Indiana University      Research & Creative Activity      April 1999 Volume XXII Number 1

Looking for Insight into Teaching
by Judi Hetrick

Claude Cookman takes a Socratic approach to his courses in visual communications, the history of photography, and publication design. "The unexamined life is not worth living," he tells students. And so, on the syllabus alongside design basics, typography, and color theory, students find the topic "self-analysis."

Claude Cookman, assistant professor of journalism, Indiana University Bloomington, whose research specialization is twentieth-century French photography, collaborated with Research & Creative Activity photographer Tyagan Miller to produce this portrait in the style of renowned French photojournalist Henri Cartier-Bresson. --credit

"That's something I learned from the Army," says the assistant professor of journalism at Indiana University Bloomington. "Whenever you'd have a maneuver, you would write an after-action report. Basically, it was less a summary of what had just happened than an analysis of what could be done better the next time around." In the hands of Cookman, self-analysis becomes much more than a reviewing of procedure. The assignments help students venture into Cookman's world of reflective, self-directed learning.

"Most students and many teachers focus on the product," Cookman explains. "I don't. Certainly, the product is easy to grade, and the students will have an ego-investment in it. But if they look at it a year later--if they can even find it--it won't mean much to them then. It's important only as one step in an ongoing process. And for me, it's a lifelong process."

Preparing the written self-analysis--which sometimes surprises students as a requirement in a visual skills class--gets them thinking about what they learned and about how they learned it. And it helps Cookman guide their learning. He explains: "It lets me see their process and it lets me respond to that, instead of just telling them what's wrong with their product. So I can have access to their learning, not just to this thing that they've produced." Students don't hear Cookman telling them how to redo a finished project, but rather what they should consider changing when they revise it.

The self-analytic essay is just one of the metacognitive strategies--ways to help students think about how they think--that Cookman has incorporated into his classes. Rather than using theory as an invisible framework for his assignments, he presents it as part of the classwork, suggesting to students that they need to develop three levels of knowledge: declarative, procedural, and conditional.

Declarative knowledge is the kind of factual or technical information that can be transmitted in a lecture or reading. For example, to design an effective brochure, you first need to learn about color theory. On the other hand, procedural knowledge gives people a way to put their intellectual knowledge into practice. As you produce the brochure, you must manipulate computer software to place the colors where you want them. Conditional knowledge takes you beyond facts and skills, providing the critical sophistication to decide the best strategy to use: Which colors, used in what ways, would best express the brochure's message? Once students understand these cognitive approaches, Cookman encourages those who have problems to evaluate their situations and figure out how to solve them. This kind of self-analytic process achieves Cookman's main pedagogical goals. He tells his students up front: "I refuse to be your authority figure. It's time for you to become your own authority. You own your own education."

That does not lighten his teaching duties. Many hours of course design time tick off the clock before any Cookman class begins, particularly one using computers. Analyzing student performance in the computerized classroom, he saw that computers could do more than replace paper and ink; used wisely, they could promote student engagement with course content at a higher cognitive level than before. To reach that goal, as Cookman reported in Journalism and Mass Communication Educator, "I had to become a designer of computerized learning experiences in which I had embedded the course's objectives."

Cookman discusses a video sequence with Susanne Schwibs of Instructional Support Services. They are editing an instructional video that explores the pedagogical issues that emerged when James Mumford, director of IU Bloomington's African American Choral Ensemble, transformed about thirty members of the Faculty Colloquium on Excellence in Teaching into a gospel choir. --credit

Those learning experiences promote student control, self-pacing, and reflection. In the lessons he designs, he builds a foundation by demonstrating the new skill and talking through his steps. Students first recreate that model, then go on to modify it. They extend it a little further with an in-class exercise, then take themselves through an out of-class tutorial. The final step is an open-ended project of their own choice in which they synthesize all they've learned. Reporting on the results of one such class, Cookman wrote, "The students' projects were far beyond my expectations. While there were some problems and imperfections, their design projects struck me as creative, visually sophisticated, and risk-taking."

Cookman knows a little about risk-taking himself. College teaching is his second full blown career. After graduating from Wheaton College in 1965 with a major in classical Greek and a minor in philosophy, he did a stint in the Army that included a tour in Vietnam. When he returned to civilian life, he picked up on a fledgling journalism career that he soon strengthened with a professional master's degree from Columbia University. His eighteen-year career as a working journalist included work as a copy editor, picture editor, and graphics editor--and a share in the 1976 Pulitzer Prize for feature photography. While working at The Louisville Times, he served as an instructor at Western Kentucky University. The hours he drove the 250-mile round trip from Louisville to Bowling Green gave him time for self-analysis, and he realized how much he loved teaching. That eventually led him to Princeton, where he earned both a Master of Fine Arts in art history and his Ph.D. in the history of photography.

Risk-taking is also one of Cookman's scholarly interests. One of his current projects explores risk-taking and the affective domain--where emotion and intellect intersect. The subjects who sparked the investigation were members of a choir recruited, surprisingly enough, from faculty attending the 1997 retreat of IU's Faculty Colloquium on Excellence in Teaching (FACET). Cookman helped organize the choir, which was turned over to James Mumford, longtime director of IU Bloomington's African American Choral Ensemble. The professors did not claim any expertise or skill as singers, but they learned from Mumford, a master teacher, to blend their voices--and even to solo. "The genius of his teaching," Cookman says "is that they got to the point where they believed they could do it and do it well, and where they trusted Jim enough that they knew he wouldn't let them be embarrassed." The process--including a final performance that literally moved people to tears--was recorded on videotape. Cookman and Susanne Schwibs, from IUB's Instructional Support Services, are editing the tape for national distribution, and he is writing a reflective learning guide.

Although Cookman's scholarly research into the affective domain is new, his teaching had previously linked emotional and intellectual learning. A School of Journalism Bulletin photograph shows Cookman and students in a graphic design course coloring with crayons. "Remembering what it was like to be an artist at age 6," he says, not only gets across ideas on color but stimulates both creativity and self-confidence. "The university values intellectual maturity," Cookman notes, "but I think we cannot disdain or disregard what we knew and what we believed about ourselves as children."

Creativity is a critical component of scholarly work, so Cookman brings it to his graduate courses, whether in pedagogy, focusing on effective modes of instruction, or in the history of photography, where a major goal is developing the skills of inquiry. "Many people accept the need for teaching creative problem solving," he says, "but teaching creative problem finding may be even more important." He starts with student brainstorming, followed by the collective formulation of numerous questions. Then the students test various ideas, asking, "What data would I need to find to convincingly argue my thesis?" This questioning process helps students understand that not all answers to a question are equally valid or convincing, building a critical awareness that in turn can influence their own research design and analysis.

Cookman expects his students to work hard to learn, but he is always there to encourage, to coach, to model. As Don Wood, a doctoral student, describes him: "He's very approachable, but he doesn't try to answer all the questions for you. Sometimes he might send you back out there scratching your head, but you still have more information to go on than you had before. It means that you have to maybe dig a little deeper, try a little harder, examine things a bit more."

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