Definitely up the hydration on your bread. I'll typically do sourdough between 65-70%. You won't necessarily get more rise before you bake, but you'll definitely get oven spring.
If you really, really want super airy bread, try some variation on the no-knead recipe. That's super-wet dough, super-sticky, so you generally get your hands wet each time you stick your hands in the bowl to minimize sticking. Plus you handle the dough as little as possible to keep all the bubbles intact. Also, if you don't want to monkey with the whole Dutch oven aspect of the recipe, definitely get a baking stone, a steam pan of some sort, and use silicone parchment paper (or reusable silicone baking mats) to make it easy to get the dough into the oven.
You might try being scientific about it. Mix up some dough at three different hydrations (say, 50, 60, and 70%) and do a double-blind tasting with some friends.
Classes are fun and all, but you only really need a good book. (Peter Reinhart's Bread Baker's Apprentice
is the classic, but his newer Artisan Breads Every Day
may be less intense and more helpful.) It's also helpful to have access to a guru to pick for advice. I got a lot of mileage out of a friend-of-a-friend who was a serious baker.