I prioritize four main objectives in my teaching: collaboration, research, speculating, and convergence of analog and digital worlds.
Our world is increasingly collaborative and interdisciplinary. I strive to integrate collaboration into many aspects of the classroom and have found collaborative research to be very effective. It teaches students to rely on one another and forces them to articulate their own thinking. As students research their subject and define the context and audience, they begin to see systemic relationships and understand that design is much more than one isolated artifact. In many instances, student collaboration also takes place in the making phase of design, much like a design team would collaborate in professional practice. I work with students to negotiate team roles, team evaluations, and problem solving. At Kent State University, I created a long-distance charrette with students at The Kansas City Art Institute exploring communication theory and systems thinking. At The Kansas City Art Institute, I worked diligently to introduce a collaborative methodology into almost all studios whether it was students working in teams, across studios, or with students from other institutions like Michigan State University. And finally, at The University of Arkansas, I continue this focus, but have tackled collaborations that are more complex. This can be seen in the Design For Good class, where design students worked with ceramic students and a local chef to host a pop-up fundraiser dinner that raised close to $10,000 or in the Human-Centered Design studio, where students worked in teams and with the local Marshallese community to address issues the Marshallese face in Northwest Arkansas.
I have found that undergraduate students are fully capable of carrying out research and that it isn’t something that should be limited to the graduate-level. In order for students to understand that design does not exist within a vacuum and that it is socially and culturally tied, they must research in some way. Students who are encouraged to incorporate other academic courses into their design work, both in the research phase and as subject matter, and use local resources for research regarding audience and context will have a broader sense of the environment in which design operates. History, culture, and theory of design and other disciplines should play a critical role in any design classroom. The research phase isn’t one that needs to be isolated from the making phase. I firmly believe in thinking through making. The ability to externalize and visualize research is a vital tool for every designer. You can clearly see the role of research in my student work, for example: students who wrote reflectively about a project based on communication theory and J. Christopher Jones’ design methods, students who integrated content from humanities courses into a typography editorial, and students who carried out primary and secondary research with the Marshallese community, etc.
While I believe that understanding the context and audience are key, I don’t believe that all student work must be completely practical. School is a time to test things out, to speculate wildly, and explore. As long as the students can provide an intelligent reasoning for why they have made certain choices, the possibilities should be open ended. The desire to speculate results in studios that are often media agnostic and where research and student curiosity lead to outcomes.
convergence of methods
I am interested in teaching courses that allow students to create in various mediums. If one student would like to explore digital mark making, but his/her classmate prefers analog, that juxtaposition can create a rich classroom experience and encourages peer-to-peer learning. I emphasize to students that the computer is just one tool of many and encourage them to integrate alternative methods into their digital work. This interest in convergence is made possible by teaching in environments where fine art and design are housed in proximity. I ask students to think about ways to integrate photography, drawing, printmaking, ceramics, etc into their design work. A convergence of methods is strong in my student work, particularly in the outcomes from the Kiln To Table event where students worked with everything from wood to custom printing and sewing to projection mapping.