Have you ever heard of the School of Visual Arts – New York, or taken an online photography class? If you’re a Midwesterner like myself (with a flirtation of Los Angeles) you may not know much about either.
Over the last few years while blogging at the Chicago Tribune, I became acquainted through Twitter with Katrin Eismann, the chair of the MPS Digital Photography program at the school. I wasn’t quite aware of SVA, even though it has been named one of the “best art schools in the world”.
Then an opening came up in their teaching roster last summer, and she gave me a call. After some deliberation (I was leaving the Tribune and had commitment-phobia), I agreed and became an online instructor of a class called, “The Art of Editorial Photography”.
Ever since writing a post about CreativeLive!, I’ve been fascinated by the idea of online learning. Many people said the future of higher education was MOOC’s and online learning. How does that work anyway?
It was, as they say, an education in the rigors of online teaching. At least in the SVA program, student behavior is measured via the interface. You can see when and how often a student spends time with the material, how many questions and answers they offer in online discussions and how long are their answers. There are time stamps for most everything – including when exactly they handed in their weekly photo assignments. After having taught in real-life classrooms on the university level, it was a relief to finally have hard data on which to base decisions. It’s like having a virtual teaching assistant helping you see what you might miss and where you can put more of your energies.
But the process also brings rigor to the instructor as well. Lectures are written out, images are on display, comments are shown. As an instructor, you can’t riff it, wing it, or run out of time. It keeps you focused on the content of your lesson plan. Your words can be compared, scrutinized, challenged. You also have to add more value to your class than what can be found elsewhere on the internet. No one wants just a page of links and information that is easy to come by. As an online instructor, you also get the experience of working with students from around the world such as Canada, South Africa, China, Costa Rica, Mexico
What impressed me most is the top level of talent within SVA’s orbit in New York (online students must spend a summer in New York). Within a short radius, New York has a disproportionate number of legends in the photography world. Fly a drone and you’ll crash into one. Whether it’s through Katrin or through other esteemed SVA faculty, such as Greg Gorman, Elizabeth Avedon and James Estrin, the school incorporates a constant stream of guest lectures from creators and creative decision-makers into the curriculum, both in-person and through online video, including people like, Kira Pollack, Brad Smith, Steve Winter, Ira Block, and Ruddy Roye. The school has a podcast channel where you can see and listen to speakers from their i3 Lecture Series.
Even a top-notch New York copyright lawyer who speaks in their business class puts the fire of copyright under them. What a relief to have photo students who are schooled in business! Can I tell you how incredibly frustrated I am by other photo programs that don’t offer such a class?
I’ve seen, heard about, and read about many photography programs out there. I’ve been largely unimpressed. In fact, some have just made me plain angry. I’ve spoken to graduates of photo programs who have been so abandoned that they’re like sheep without a shepherd.
If you’re going to spend money for a master’s degree in photography, whether because you need a master’s degree to teach at the university level, or because you’re switching careers and need a structured setting, you want to make sure your money is well spent, both through inspiration, instruction and the connections you make.
So when I believe in something, I’ll put it out there. I don’t make any money signing anyone up for this program, so no, this is not a sponsored post.
If I needed any confirmation about what I was sensing – just recently I was hired by a branding firm in Connecticut for an assignment here in Chicago. The principal of the firm used to work for Apple and IBM – very successful. We got to talking and it turns out it was an SVA graduate. He talked about how great it was to meet and speak with top talent in New York while completing his studies. Indeed, through the connections he made there, his career got started.
But if you’re looking around at photography programs, I would recommend giving serious consideration to SVA – both the online and the on-site version. Applications for the fall are now being accepted.