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Guidelines for Faculty Teaching in New-Media Arts

Unanimously adopted by the CAA Board of Directors on October 21, 1995; revised on October 28, 2007.

This document is presented to CAA by concerned members working in new-media arts as a description of circumstances, standards, and practices within the field. Frequently, colleagues and administrators are unaware of many critical issues in this rapidly developing area, and therefore initial hiring interviews and subsequent performance reviews can be difficult for both faculty and administrators. This document is presented as a set of guidelines to assist in faculty hiring, promotion and tenure, workload, compensation, funding, and support in this field, and to provide information about faculty working in this area that could be used in making accurate and comprehensive evaluations. It is vital for faculty governance committees, department chairs, and faculty in the field to review the recommendations at the close of this document. It is particularly the responsibility of individual faculty to make use of these guidelines to plan and present their professional development.

As with other fields incorporating emergent technology, new-media arts are undergoing constant and rapid change. In the last few years, new media have grown to include animations, blogs, interactive media, design, games, mobile media, desktop interactive works, websites and internet art, time-based pieces, digital installation, performance, sound installations, sculptural works, kiosks, robotics, biological and DNA art, and networked activities. Between the drafting and adoption of this document, the list will have only grown longer. This document is intended to address specific academic and administrative issues concerning teaching and research of these newer media as they form. These guidelines focus on issues specific to new-media artists and should be viewed as supplementary to an institution’s standards for criteria and evaluation rather than comprehensive.

I. Scholarship and Research

Artistic production in the area of technology-based media encompasses many formats. In this emergent field, contributions to theory should be seen as having equal significance as aesthetic production. As the field evolves, technology-based faculty in fine arts should be free to pursue whatever new forms are most appropriate for personal artistic and technological growth, both for themselves and for their students.

Assessing Venues
Within new-media arts, creative experimentation and production are the dominant forms of research, with exhibitions (including web-based, networked, and distributed forms), installations, and performances taking the place that peer-reviewed journals occupy in most other academic fields. At the same time, it is important to recognize that critical participation in the discourse of new-media arts may take many forms, including the production of theory in expository forms such as journal articles. For established disciplines, the range, type, and relative ranking of primary and secondary venues for sharing the fruits of academic research are relatively clear-cut. However, for emerging disciplines and areas, these venues are often new, experimental, and in constant flux. In the tradition of many schools of modern and postmodern genres, new media may be specifically employed to challenge and redefine the very notion of venue, such as relying on self-organizing networks or presentation to a narrow audience. Nor are new-media venues singular in nature: different media (such as web-based on one hand and biological on another) lend themselves to different forms of dissemination. Similarly, some venues will be leaders in some forms of new media and not in others. These circumstances place an expectation on the faculty member under review to articulate the visibility and influence of the venues in which work has been presented. It is also important for peer reviewers to address the nature of these venues when assessing the visibility and impact of the work itself.

Since each showing of a new-media work most likely makes the production available to a new, previously inaccessible audience, each showing should be viewed as a separate act of dissemination. Multiple showings are not the equivalent of reprints of a scholarly work.

Assessing Productivity
The length of a finished work is significant but not indicative of the effort required to complete it. A short experimental video piece or a multimedia production might require even more time and effort to create than a relatively straightforward hour-long documentary. For example, an animation of only a few seconds may require rendering hundreds of individual drawings. When peers evaluate a new-media work, it is important that they determine the probable effort required for particular projects. An evaluator’s task is analogous to that of judging the importance of a multiyear horizontal study in the social sciences: such a study might require many years of effort, while resulting in a single article of modest length.

