SECAC Recognizes VSU’s Glenda Swan for Excellence in Teaching

Friday, January 14th, 2022

Dr. Glenda Swan’s exemplary work in visual arts recently earned her the 2021 SECAC Award for Excellence in Teaching. 

SECAC, formerly the Southeastern College Art Conference, is a nonprofit organization that promotes the study and practice of the visual arts in higher education on a national basis. Its Award for Excellence in Teaching annually recognizes an outstanding teacher who demonstrates exceptional command of his or her discipline through the ability to teach effectively, impart knowledge, and inspire students.  

Swan began teaching two decades ago and joined the Valdosta State University Department of Art & Design faculty in Fall 2013. She currently holds the rank of associate professor.  

“I love teaching students about how material culture — the objects made and used by people — can reveal insights into the way people lived and thought, especially as we so often treat visual images as something to absorb rather than analyze,” she shared. “I’m addicted to the revelation that comes from students who come to understand that they can use detailed observation and research to see beyond the surface and gain meaningful insight into a past time or place.” 

Swan primarily teaches courses in art history and perspectives and enjoys researching ancient art. She said she works very hard to make the material from the past as intelligible and relatable as possible to the current lives of her students.   

“I always enjoy introducing students to visual culture, either in Introduction to the Visual Arts or Art History Survey,” she explained. “My love for mythology in art is evident from the perspective course I created on World Mythology in Art. Still, it is always special to share topic courses on my academic specialties with students, such as Roman Life in Pompeii or Greek Mythology in Art. The study of gender was not something that was formally part of my own education, but I have relished the opportunity to share important perspectives about its display with my students in Gender in Art.” 

VSU honored Swan in 2020 with its Presidential Excellence Award for Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, recognition of her unwavering efforts to produce innovative scholarly work on the science of teaching and learning and to regularly contribute new questions and knowledge on the subject. She currently has a book in preparation for Palgrave Macmillan called Re-Envisioning the Material Past: How to Educate and Engage Modern Students Using Visual Culture.    

“As someone who turns down the lights when class begins in order to show images — often from ancient cultures — it was quickly evident to me how important it is to find to ways to effectively engage students,” she shared. “I employ a lot of different approaches to the material and make students an active part of class discussion and content, as well as provide them with a variety of materials and activities to support student learning. I think transparency in teaching is very important, so I also strive to explain to students how course activities are designed, as well as scaffolded, to help them to build discipline-based skills and master content. Ultimately, because of my belief in the primacy of student-centered education, I work very hard to find as many ways as I can to be a supportive partner of student learning in the classroom.” 

Over the years, Swan has spent countless hours designing a lot of her own active learning activities, evaluating their effectiveness, and sharing them at conferences and in articles to get feedback outside her own classroom. She said that encouraging engagement and understanding of non-contemporary objects and images with general education students as well as art majors is a challenging task — one not commonly found in the scholarship of teaching and learning.  

“I strongly encourage other faculty to look for opportunities where they can share the results of the time and effort that they spend evaluating student success in their own courses, even if that sharing starts with something simple like peer-review or participation in a teaching circle,” she added. “Students shouldn’t be the only ones who get to experience the joy of learning new things.”