Class a learning experience for professor and student

First-year students represent more than fresh faces in Christine Sprengler’s classroom. They offer new perspectives and unique questions to make it just as much of a learning experience for the teacher as the pupil.

“I benefit just as much as they do,” says Sprengler, who teaches the first-year course, A History of Art and Visual Culture, in the Faculty of Arts and Humanities.

The course focuses on early creative production processes to contemporary art, and includes a broad spectrum of visual culture, such as architecture, artifacts, film and advertising.

Sprengler admits she can be tough, pressing students to challenge how they think about art and image culture. But, the fruitful learning comes from participating in this process, she says.

“I expect a fair bit,” she says. “But I find when students work hard, it’s a much more rewarding experience for them.

“We live in a culture saturated with images and ultimately what this course is designed to do is to introduce that history of image-making and speak about the importance of images in our lives … (and) give us the critical analytical skills to think through the impact these images are having on us on a daily basis.”

Sprengler connects well with her students because she knows what it was like to be in their shoes. Just as those seated in her lectures, she was once an undergraduate student at The University of Western Ontario.

“I try to be as adaptable and flexible as possible when I am teaching,” she says. “I try to get a sense of where they are coming from.

“Often for the first-year classes I have students coming from many different faculties … so I try to find ways they can draw on their own specific passions so they can bring that to bear on what we are learning in class.”

In fact, the same professors who fostered her knowledge and appreciation for the field have since become her colleagues.

The smorgasbord of degree choices set before students can be somewhat daunting, and it wasn’t until Sprengler took a summer course in art history that she unlocked a newfound interest for the arts.

“I was truly excited by it and the way it made connections to almost every other course I was taking,” says Sprengler, who began her studies in political science and decided to combine the two disciplines in her undergraduate degree.

Every year brings with it new research, which Sprengler integrates into her course material. But the most innovative ideas often come from the students, she says.

“They are here to develop a certain set of skills,” she says. “But it’s not just that they are consuming knowledge, they also have to realize they are producers of knowledge.

“I think every class, whether it is first-, second- or third-year, they have their own character. If you just take time to get to know them and get to know their backgrounds as well, you can create a quite vibrant and dynamic learning environment.”