Assessing Authorship
New-media art is a field that, not unlike science and theater, often relies on collaboration. The finished artwork may verge on theater and require lighting, video, sculpture, and interactive programmable instructions. Or it may involve multiple participants, as in a distributed cell-phone work. Some individuals manage all these elements individually, and most artists use collaboration, often across disciplines. Authorship itself is among the issues that those in new-media arts are addressing in their work. In a field that at times emphasizes audience participation, interaction, and feedback loops, authorship itself is deliberately contended. Evaluators outside the field need to understand that the role of the individual practitioner, particularly the time and effort invested by this person, may not be readily apparent. In cases of shared authorship, the artist must take the responsibility to clarify the nature and relative importance of each individual’s contribution.

Additional Criteria
Evaluation of new-media work should be considered in light of institutional support offered. The high cost and rapid obsolescence of the various technologies used, as well as the challenge that practitioners face in keeping up with emerging techniques, can have a significant impact on the quality of work and their productivity.

Meaningful reviews of faculty members’ creative work appear in scholarly and professional publications, library-media publications, and even, in some cases, newspapers. In evaluating such reviews, the status of the reviewer and the reputation of the periodical are important.

Some professional associations, including CAA, regularly provide written evaluations of works selected for showing at their conferences and exhibitions.

Letters evaluating a faculty member’s work can be requested from responsible individuals at museums, media centers, colleges and universities, and other institutions at which the work has been shown. As in the case of scholarly reviews, it is important to consider the reputation of the individual or institution contributing the evaluation.

II. Teaching

The range of tasks typically demanded of full-time studio faculty involves a considerable investment of time and energy for technology-based media faculty. Significant portions of the technical knowledge and equipment base necessary to practice and teach in this emergent discipline change every year. Some of this change results from the consequences of Moore’s law of increases in computer processing power (and analogous dramatic changes in biotechnology, sensor development, etc.), but much of it also comes from the rapid qualitative development of the forms of expression (e.g., the emergence of text-based phone art could not have been anticipated when this revision was begun). This continuous technical obsolescence and genre development require faculty to constantly rewrite their curriculum. In more established media, it is possible to continue instruction and production with materials that remain current from year to year, still engaging in meaningful investigations of the basics of the field. Technology-based media programs are largely dependent on equipment designed to compete in the rapidly changing commercial marketplace. Equipment that is eight years old is almost completely incompatible with that of today. Equipment even just three years old is seriously limited in usefulness. This is true for aesthetic concerns in the medium as well as the technical ones. These factors can have significant impact on the time involved for a faculty member to perform the most basic tasks related to teaching.

Rapidly Changing Curricula
New technology-based programs at most institutions are fairly new, and the curriculum is still developing and is under constant review. The variety and number of courses that any program can offer change with the goals of the program, the number and skills of the instructors available, the availability and kind of computers and other technologies, and the amount of students’ available lab time. As many of these factors change from one semester to the next in concert with the evolution of technology, curricula and syllabi are constantly being rewritten. Like many cutting-edge fields, the content and practice of the discipline may substantially change within a few academic years, requiring the readaptation of content and technology (hardware and software) by the instructor to address concerns of changing aesthetics, systems, and output. The impact is that a faculty member in new media will likely be preparing new syllabi more frequently than others in the department and involved in more ongoing discussions of revision of curricula.

Interdisciplinarity and Team Teaching
Technological innovations expand the artist’s vocabulary, raising unavoidable aesthetic issues that must be addressed in course content. Characteristically, the use of technology-based media encourages the formation of interdisciplinary links with other media and programs, including photography, printmaking, sculpture, video, film, theater, dance, and music. These links can also be extended to develop connections between art and science by including computer science, engineering, biology, and genetics programs in this interdisciplinary experimentation. While these kinds of connections are to be encouraged on general principle, their impact on teaching load can be significant and invisible. Institutions may use various formulas for team-taught classes that presume that sharing a class means less work for individual faculty members. Working across disciplines in this way may in fact increase the work in class preparation. Beyond this, faculty are often requested to give informal advice to colleagues who wish to venture into computer applications in these areas without their colleagues realizing the significant burden these requests can entail.

