Faculty Experiences - Jennifer Steinkamp

Jennifer Steinkamp - photoJENNIFER STEINKAMP

Design|Media Arts

Interview Topics

What matters most to you in your teaching?

How are you using technology as a tool to achieve your teaching goals?

How have your students responded to your use of technology?

What new goals do you have for using technology in teaching?


Show what you're talking about

Student creativity



3D graphics
Computer classroom/lab
Create electronic devices
Director (software)
Shockwave (software)
Virtual environments

Helping Students Understand their Unique Qualities

I believe creativity is among the most important things that I teach, as well as the ability to cultivate it. As a teacher, I hope to help students understand their unique qualities, and to guide them to develop their personal interests no matter how esoteric. I believe if students develop work from their passions, outside interest and career opportunities will emerge. I have found that students are often assisted when they realize that they can create an audience for projects and situations about which they truly care. I have found this to be true in my own career as well.

I teach classes that utilize 3D computer graphics and interactivity. One class utilizes 3D software with scripting tools to create interactive virtual environments. We also experiment with physical computing; students create electronic devices that connect sensors to the computer to control sound, video, motion and virtual objects. I also teach animation classes. We use software that can simulate places and things from the real world or the imagination; and perhaps this will lead students to visualize motion and ideas they have never contemplated. (See a sample of student work from fall 2001 and spring 2002.)
In my classroom, there are eighteen computer stations. I create many examples and tutorials using the html, animated gifs and Shockwave. This is my main method to convey complex technical information -- make the technology as easy as possible so that it becomes natural, second hand. This way, students are free to use the tools to develop their artworks and be more creative. The computer can stimulate creative thought; it can allow one to rethink traditional art forms and ideas. For example, computer graphics might lead one to rethink ceramics. A student might scan a form created in clay into 3D on the computer; then they might use the computer to manipulate or distort the form in various ways. After all this, use a mill to output copies in different scales. The computer tools allow one to rethink the form from a virtual perspective, with tools unavailable in the physical world. A young photographer might rethink the mediated aspects of the photographic image when dealing with a virtual world in comparison. In my teaching, I don't emphasize the technology, but rather the concept behind the work. This is very important to me.

For every class I teach, I put my syllabus and examples on the Internet. I create links applicable to the subjects I am discussing for the day. Education research has shown, when presenting a lesson, it is good to have many redundant ways of demonstrating the material: books, lectures, images, and sound; the Internet is an ideal addition. I also encourage students to utilize the Internet in addition to the library for research. Many of their assignments are presented via the Internet as well.
Course Syllabus: users.design.ucla.edu/~cariesta/MayaCourseNotes

Virtual interactivity is a new art form; I borrow ideas from animation, such as transitions and motion to help students understand interaction. For example, animating a selected object melting might convey a visual metaphor for heat. Technology can be used to add a poetic level of viewer interaction and experience.

The tools we are using are very advanced. Some of the students love it and go out into the world and create amazing things. This knowledge can empower them.

I have dedicated a couple of summers to learning the program Director so I can use it in class and use it in my artwork. I had the luxury of time, but I learn things more or less on my own time. I would never push any professor to use technology if it's against their personal interests. If technology is something that doesn't interest them then they shouldn't be forced to use it. Our department really doesn't face this issue.

As far as the future, I can see myself adding more applications although right now perhaps I see myself using too many. Things will get faster, easier, smaller and more ubiquitous. If you had asked me this type of question ten years ago--how I saw myself incorporating technology in teaching in the future--I would have never predicted what I'm doing now. In my teaching, I just hope to provide better information and find more ways to foster creativity and imagination.

Oral Interview, May 2, 2003