A Designer’s Teaching Pedagogy
The art of teaching, like most things, is not an activity or concept that exists in isolation. Without reflection, curiosity, flexibility, and awareness of external influences on the classroom and students, teaching will not be successful. Teaching is more than a discourse between the instructor and students. Because learning also happens peer-to-peer, where individuals grow through their experiences together, teaching must be approached as a culture or lifestyle. The more I learn, the more I come to understand that the journey toward knowing and understanding is endless; inquiry and discovery are constantly teasing us to ask: “Well, what else? What’s next?” My teaching philosophy is the culmination of years spent in study, and is continuously evolving through my experiences. What I have learned is that what happens in a classroom is the product of the individuals who participate. I believe that in a class, we are all learning: constantly, individually, and holistically as a group.
Because teaching is a practice in communication, in a studio course, instructors and students both activate their communication skills through desk critiques, pin-ups, presentations, deliverables, and conversations throughout the term. Learning happens through the process of producing the design work and through discussion, presentation, and critique. These activities develop critical minds with improvisational and interpersonal skills to be able to thrive in a design office atmosphere.
As an instructor in a design discipline, my teaching methods are rooted deeply in case study and problem-based learning. By using real issues to frame the problem statements given to students, I am able to both present practical applications of the design process and guide students through scholarly inquiry. In this way, the class develops their ideas through exercises in writing, drawing, and proposals of concepts and design interventions. I believe it is important for students and practitioners alike to ground their work in research, so in my classrooms, projects are developed through lines of reasoning and analysis, tracing pack to policy or defensible criteria. I ask my students to identify what they are trying to accomplish and then I help them work backwards to understand which pieces of data or information are necessary to developing their ideas.
As with all of my projects and assignments, I invite my students to incorporate their personal interests into their work. For instance, in my Graphic & Illustrative Technologies* course, I encourage students to focus their projects on aspects of landscape architecture that interest them, whether it be planting design, hardscape, or something else. If the end result is to have students develop a portfolio-quality documentation, which would require an in-depth exploration into how to produce work in AutoCAD, students would select a site they enjoy or are interested in as a model for the site features they model in the program. In this way, they are able to show their proficiency in the program and also showcase their personality and interests in their portfolio. To achieve a classroom culture that is truly engaged and excited about their projects, I allow students to explore their personal interests. In this way, I can achieve active and engaged learning and critical thinking, which results in a cohort of students who are proud of their work.
Evaluation of student learning is integrated into the courses I teach. For instance, students are invited to critique and reflect on their experience at both the midpoint and end of the semester formally, but are invited to give feedback at any time. It is not useful for current students to only have opportunities after the course is complete or near completion to provide feedback. How can I help them get more from their experience if I don’t provide them the space and opportunity for dialogue early on? In this way, students are empowered in their education. When the students feel free to speak up, and with a tighter feedback loop, and I can make immediate changes and improvements in how I am presenting the course material. This improves the learning experience for everyone.
Student learning is not assessed simply by testing or quizzes as in conventional classroom environments. In my courses, students show their growth and progress through written, reflexive writing samples taken at different points in the semester. They demonstrate their understanding of the concepts and mastery of the computer programs through the project deliverables, where they can show through their progressive sketches, drawings, and plans that they are growing and developing as critical thinkers.
The art of teaching, like design process, is iterative, connective, and resilient. In each course and in every classroom, there are unique opportunities and constraints. My philosophy is to always press on, in spite of obstacles, because there is always more good work to be done.
*Graphic & Illustrative Technologies is a course I designed in GRAD 5114: Pedagogical Practices in Contemporary Contexts Fall 2017.