Teaching Philosophy and Pedagogical Techniques

I have developed my teaching philosophy and pedagogical techniques over the past 20 years in the graphic design industry through art directing and mentoring diverse multicultural design teams, as well as in the classroom at The University of Baltimore and previously at the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) directing studio projects and lecturing.

My pedagogy is crafted to empower my students in taking ownership of their intellectual, and artistic development.  I accomplish this by involving my students in the development of the course content and through the development of student learning teams.

The creation of student learning teams in my classroom builds student cohesion and enhances sensitivity in my students to diverse racial, gender and economic populations.  In the classroom I am an active partner in assisting my students to become co-creators of meaning in the course work.  I encourage my students to follow their individual interests and passions through the use of open ended assignments and self directed projects.  I develop collaborations with related university departments in order to enhance my students perspective of their multifaceted role as graphic designers in the creation of culture.

My teaching philosophy and pedagogy is built around of six thematic approaches:

• The societal, environmental, and intellectual interests of the students;
• Cooperative learning explorations;
• The use of blended learning technologies;
• Collaboration with other disciplines;
• A critical analysis involving identity; and
• Reflection and application of course material to the student’s lives.

I. Harness student intellectual curiosity and personal interests in community issues as the entry point for course learning objectives.  I design my courses around the collective societal and environmental concerns of my students.  It is important that my students take ownership of their educational development by becoming a full partner in the development of the course.  Beginning with the first day of the course, I interview my students and together we draw up the issues that we would like to explore that quarter.  When student participation in the development of course content is actively solicited, my students become more engaged in the learning process and I fond that students develop stronger bonds with each other as the course progresses.

For example, a graphic design production class I taught was interested in exploring sustainable design solutions.  As a class, we discussed what ‘sustainable’ meant and how we might incorporate those definitions into a graphic design production course.   From the material gained through our class discussion, I altered my lectures to address issues of consumption, of ‘needs vs. wants,’ of systems of production and of the materials and process that relate to sustainable design solutions.  I then drafted the course assignments to incorporate issues that addressed ‘needs-based’ marketing and the use of  materials in furthering sustainable production processes.

By approaching my course design from the students perspective, I allowed the students to take ownership of the course— while I acted as an advisor, gently nudging my students forward in the exploration of their interests.

II. Organize course work and learning explorations around group and cooperative activities.  In order to adequately prepare students for their professional careers, it is imperative that I train them to be comfortable working as a team. One of the most important lessons I have learned from my 20 years in the graphic design industry is that the most important work is done in teams.  I employ three types of collaborative learning techniques in the classroom:

1)  Discussion Group Activity through the formation of ‘Buzz’ Groups.  To encourage classroom discussion and warm up the students, I break the class into groups (3-4) and present them with questions which they then discuss/brainstorm around as a small group before the full class discussion. The small groups are encouraged to develop additional questions or topics during their break-out session.

2) Reciprocal Teaching.  

(a) Student Led Instruction: To build self-confidence, presentation skills and to encourage peer learning, I break students into small groups (4-6) and ask them to develop expertise in a specific topic/technique which they then bring to the full class as a student led teaching exercise.

(b) Thinking Aloud Pair Problem Solving (TAPPS): To encourage cooperative problem solving skills, I team up students in pairs and ask them to take a role as either the problem solver, or the listener.  The problem solver thinks aloud talking through the problem while the listener follows the steps and attempts to understand the reasoning behind each step.  The listener then provides constructive feedback on the problem-solver’s reasoning.

3)  Team Building through the formation of Design Studios.  The most important collaborative technique I use is the formation of design studios consisting of 4-6 students per studio.  The design studio teaches cooperation, collaboration and encourages peer mentoring within the studio.

The design studio operates cooperatively. The students develop the design studio’s internal operations and puts those operational terms down in writing.  The design studio collectively writes a contract that they all sign that includes these terms: (1) Each member’s duties, (2) Each member’s role, (3) The studio’s expectations of other members, (4) The studio meeting times outside of class, (5) How disputes will be resolved within the studio, and (6) Sanctions for violating the agreed upon terms of the contract.

