In the (Virtual) Classroom: An Interview with Professor Kovach

Headshot of professor with plants and red Temple logo in background Professor Devin Kovach‘s course entitled “Book Structures” is an introduction to the art of the book, covering traditional binding techniques including folded, sewn, and adhesive structures, as well as custom portfolio design. Students plan and execute unique book designs reflecting their personal Rome (or home!) experience. Read the full interview below to learn about the course and the adjustments made for the virtual Summer 2020 semester.

Photo collage of four student-made books

(clockwise from upper left) Erica Mandell, Madison Blyler, Kyra Panchison, Ari Flaks

Q: What were the greatest impacts that your course had this summer?
For me the greatest success lies in the integrity of the work that my students produce. I care that they come away from my classes knowing how to make things well, and also how to think through the logic of the medium to tap into what makes their work meaningful, both for themselves and for their audience. This summer I can say with confidence that my students learned how to make objects of integrity. They worked diligently, they studied, and at times they struggled; but they all engaged. And through this engagement they honed their craft skills in order to transform humble sheets of paper into objects of art.
Q: What was the most successful assignment and why?
I really enjoyed observing how students addressed their individual research projects. After the first several weeks in which they acquired fundamental skills, they were prompted to select a more specialized technique on which to conduct self-directed hands-on research. They not only learned how to execute a new binding, they also shared their research with the rest of the group through live zoom presentations.

This touched off a stimulating process of exchange where students incorporated one-another’s instructions within their final “artist’s books”.
Q: What were some challenges that you had?
Apart from banal problems like temperamental Roman internet connections and zoom exhaustion, I think some of the deeper challenges I faced stemmed from reframing my teaching philosophy and rethinking how I convey concepts in my live classes. I had grown accustomed to certain strategies that hinged on person to person interaction in the physical space of our printmaking studio. The conversion to online classes necessitated re-analysis of my courses on multiple levels in order to crystallize my learning goals, what I expect of students in terms of meeting those goals, and the day to day activities that are going to get us there. It was a process of clarification and rediscovery.
Q: Based on your experience, what are some benefits of online learning?
I discovered new creative methods to convey concepts and exchange ideas. The common denominator is the desire to communicate and connect. Bookbinders have always innovated the material means in order to communicate; from Medieval manuscripts written on parchment to Gutenberg’s printing press. Now we are doing the same thing with our teaching practice. It is not a substitute for hands-on work, nor does it imply devaluing the power of physical tactile objects; rather it is an alternate means to communicate about those topics. We can wield this media to tap into the human spirit that has always animated artistic and intellectual expression.
Q: What growth did you notice in your students?
They took care of one another. They showed up and interacted with one another and they transformed the bizarre world of screen interactions into real human connections.