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Several photographic exhibits featuring teaching and learning settings are shown and discussed in the book, What Teaching Looks Like: Higher Education through Photographs by Cassandra Volpe Horii and Martin Springborg, particularly in Chapter 7, “Photographs and Change Agents: Campus Communities Encountering Themselves.” Often, such exhibits were part of intentional institutional or organizational change strategies, undertaken with the goal of improving teaching, shifting campus culture or climate, or with other outcomes in mind.

Here, we offer examples and considerations that you may find helpful in planning a photographic exhibit at your institution. They span time periods and formats, with exhibits ranging from very short-term, event-based displays (e.g., at a gala event), to what you might imagine when thinking of an exhibit in a museum art gallery, to more permanent installations in campus spaces. We encourage you to consider how the details and parameters of photographic exhibits you may design and implement can help carry out your institution’s goals.

Example 1: Rochester Community and Technical College

Rochester Community and Technical College (RCTC) is a public college within the Minnesota State system. Martin was invited to photograph the work of the college’s then-interim president, as well as that of several faculty members, with the intent to show the work of faculty and administration to the campus community. The photographs Martin made at RCTC, along with other images from The Teaching and Learning Project, were the focus of an exhibit hosted by the RCTC Art Department.

Simon Huelsbeck, faculty member and division leader in studio art, Rochester Community and Technical College, shares the following thoughts about the exhibition:

I have often felt that I am an outsider in regard to the system-wide efforts in teaching and learning. My colleagues are inclined to vent their frustrations with the system’s requirements. Many faculty seem to perceive that we are given so many hurdles that aren’t relevant to our day-to-day job of teaching our students, and that in fact, these hurdles only keep us from spending more time with our students as we spend time filling out forms and checking boxes.

The exhibition helped to present the system of teaching and learning in a different light. I have often felt that the subjective expression that is akin to art making was the antithesis of systematic assessment. So, it was a revelation to me that an artist, dedicated to improving teaching and learning, would be able to create work in this vein without irony. That in fact an artist would make work that, while being realistic in its portrayal of the everyday mundane aspect of the work of teaching and learning, in the end, could discover the nobility and the purpose of the work that we do each and every day.

Example 2: Penn State University

Larkin Hood, associate research professor in the Schreyer Institute for Teaching Excellence at Penn State University shares the following context and description of their approach to obtaining and exhibiting photographs:

To understand the impact at our university, it is important to have some context. Penn State is a public university with 24 locations across the commonwealth and includes the online World Campus. The flagship campus is located at University Park, a doctoral campus with very high research activity and the largest proportion of the Penn State faculty and student body among all of the Penn State campuses. These characteristics traditionally draw much attention to the University Park campus and the research done by faculty at that location. Other Penn State campuses across the commonwealth primarily offer baccalaureate degree programs, although some offer associate, graduate, and professional degree programs.

Martin began the project in April 2014. We asked him to begin by photographing 17 faculty members at the Berks, Harrisburg, Mont Alto, and York campuses. Our center chose to focus on campuses other than University Park in order to make the work of faculty at the campuses more visible to the greater university community. Martin returned in February 2015 to take photos at the Altoona and DuBois campuses. In this trip he included the University Park campus. By choosing to have the teaching work of University Park faculty made visible through photos, it was our intent for teaching to become more valued. We saw photos as a way of paying tribute to those that do the work of teaching and learning at the university. The work of teaching is critical to the overall mission of the university.

Once the photos were taken, we asked the faculty members who were photographed to select images that were then enlarged and mounted on foam core for display. Our center hosted a gala, where faculty members were invited to stand next to their photos, while 76 members of the university community—including the provost and the dean of undergraduate education—walked through the exhibit and met the faculty. Some faculty members appeared pleasantly overwhelmed by the experience. The gala provided faculty members with a means of making their work visible, and a chance to talk about their work with others, including those responsible for making decisions about teaching at the university. For their part, upper-level administrators seemed to come away with a better sense of what happens in classes every day across the university. At this event, the photos were displayed in such a way that they provided a means for faculty members to be seen and heard; the photos were a way to visualize the teaching that was occurring at the university and provided a way for faculty to enter into conversations with administrators about what they do when they teach.

