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Guidelines for Faculty Teaching in Computer-Based

Unanimously adopted by CAA Board of Directors, October 21, 1995.

This document was presented to CAA by concerned members working in computer-based media, in response to typical circumstances that faculty working within this area routinely encounter. Frequently, colleagues and administrators are unaware of many critical issues in this rapidly developing area, thus making initial hiring interviews and subsequent performance reviews difficult for both the faculty and administrators. This document is presented as an attempt to develop guidelines for faculty hiring, workload, compensation, and support in this field and to provide information about faculty working in this area that could be used in making accurate and comprehensive evaluations in hiring, promotion, and tenure. In addition, it briefly outlines the kinds of administrative and financial support necessary to sustain programs using computer technology.

Anecdotal evidence from faculty teaching fine art and design courses in computer-based media programs reveals a great discrepancy in the responsibilities of and expectations for faculty in this area as compared with colleagues in other studio art areas. Computer media faculty from a wide range of higher education institutions throughout the United States and internationally report that they not only have the traditional academic responsibilities of teaching, advising, and committee work, but also oversee program development and the incorporation of technology into the visual arts curriculum. They may also engage in fund raising, equipment installation, and staff training. In some cases, a single faculty member has the sole responsibility for all computer-based media within a department.

As in any rapidly changing discipline, the work load of simply keeping current is enormous, and frequently no provision is made for professional development. This disparity in the demands made upon computer media faculty and their studio arts colleagues grows ever wider as the technology continues to evolve and is incorporated in more aspects of art and design curricula.

The following descriptions outline the typical responsibilities faculty teaching in computer-based media generally encounter in four major areas: the academic program, program management, program support, and faculty performance.

I. The Academic Program

The range of tasks typically demanded of full-time studio faculty involves a significantly greater investment of time and energy for computer-based media faculty. This is true even in comparison with the responsibilities of colleagues in other visual arts areas, including other technically oriented studio areas such as photography, printmaking, and video.

The entire knowledge and equipment base in the discipline of electronic media is changing constantly and with amazing rapidity. This continual technical obsolescence requires faculty to constantly rewrite their curriculum. In other areas, it is possible to continue instruction and production with materials that remain current from year to year, still engaging in meaningful investigations of the basics of the field. However, computer-based media programs are largely dependent on equipment designed to compete in the rapidly changing commercial marketplace. Equipment that is ten years old is almost completely incompatible with the easily available equipment of today. Equipment even just five years old is seriously limited in usefulness. This is true for the aesthetic concerns in the medium as well as the technical ones.

Curriculum Design

Computer-based programs at most institutions are fairly new and the curriculum is still developing. The variety and number of courses that any program can offer change with the goals of the program, the number and skills of the instructors available, the availability and kind of computers, peripherals, and software, and the amount of students' available lab time. As many of these factors change from one semester to the next in concert with the evolution of technology, courses are constantly being rewritten. Unique to computer-based media, the content and practice of the discipline may entirely change with an academic year, requiring the re-adaptation of content and technology (hardware and software) by the instructor to address concerns of changing aesthetics, systems, and output.

Unlike other disciplines in which the basic skills may remain constant over decades, or even centuries, the changes are so frequent in computer-based media that one could be completely lost without up-to-date training. Since our students do not live in a vacuum, they are generally aware of the innovations in the field and come into courses expecting a level of instruction that will enable them to continue to work with state-of-the-art computers and software once they have left the institution.

Technological innovations expand the artists' vocabulary, raising unavoidable aesthetic issues, which must be addressed in course content. Characteristically, the use of computer-based media encourages the formation of interdisciplinary links with other media and programs including photography, printmaking, sculpture, video, film, theater, dance, and music. These links can also be extended to develop connections between art and science by including computer science computer graphics programs in this interdisciplinary experimentation. While this is to be encouraged on general principles, faculty are often requested to give informal advice to colleagues who wish to venture into computer applications in these areas without their colleagues realizing the significant burden these requests can entail.

As interest grows in the areas of computer animation, multimedia, machine control, virtual reality, and interactive presentations, computer-based media faculty are also often expected to be resource persons in these areas and to expand their programs to accommodate them. These computer-based media faculty may not necessarily be skilled in these new and ever developing areas; yet, because they use the computer, there is an assumption that one should be able to teach in or work in these new applications.

Keeping Current

Unique to computer-based media, the level of constant change and expansion of capabilities of software and hardware mandate that faculty spend inordinate time and effort just to remain current. As the generation of new or updated products in this field is often nine months to one year, faculty must acquire new, or relearn existing skills once and sometimes twice a year with numerous software packages and need to incorporate new hardware as soon as possible after it is introduced.