Every project in the course is formulated, critiqued and developed within the design studio before it is brought in front of the full class.  At the conclusion of each project, the studio that has the finest quality of work (as determined by the full class) receives additional rewards or privileges for the project.  This technique offers a safe, positive, nurturing environment for students to move away from the solitary manner of study that they have been taught since grade school, into the professional group based work model used in the graphic design industry.  This technique quickly and efficiently enables the students to bond with each other as a team.  It encourages the natural leaders to develop their leadership skills and it allows the weaker students to learn from their stronger colleagues.

My student evaluations have unanimously stated that students find this technique the most informative and rewarding activity they had over the quarter. Many long-term friendships have developed in my classrooms through the implementation of this technique.

III. Employ blended learning technologies in the classroom when appropriate.  The positive experience I had as a graduate student enrolled in asynchronous courses inspired me to employ, when appropriate, asynchronous technologies into my on-ground courses.  I employ social media to extend the classroom discussion over the course of the week and quarter through frequent short discussion groups and the posting in topic forums.  I employ break-out discussion groups online, and cooperative online learning labs in which teams can share and critique their teammates work.  I find that students are comfortable with social media and asynchronous activity, and online forums often time allow shy or insecure students to express themselves more articulately then they do in class.

I often employ Facebook, Blackboard, Twitter and Moodle in my courses, as well as host Adobe Connect Sessions over the weekend allowing my students to extend the classroom experience over the course of the week.   I am exploring the pedagogical use of  Second Life in the as an asynchronous learning environment to present and collaborate on projects.

IV. Actively encourage cross-disciplinary collaboration. My current university (SCAD) has over 40 majors.  I attempt, each quarter, to collaborate with a related academic department to encourage my students in broadening their understanding of the role graphic designers outside the university.   For example, my Typography One course collaborates in the final weeks of the quarter with the Introduction to Copy Writing course held in my university’s advertising department.  My students learn what is required of them when working with copywriters, the skills necessary to collaborate with a different, but related discipline.  Through the collaboration with related departments, my students gain a deeper understanding of their role as graphic designers in the professional world.

Another collaborative course I am developing pairs my graphic design production class with the industrial design department in the development of marking and packaging solutions for new products.  These collaborations also offer me opportunities to teach along side colleagues in other disciplines and develop team teaching skills as well as insight into the pedagogical techniques specific to other disciplines.

V. Engage students critically around issues of race, gender, sexual identity and economic diversity as a necessary component of a healthy and just society. This aspect of my pedagogy has caused the most friction with my current university.   In my classroom I do not shy away from exploring issues of race, gender, sexual identity and economic diversity.  I teach a very diverse student body.  My personal experience attending a historically black university was invaluable in my intellectual and personal development as a scholar, a lawyer, and as a graphic designer.  It is important to me that my students understand what is at stake when marginalized groups begin to take control of how and when their images of are used in popular culture.

Issues of race, gender and economic diversity are introduced, when appropriate, in class and are discusses frankly and honestly.  Issues related to the importance of respecting cultural, sexual and racial differences are discussed, debated and explored in as sensitive and honestly as possible.

VI.  Demonstrate application of course material to my students lives and encourage reflection of that application.  Finely, and most importantly, I take the time to demonstrate how the course material relates to my students lives. Design is a divergent field of study, and in order for meaning to form from this divergent exploration, we have to allow ourselves time for reflective contemplation and analysis.  I know that for my students, it is only after reflection and internalization of the material occurs, that new and useful knowledge will be formed.  On many occasions I have had students express gratitude that something we experienced in a course the previous quarter is now, after reflection, an integral part of the student’s artistic or intellectual development.

One technique I often employ is to require students to keep an informal journal during the quarter.  In the final weeks of the course, I ask the student to revisit their thoughts, discoveries and the questions that are raised in their journal.  One of my final assignments asks the student to use her journal as the research for the final project.  The student is asked to articulate and process, in a meaningful way, what she has written in her journal.

The final project may involve changes in the student’s creative methodology, new insights into a social cause, or it may be a discovery of a new from or material.   In my student reviews, this exercise is universally mentioned as one of the most important, and memorable exercises I assigned during the quarter.  I know that the reason for this is because the assignment closes the circle of course work presented and the application of that content to my students lives.  This closing of the learning process can only take place if space is given for contemplation and reflection.