Example 3: Wayne State University

Sara Kacin, assistant provost for faculty development and faculty success and director of the Office of Teaching and Learning, and Mathew Ouellett, former associate provost and director of the Office of Teaching and Learning at Wayne State University, offer the following summary of how they shared and exhibited photographs made by Martin Springborg during a visit to the campus:

The Wayne State University Visualizing Teaching and Learning Project achieved even more traction from Martin’s visit later. Once others saw these photos, they intuitively understood their power to authentically communicate the teaching and learning experience, hence the Provost’s Office and Student Support offices wanted to use these photos immediately as opposed to staged or stock photos.

As promised, we gave every participating faculty member a full set of the images from their classroom visit. Everybody wanted copies of their classroom photos and were very pleased to receive them. For many folks, it was the first time seeing themselves in the act of teaching. This generated a range of conversations. Some faculty used their posters in their offices, department suites and hallways, and some for their About the Instructor page on the learning management system.

Next, we blew up the photos to poster size and curated an exhibit in the atrium of our Undergraduate Library. With students, faculty, and staff moving through this building on a daily basis, it is an essential hub on campus. Students loved seeing themselves and their instructors, to the point that some posters even walked off.

Example 4: California Institute of Technology (Caltech)

At this institution, a unique collaboration between the writing center, university archives, and center for teaching and learning led to an ongoing exhibit of new and historical photographs and documents. Situated in a common area near a frequently used meeting space and occupying the entryway to the shared building wing with the writing center and center for teaching and learning, the exhibit also sets the tone and provides reflective material to visitors, students, and faculty working with the centers. The centers hosted an opening reception as part of a week-long series of campus-wide events about teaching in 2018 and the exhibit was discussed in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

From the exhibit introduction and website, the exhibit co-curators, Martin Springborg, Cassandra Volpe Horii, and Susanne Hall, described the project as follows:

From the austere classrooms of the early days of Throop University to the diverse scenes of Caltech today, the activities of teaching, learning, and writing have intertwined in complex ways. In this exhibit, we explore those interrelationships as they echo across eras, through photographs and manuscripts that are unique to our institute.

The exhibit explores Caltech’s dynamic history of teaching and learning through six frames: Laboratory Learning, Field-based Learning, Informal Learning, Thinking at the Board, Classes and Demonstrations, and Acts of Writing. These frames help us to understand and appreciate the incredible diversity of the scenes and acts of learning that characterize the Caltech experience.

Within each grouping, we encourage you to examine how some fundamental learning experiences seem to persist across many decades as well as how they evolve over time, changing in subtle or significant ways. Who teaches and who learns—their demographics and circumstances—are themes that are readily apparent in the images and relevant in light of Caltech’s history. How they teach and how they learn—the intensity, energy, engagement, collaboration, and thinking—also emerge as strong elements in these images, enduring across the decades.

Over the past five years, the Center for Teaching, Learning, and Outreach and the Hixon Writing Center have intentionally incorporated photographs and an interest in visual rhetoric into their approaches to communicating about the nature of teaching and writing at Caltech. The use of images has helped to raise the profile of these central activities, engage internal and external audiences in reconsidering their importance, and reenvision their methods and meaning. An article and photo essay published in Caltech’s Engineering and Science Fall 2013 edition (pp. 28-31) is an example of such communication, which we now expand through this exhibit to include historical examples and show a wider range of recent images.

Historical photographs and manuscripts in this exhibit, along with information about their origins, are drawn from the Caltech Archives. Recent photographs feature the work of Martin Springborg and are part of a national, multi-institutional photo documentary endeavor, The Teaching and Learning Project. Also featured in the exhibit are photographs made by Caltech staff and students.

More information about the exhibit, including a comprehensive exhibit guide and photographs of the opening reception, can be found online: