Professor Sheridan referred to Generative Systems as a “self-generating center” in which ideas about communication technologies and their application to art production could be tested in a real-world setting. (1)
In keeping with her objectives concerning the research orientation of the program, Professor Sheridan constructed a classroom environment that closely resembled a science lab. Lessons were presented in a “workshop” format in which guest lecturers (visiting scientists, engineers and industry executives) presented their methods of study, discussed their findings and responded to student feedback in an immediate manner. In this video, taken from a Generative Systems class in 1980, Dr. Harold Edgerton, a professor of electrical engineering at MIT, demonstrates electronic flash strobing techniques in relation to innovations in photography. (a)
In addition to speaking about their own work, guest lecturers discussed prescient issues involving the connections between art and technology studies, such as new directions in scientific inquiry brought about by creative practices, as articulated by physicist and optical engineer, Rudy Guzik. (b)
To reinforce the notion that the Generative Systems classroom functioned as an experimental science center, Professor Sheridan wore a white lab coat during workshop sessions and when operating equipment in the learning environment. Although the garment served the practical purpose of protecting her from exposure to hazardous chemicals, the uniform represented a physical manifestation of the art/science connections that the program sought to embrace. In this excerpt of a recent interview, Professor Sheridan speaks about her penchant for wearing the white lab coat in Generative Systems courses and its impact on classroom operations. (c)
Following the arrangement of technology in a laboratory environment, Professor Sheridan opted to place equipment along the outer perimeter of the classroom, leaving ample space for workstations to be built in central and peripheral locations. As she recalls in this interview, the decisions that she made regarding the configuration and placement of equipment in the learning environment were based on an open-floor concept of teaching. (d)
As the program grew in size and scope, however, the need for a larger and more flexible workspace became evident. In 1973, Professor Sheridan submitted an extensive plan for expansion to school administrators that designated separate areas for distinct classroom activities. (e)
Though the plans were never executed, they point to Professor Sheridan’s ambition to configure a classroom space that was able to meet the interests and needs of her students.
The program’s laboratory setting provided valuable opportunities for students to conduct independent research on subjects of their own choosing. Participants in Generative Systems courses were encouraged to pursue their own interests and creative ambitions, sometimes resulting in a frenzied classroom atmosphere. As Professor Sheridan explained, “we could have one student building a computer, another developing three-dimensional photography, a third working with sound transmission, a fourth manipulating heat sensitive papers and so on.” (2)
Given the independent nature of in-class exercises and assignments, participants in Generative Systems courses were willing to assume leadership roles in teaching/learning processes. (3)
For example, each student claimed responsibility for a specific task related to the presentation of a workshop session. Preparation activities included setting up equipment, drafting an introduction for the guest speaker and agreeing to document the event, responsibilities captured in this audiotape from 1978. (f)
Clearly, students displayed great enthusiasm for managing operational tasks associated with classroom instruction.