Saturday, 25 April 2015

Taina Rajanti: Online Portfolio

Since my graduation in 1983 I have taught at several Finnish universities at all levels of university education. 1984 – 1994 I taught mainly sociology at University of Joensuu and University of Tampere at master-level, supervising seminars (pro-seminars and research seminars), lecturing basics and experimental alternative courses, teaching methodology courses, receiving textbook exams and evaluating master theses. 1994 – 2004 I worked mainly as a researcher.

From 2004 on I have taught at University of Art and Design/ Aalto University, School of Art, Design and Architecture. First giving lectures and inserts on methodology and cultural theory in Medialab courses, then from 2007 on participating to a growing degree in the teaching, planning and management of the MA programs (Visual Culture/VKM & Creative Business Management/CBM) and doctoral courses of the Pori department of Art and Media/ Pori unit of the Department of Art. My role has been to add to the curriculum material and perspectives from my specific research interests and academic skills: social and cultural theory, urban space and social production of space, urban and visual anthropology, methodology and philosophy of science. Since 14.4.2015 I continued with these topics as Senior Lecturer of Urban Studies and Theory of Culture in the Visual Culture, Curating and Contemporary Art ViCCA MA program of the Department of Art of Aalto University.

As a teacher my driving interest has been to have students combine theoretical understanding with on site participatory research and experimentation. For example my methodology courses were from the beginning focused on some conceptual theme, e.g. practices in urban space, and conducted as research projects, where students did on site observation and used visual data. Also since the beginning I have been interested in developing methods to make theoretical and conceptual thinking tangible, which has resulted in the idea of courses such as “Experimental Theory Workshop” that was part of the CBM program since 2012, and was also included in the new ViCCA MA.

My one main conviction is that thinking and doing research cannot be “taught”, this being a contradiction in terms. What one can and must do is give an example, show how one thinks, give references, reveal uncertainties and open questions, share interests and passions. Therefore, I find quite traditional lecturing to be a perfectly relevant teaching method, when performed with above ethos. As stated before, I have also sought to develop methods to activate and engage students also when teaching theoretical subjects.

Another one of my convictions is that one should always read the original text. Original texts are of course more challenging and not as clear-cut as textbook interpretations. However, original texts are situated and perceivable in a context. Original texts precisely offer challenge and invite interpretation, spark creativity. What I “hand out” is therefore normally original texts, essays, articles, chapters from bigger volumes – and references, lists, links to original texts. My pedagogical task then is to make these texts more accessible, “walk through” them, offer my own insights and relation to them for the students to see.

For me higher education, being a researcher and having a degree, is not about one person’s career, but entails always sharing, also in the form of teaching. My fundamental belief is as stated, that thinking cannot be taught. The student is an independent actor, not an object of somebody else’s actions. Teaching at university level is a shared project with the students, both teacher and students are engaged in learning, getting deeper, finding something they didn’t know before. As a teacher I have more knowledge and tools at my possession, and it is my task to share the knowledge and pass on the tools – but give space and create opportunities for the student’s to use the tools themselves.

My teaching always consists of some form of lectures and/or readings i.e. sharing of knowledge and tools. As stated before, I try to show how I think, show also uncertainties and open issues. My teaching also always contains some form of assignments planned to give the students an opportunity to use the ideas and concepts. For instance after reading about “practices” the students are asked to go and think and observe how a practice functions in practice, with the help of a list of questions. Discussing the assignments together is one more important step also in learning to share and learn from others.

Other important principles concern the need for constant development and renewal of subject matter and methods. For me there are no eternal truths and principles, all teaching happens in a context and must be weighed against the needs of specific needs each time. Personally I also need the teaching to be a challenge to myself. Knowledge mercifully accumulates and skills increase, but I would find it totally meaningless to keep repeating a course time after time. My teaching needs to engage and motivate me.

Information about my publications etc can be found in my Online Bio
Some writings can be found in my Online Writings