Need for Continuing Faculty Development
When assessing a faculty member’s teaching, an institution should factor in its support of the development needed for faculty to remain current in the field. As in other rapidly changing technical and professional fields, continuing education is vital for new-media arts. Equally, attendance at professional conferences is central to a faculty member remaining current in the field. Lack of support in this area can have a negative impact on student satisfaction and in students meeting prescribed learning outcomes.

Unlike other traditional art areas in which the skills and techniques may remain constant over decades, or even centuries, changes are so frequent in technology-based media that one could be completely lost without up-to-date training. Since our students do not live in a vacuum, they are generally aware of innovations in the field and come into courses expecting a level of instruction that will enable them to continue working with industry-standard technology once they have left the institution.

As interest grows in emerging technologies, new-media arts faculty are also often expected to be resource persons in areas from biotechnology to interactive networks, and to expand their programs to accommodate them. These technology-based media faculty may not necessarily be skilled in these new and ever-developing areas; yet, because they use some new technologies, there is an assumption that they should be able to teach in or work in all these new applications.

Student Support
Because of the complexity of technology applications, faculty are frequently called on by students to help them with technical problems outside class. This may be true even when other support is available. No single individual has a complete knowledge of more than a small number of computer applications or platforms. Administrators and faculty must adjust to the fact that the useful life of information and technology is short, and that both instructors and students are on a constant learning curve.

Tools and Materials
Because of this constant level of change, tasks that appear to be comparable in similar areas may in fact represent widely disparate demands of time and energy. For example, the ordering of supplies in other studio areas may be routine, such that they can be filled on an annual basis with little or no review. In technology-based media, however, each and every software and hardware upgrade takes careful study, as the desirability of one product over another must be weighed. In times of limited budgets, the pressure on these decisions increases as faculty attempt to predict the future.

The faculty member must both read a tremendous quantity of technical literature and keep up on theoretical issues in the field. Regular attendance at conferences and trade shows is a must for the purpose of acquiring advice from industry experts and other faculty and artists. Since new-media information has an increasingly short lifespan, these events provide the most current and accurate source of information.

Software companies, unlike textbook companies, rarely give review (or preview) copies of their manuals to professors. Hardware changes are equally difficult to assess on an individual basis. The industry is still finding its way when dealing with higher education, and the flow of information is not smooth. This reality, coupled with the fact that creative artists are pushing technology in directions that developers and their marketing teams never imagined, causes “keeping current” to be an issue unlike that in any other field.

Attendance at conferences and workshops is one way to stay current. These include: ISEA (Inter-Society for Electronic Art), SIGGRAPH (Special Interest Group in Graphics of the Association for Computing Machinery), MacExpo, IDMAA, FILE, Ars Electronica, CAA, and numerous regional workshops.

In some instances, technology-based art and design program faculty often have sole or partial responsibility for the labs they use. These faculty often install the software, hardware, networking, and lab security themselves, and maintain, upgrade, troubleshoot, and repair the same. Administrators may not be aware that lab maintenance is often a full-time job in itself, and that an intense investment of time is necessary to run a facility.

III. Service

Faculty of technology-based programs are frequently responsible for insuring the provision of adequate facilities for instruction. Laboratory situations range from specialized dedicated facilities within the department to shared generalized workspaces; both require administration beyond most studio areas. Some faculty of technology-based media programs have sole responsibility for the daily management of all program staff, students, and equipment. They are also often responsible for the recruitment and supervision of adjunct faculty within their program, and for the administration of grants or special programs. Even in a program of modest size, the extent of administrative responsibilities may interfere with other, equally essential faculty tasks. In environments where a large proportion of the staff is part time, these burdens may be even more extreme, with part-time instructors being asked to perform tasks out of title. Such activities must be viewed as significant contributions to service to the academic community.

Providing Resources
Maintaining and improving the resources available to our students and for research is a greater need in electronic media than in traditional studio areas. This area is singular in its constant and rapid technical evolution. The acquisition of new equipment is essential to keep up in the field. Depending on the scale of the institution, fundraising is one way of addressing this problem; others include negotiations with software and hardware companies and with other areas within the institution. Without this resource-intensive support, our programs become obsolete. Many faculty members faced with this dilemma have taken on the additional task of fundraising and lobbying for resources, rather than see their area of involvement lag behind. It is crucial that such activities be seen as significant contributions to service.

Program Promotion
Faculty of technology-based media programs actively promote their programs by arranging exhibitions and demonstrations of their own and student work, by publishing articles about their programs to relevant media, and by developing media publicity materials and print brochures. Joint events with related departments such as music, theater, or dance, and other collaborative efforts are alternative ways used to promote a program. Additionally, faculty in these programs work with developers, manufacturers, and service bureaus for mutual promotion. Links with industry and the media are an important component of program support, development, and promotion.

IV. Conclusion

By endorsing this document, CAA agrees to inform department chairs and other higher-education administrators about the unique demands placed on many full-time faculty in technology-based media while the field is emerging.

Faculty of technology-based new-media art programs have an area of responsibility that is, for the time being, radically different from that of their colleagues in other studio areas in both breadth and intensity. Issues of equity may well be raised when one considers how the demands of keeping up with the technology (in addition to involvement in fundraising and technical support) not only increase these faculty’s responsibilities, but also cause them to be quantitatively different.

Descriptions of positions in CAA’s Online Career Center indicate that institutions are searching for candidates who can teach in a wide variety of areas within the domain of computer and new-media technology. While it may be possible that someone just entering the academic world from full-time work with computers may have basic skills in several areas, departments must recognize that, in the context of full-time teaching and other responsibilities, it is impossible to also maintain skills in several subspecialties.

We endorse the following recommendations as additional, specific guidelines for faculty of new-media programs:

  • Both individual faculty members and department chairs should review their institutional standards in relation to these guidelines when planning and preparing for evaluation. If necessary, institutional guidelines should be revised to accommodate new-media faculty
  • Evaluation of professional contributions must include recognition of the alternative exhibition and research opportunities outside the traditional gallery/museum structure and acknowledge theory-based inquiry and scholarship as an element of cultural production
  • Evaluation of research and scholarship must include an assessment of the effort and time required in the production of that research and scholarship
  • Provisions must be made to support faculty development, which is especially important in a newly forming discipline. We urge faculty to work closely with administrators to find the best solutions in each institution, including the following possibilities: grants for research time; collaboration on cross-disciplinary research grants; funding faculty attendance at new-media-art-specific grant workshops; and supporting attendance at conferences. Both scholarship and teaching should be assessed in relation to available support for such development
  • Decisions on hiring, reappointment, and tenure should consider:
    • That the difficult balance between the production of quality art and maintaining technical expertise may have an impact on the volume of scholarly and creative activity
    • Evaluation of teaching performance should consider the demands of the ongoing integration of new materials into course curriculum
    • The additional effort required for interdisciplinary and team-teaching, and the burdens this places on both students and faculty
  • In accordance with CAA guidelines, faculty in technology-based media should be expected only to carry out duties specifically related to their position as faculty. This should not include: acting in an advisory capacity to colleagues, within the department and outside it, who want to adopt new computer technology; the installation and maintenance of general computer equipment; and the production of computer graphic designs for institutional use

Ongoing faculty research and development requirements must be integrated into the description of positions in technology-based media, and provisions must be made for such research and professional education beyond what is normally allotted in the fine arts to accommodate the expense and the emerging nature of the field.

The revised version of these guidelines was written by: Juliet Davis, University of Tampa; Sue Gollifer, University of Brighton (CAA board member); Alec MacLeod, California Institute of Integral Studies; Gwyan Rhabyt, California State University, East Bay; Cynthia Beth Rubin, independent artist; Gail Rubini, Florida State University; Annette Weintraub, City College, City University of New York; and Simon Penny, University of California, Irvine.