Because of this constant level of change, tasks which appear to be comparable in similar areas may in fact represent widely disparate demands of time and energy. For example, the ordering of supplies in other studio areas may be so routine that they can be filled on an annual basis with little or no review. In computer-based media, however, each and every software and hardware upgrade takes careful study, as the desirability of one product over another changes with the ability of the product developers to introduce innovations of capability and functionality. In times of limited budgets, the pressure on these decisions increases, as faculty attempt to predict the future.

As a result of the rate of change in this arena, faculty must read a tremendous quantity of technical literature as well as keep up on aesthetic issues in the field. Regular attendance at conferences and trade shows is a must, for the purpose of acquiring advice from industry experts as well as other faculty and artists. Although this generally results in financial savings in purchases, conference attendance is rarely recognized as essential. Computer information has a very short life span and these events provide the most current and accurate source of information.

Software companies, unlike textbook companies, rarely give review (or preview) copies of their manuals to professors. Hardware changes are equally difficult to assess on an individual basis. Industry is still finding its way in dealing with higher education and the flow of information is not smooth. This reality, coupled with the fact that creative artists are pushing technology in directions that developers and their marketing teams never imagined, causes "keeping current" to be an issue unlike in any other field.

The explosive growth of the World Wide Web provides a pointed example. In less than a year, the WWW has become the most central venue for developing and displaying interactive visual materials. Instructors are scrambling to learn HTML (hypertext mark-up language) to program on the Web and to develop curricula that incorporate screen design for telecommunication in their courses. As the standards for the Web develop, this requires not only continual retraining in diverse areas (networking, interactive design, scripting, telecommunications), but also the most current information sources. Aesthetic concerns shift as new applications emerge and changes necessitate intellectual exchange with like-minded colleagues.

Attendance at conferences and workshops is one way to stay current. ISEA (Inter-Society for Electronic Art), SIGGRAPH (Special Interest Group in Graphics of the Association for Computing Machinery), MacExpo, and CAA are all options, as well as numerous regional workshops.

Fundraising/Providing Resources

Maintaining and improving the resources available to our students is a greater need in electronic media than in most studio areas. This area is singular in its constant and rapid technical evolution. The acquisition of new equipment is essential to keeping up in the field. Fundraising is one way of addressing this problem; others include negotiations with software and hardware companies and with other areas within the institution. In most other studio areas, the department supplies equipment that has a useful life of decades or longer. In computer-based programs, we must contend with an equipment life cycle of less than five years and an even more frequent need for new software. Without this resource-intensive support, our programs become obsolete. Many faculty members faced with this dilemma have taken on the additional task of fundraising and lobbying for resources, rather than see their area of involvement lag behind.

II. Program Management

Faculty of computer-based media are frequently responsible for insuring the provision of adequate facilities for instruction. Laboratory situations range from specialized dedicated facilities within the department to shared generalized workspaces; both require administration beyond most studio areas. Some faculty of computer-based media programs have sole responsibility for the daily management of all program staff, students, and equipment. They are also often responsible for the recruitment and supervision of adjunct faculty within their program, and for administration of grants or special programs. Even in a program of modest size, the extent of administrative responsibilities may interfere with other, equally essential faculty tasks. In environments where a large proportion of the staff is part time, these burdens may be even more extreme, with part-time instructors being asked to perform tasks out of title.

In cases of shared facilities, faculty members must frequently lobby for specialized resources that can be used by their students, as well as for their own research. This often requires much effort, as the applications for fine arts are less universally applicable and more expensive than, for example, word processing. Without specialized training, the staffs of these centers cannot offer support to these students.


Continuing and adequate monetary support is required because computer-based technology is relatively expensive, continues to evolve, and requires regular maintenance. These costs put additional budgetary demands on the program and faculty of computer-based media. This can put additional demands on the faculty, necessitating additional fundraising, innovative uses of limited resources, or cooperative efforts with other departments.

Program Promotion

Faculty of computer-based media programs actively promote their programs by arranging exhibitions and demonstrations of their own and student work, by publishing articles about their programs to relevant media, and by developing media PR materials and print brochures. Joint events with related departments such as music, theater, or dance, and other collaborative efforts are alternative ways used to promote a program. Additionally, faculty in these programs work with developers, manufacturers, and service bureaus for mutual promotion. Links with industry and the media are an important component of program support, development, and promotion.


Supervision of student lab managers in other studio areas can frequently be done by support staff. Similarly, student workers in other areas can usually be trained once, and then require little additional supervision. For electronic media, even lab counselors supervised by someone else require updated training as configurations change. In many institutions, the supervision of student workers within art departments has long since been shifted to support personnel (e.g., woodshop technician), but one seldom finds comparable positions in electronic media labs.

