens up questions about the continual proliferation of cheap consumer goods on a planet with diminishing resources. Sustainability is an issue for all designers and can be woven into the consciousness of the class.
Another successful strategy to help students relax in the studio is to build in an early period of non-assessed fun activity, which includes a hands-on learning experience. A useful spin off is that it reduces performance anxiety which has a positive effect on receptivity to new ideas.
Here is an example which I use in Creative Studies Sculpture whereby the group was introduced to the notion of assemblage for the first time. In the lecture I showed simple pivotal modernist examples such as Picasso’s Bulls Head made from a bicycle seat and handlebars, several contemporary examples including a piece of my own work which I brought in for the class to see and touch. As part of the lecture I rushed around the room collecting random items and quickly made an assemblage while discussing its essential elements. I enjoy expressing my enthusiasm for my subject in practical ways as I believe energy is infectious.
After the demonstration I released students to ‘mine’ the surrounding area for materials. They then worked in small groups to create assemblages. I have now taught this paper for the fourth time and have found that combinations of passionate and active explanation followed immediately by a time of non-assessed experimentation really helps to cement a new concept and / or an aesthetic style. I find this helpful with international students who enjoy learning by doing because it is far less exhausting than having to constantly listen for meaning.
Learners in studio based art and design courses are primarily kinaesthetic learners and are comfortable cementing links between theory and practice in an active way by making. This approach encourages deep learning because students come to understand the connection between concepts and practice and how they inform each other. According to experiential learning theory, reflective observation and active experimentation used together can create a transformational learning experience.
My approach to facilitating learning is to value all students as individuals who learn in different ways. Once they feel relaxed and accepted they start having fun, accept challenges, take risks and grow. I facilitate a positive energetic environment where they have opportunities for early success, can flourish as a learning community and support each other.
The vital connection between my teaching and research
My professional development as an educator is enhanced by my educational research, deep enquiry through study and also by studio research in my area of expertise. This holistic approach fosters a rich working environment whereby I combine my deepening understanding of teaching and learning pedagogies with my own studio and theoretical research. This approach benefits both my students and other educators within my school and the wider art and design communities.
A key focus of my research is to help second chance learners connect with their creative energy. I have written several articles and delivered conference papers discussing how unexpected triggers such as chindogu and doodling can help unlock new ways of thinking and making. Another area of my research focuses on how to help students relax when learning to draw. My practice as an artist in drawing and sculpture has been pivotal to developing this research.
I am a distance PhD candidate at Griffith University in Brisbane. My research focus is how the chindogu object can be used to discuss consumerism of the body. I apply this in studio research by creating sculptures of absurd interactive gym equipment using recycled objects. There are direct benefits to my teaching from engaging in this research. For example, student projects with a focus on: applied drawing, chindogu for problem solving and sculptural assemblage. I also apply concepts from my study to discuss notions of usefulness, designed obsolescence and sustainability with learners of all levels.
My love of teaching has spanned over thirty years in a variety of contexts and with students of differing abilities, gifts and challenges. Whatever else I do in my life I will always keep teaching. I love to see the spark when students grasp a new idea, master a skill, trust in themselves to experiment and confidently go out into the world. Self-assurance is built when learning is accessible. I believe that very few people learn well under stress, yet new challenges need to be offered to learners. To achieve the balance between these two states lies at the heart of a successful learning environment.
Looking to the Future
This prize will provide a wonderful opportunity for me to ‘refuel’ my energy and immerse myself in contemporary creative environments.
I have always wanted to attend the Venice Biennale, a contemporary international art exhibition which will be on next year. I will use some of my prize money to attend this event. I also intend to set aside some of this generous prize toward a future arts residency. I have yet to determine where I would like to go for this.
Peer and student comments
Jane’s supportive enthusiasm has helped me grow she’s the most fabulous teacher
Creative Studies Student Feedback Report, 29/11 /2010.
Jane always presents fantastic lectures, always interesting and engaging. She works one on one with students particularly those who have higher needs, but also pushes students that are already high achievers.
Colleague Feedback Report, 21/11/2010.
Her ultra enthusiasm helps make me enthusiastic about the work
Bachelor of Design Student Feedback Report, 18/7/ 2008.
Always active classes, never boring.
Creative Studies Student Feedback Report, 29/11/2010.
Jane is very good at taking multiple approaches when teaching
Colleague Feedback Report, 15/11/2007.
I loved Jane's way that she brings humour and fun into the class while keeping her professional boundaries
Creative Studies Sculpture, Student Feedback Report, July 2011.
She gets students excited about what they are doing. She gives constructive input to help us improve and she creates a great learning environment
Creative Studies Student Feedback Report, 21 /11/2010.
 Kawakami, K. (1995). Chindogu: 101 Unuseless Japanese Inventions. New York: WW Norton & Company.
 I discuss this concept in my journal article
Chindogu Not so useless after all, International Journal of the Arts in Society, Vol 5, Issue 5, 2011.
 Fleming and Bonwell (2007).
 Entwistle (2000).
 Kolb,D.(1984).Experiential Learning: Experience as the source of learning and development. New Jersey: Prentice Hall.