III. Program Support

A computer-based program is very dependent upon specialized lab equipment. Programs generally have either a dedicated lab, share a lab with another arts or non-arts program, use general-purpose campus labs, or some combination of the above. The art and design computer-based program faculty often have sole or partial responsibility for the labs they use. These faculty often install the software, hardware, networking, and lab security themselves, as well as maintain, upgrade, troubleshoot, and repair the same. Administrators may not be aware that lab maintenance is often a full-time job in itself and that an intense investment of time is necessary to run a facility.

Faculty are often also responsible for training lab monitors and often provide monitor time themselves outside regularly scheduled class time. This is an additional area of responsibility that is complex and extremely time intensive, and faculty in this area deserve to receive acknowledgment or compensation for this additional responsibility.

Technical Support Provided by Faculty

In a collegiate atmosphere, one assumes that faculty will call upon each other for advice and help. In practice, most of us find that this rarely takes place, except in the area of computer technology where electronic art faculty are often the first stop in any departmental endeavor involving computer technology. The faculty member with computer expertise may be called upon to teach others basic skills such as e-mail or give an introduction to software. The faculty member may be asked to install or fix departmental equipment that would otherwise require a paid service call. Or other faculty may expect to use a lab facility that is maintained by the electronic media area, indirectly putting more pressure on the faculty member who maintains the lab.

One reasonable way to deal with this may be to count it as university service. Release time is another way to handle it, as is choosing to pay for technical support and then, in turn, making it clear to colleagues that the electronic media specialist cannot be expected to offer casual help. Junior faculty in particular find it difficult to say no, and take on these additional responsibilities often at the expense of their professional development.

High visibility comes to faculty with computer expertise. Electronic media faculty are considered resource people beyond what should reasonably be expected. Faculty in this area are asked to make recommendations on computer purchases for students, colleagues, and their departments, and to diagnose home computer problems. Students from other areas who want to do a project using the computer are referred to computer art faculty with the expectation that they will receive the help they need. Electronic art faculty are also expected to provide design or consulting services in computer-based design and interactive media for their college or department. This is clearly a separate service and one that should be compensated accordingly.

Student/Faculty Relationship

Because of the complexity and the novelty of computer applications, faculty are generally called upon by students to help them with technical problems outside of class. This may be true even when other support is available. No single individual has a complete knowledge of more than a small number of computer applications or platforms. Students and faculty must adjust to the fact that the useful life of information and technology is short, and that both instructors and students are on a constant learning curve.


Health hazards in computer-based arts, although frequently invisible, should be taken seriously. Examples that merit attention are monitor radiation levels and carpal tunnel syndrome/repetitive strain injuries. Academic institutions are encouraged to follow government and industry guidelines as they become available.

Other Support Issues

Faculty of computer-based media programs are often responsible for developing lab manuals, other technical documentation, and program-specific study materials and guides. Existing materials are limited, difficult to find, and often do not meet the needs of a particular program.

Faculty often initiate and maintain communication with technical support from the institution's academic computing services and with equipment providers. Additionally, faculty are typically asked to provide graphic design and/or media services or advice, student employment, and computer-related policy services to their departments and to the institution in general.

Increasingly, faculty in colleges and universities are called upon to be resources for colleagues in high schools, museums, and other institutions. The widespread interest in this new field makes it difficult to provide the level of support that academics in other disciplines so generously offer to the public.

IV. Faculty Performance

Artistic production in the area of computer-based media encompasses many formats. As the field evolves, computer-based faculty in fine arts should be free to pursue whatever new forms are most appropriate for personal artistic and technological growth, both for themselves and for their students.

For evaluation purposes, various forms of dissemination beyond galleries and museums should be considered appropriate. These include exhibitions, viewings, and installations at conferences, festivals, and other nontraditional exhibition opportunities, and the publication of work in both traditional and electronic form. Furthermore, other contributions to the development of the field, such as work with software and hardware developers, or publications on the emerging aesthetics of computer-based media, should be given consideration.

Resources, in the form of hardware, software, and technical support staff for faculty course research and development in other, non-art fields, are typically provided by campus computing services. Without specialized equipment, these facilities are often of little use to arts faculty. Department and campus administrative support is needed to upgrade or establish additional technical resources to benefit a larger percentage of the total faculty. Research and development equipment for faculty can be acquired by agreeing to be alpha or beta test sites, by creating joint academic commercial research institutes, by making other research arrangements with commercial equipment suppliers, or by including arts in interdisciplinary projects with other areas. Working in an interdisciplinary forum often requires special preparation and research to bridge the gap between academic areas, and therefore additional institutional or administrative support is essential.

Departments must recognize that practicing artists in computer-based media need to spend time researching new technology. While it is desirable that over longer periods faculty produce and disseminate work, it should be expected that there will be some years in which faculty research is primarily in the form of developing new skills.

Keeping up with technology is essential: software changes, machines change, and student knowledge changes. Each year students enter into the field with more sophistication than the year before. If we do not keep pace, then our programs become outdated and students suffer. While research and creative production is essential in all studio areas, the computer-based media require technical research (learning programming languages or new technologies) as well as the aesthetic research with which we must all keep up.

In other disciplines within the universities, such as engineering and medicine, cutting edge research is considered a part of the job. Faculty expect and receive proper equipment and technical support along with frequently reduced teaching loads. Many of these areas are more readily fundable by outside sources than programs in the arts. We recommend that administrators examine this policy campus wide, to explore the relationship between what is demanded of faculty and what is provided.


The creative production of faculty in electronic media is generally viewed as similar to studio faculty, but in fact, the area has so many significant differences from traditional studio practice that this standard is problematic. For example, colleagues in other areas may not have any idea how long it takes to do an animation or how much technical learning has to occur in the process of developing an interactive or time-based work. Therefore, their expectations of productivity may be geared more toward a body of work composed of many individual works, rather than a single work that is analogous to a film. Evaluation of teaching may not consider the less visible aspects of the job, such as the considerable preparation necessary to teach changing software and hardware configurations, the introduction of new forms of electronic media, and the technical support for students outside of class time.

Evaluation of exhibition records should consider the visibility and quality of dissemination. Standards of excellence in exhibition that are routinely applied to artists, such as solo exhibitions, are not uniformly applicable to electronic artists. Venues for electronic art are developing rapidly, but at this point solo shows of technology-based art are still rare. However, there are some very visible and prominent venues emerging that are drawing significant attention. They include exhibitions linked to conferences and festivals, electronic publishing (CD-ROM), distribution of electronic media by specialty publishers such as Voyager, and presentations on the World Wide Web. Despite the impression that art on the WWW is self-published, there do exist a number of highly respected curated sites (e.g., FineArt Forum, Leonardo, ArtNetWeb, AdaWeb).


By endorsing this document, CAA agrees to inform department chairs and other higher education administrators about the unique and often excessive demands placed on many full-time faculty in computer-based media, and to work toward creating additional guidelines that will address the problems that arise with the incorporation of technology into visual arts departments. We are particularly concerned that many faculty have sole responsibility for their programs and yet receive minimal or no administrative or financial support or reduction in other departmental responsibilities.

Faculty of computer-based media fine art and design programs have an area of responsibility that is radically different from that of their colleagues in other studio areas in both breadth and intensity. Issues of equity may well be raised when one considers how the demands of keeping up with the technology in addition to involvement in fundraising and technical support not only increase these faculty's responsibilities but cause them to be quantitatively different.

Recent descriptions of positions in the College Art Association's Careers indicate that institutions are searching for candidates who can teach in a wide variety of areas within the domain of computer technology. While it may be possible that someone just entering the academic world from full-time work with computers may have basic skills in several areas, departments must recognize that in the context of full-time teaching and other responsibilities it is impossible to also maintain subskills in several subspecialties (e.g., computer photo-processing, computer animation, computer graphic design, or computer illustration).

Many departments of art have recently inaugurated programs in computer-based media without planning for continuing funding, program development, adequate staffing, or support of these programs. Faculty teaching in these areas have, by default, stepped up to confront ever escalating demands. If these programs are to survive, the inequities raised in this report must be given consideration.


We endorse the following recommendations as additional, specific guidelines for faculty of computer-based media programs:

  • Ongoing faculty research and development requirements must be integrated into the description of positions in computer-based media, and provisions must be made for such research and development beyond what is normally allotted in the fine arts.
  • Provisions must be made in the form of release time or summer stipends to support faculty development efforts. We urge faculty to work closely with administrators in finding the best solutions in each situation, including the following possibilities: grants for research time; collaboration on cross-disciplinary research grants; and consideration for exceptional faculty research and development in weighing other responsibilities.
  • An annual budget for hardware maintenance, consumables, technology upgrades, and new acquisitions should be planned for programs responsible for maintaining their equipment.
  • Decisions on hiring, reappointment, and tenure should consider the difficult balance that each individual in the field of computer-based media must keep between production of quality visual art and maintaining technical expertise.
  • Evaluation of teaching performance should consider the demands of the ongoing integration of new materials into course curriculum and the burdens this places on both students and faculty.
  • Evaluation of professional contributions must include recognition of the alternative exhibition and research opportunities outside of the traditional gallery/museum structure
  • In accordance with CAA guidelines, faculty in computer-based media should not be expected to carry out duties not specifically related to their position as faculty without compensation. This includes: acting in an advisory capacity to colleagues, in the department and out, who want to adopt computer technology; the installation and maintenance of generalized computer equipment; and production of computer graphic designs for institutional use.

Written by: Cynthia Beth Rubin, University of Vermont; Annette Weintraub, City College of New York; Dave Poindexter, Supercomputer Computations Research Institute; David Sokol, Chair, and members of the CAA Committee on Professional Practices, 1995.