Pedagogy Teaching and Learning page 2


U.S. Pedagogy
In contrast, the largest number of Graphic Design students in this country are enrolled at state universities. These institutions tend to have huge student enrollments, bureaucratic management with a myriad of policies governing educational requirements for a degree, scheduling, grading, admittance and retention of students. Because of broad institutional scope, the number of faculty, amount of studio space and technical facilities tend to be extremely limited. Within universities, art and design programs normally do not have high status in the eyes of administrators, and therefore have low priority in appropriations and resources. Because of university or departmental requirements, students usually have only 24 to 35 credits in their major when 45 to 60 is optimum. None of these conditions are favorable to educational quality in Graphic Design.

Other American Graphic Design programs are situated in private universities, independent schools of art or trade schools. Many of the problems for design education found in state universities are also manifest in private institutions. Exceptions are universities that absorbed professional art schools, or where technical and trade-oriented private institutions joined state systems. Independent schools of art and trade schools have greater concentration in the major than most universities allow, but this does not necessarily mean that they do a better job of educating. Time in the major is only one factor among many.

The majority of American students are not carefully screened; performance standards are seldom high or consistently applied. American design education places emphasis on concept and professional practice; the Basel program stresses perceptual development. American students tend to view assignments as doing what the teacher wants. Consequently, their goal is to please instructors and be rewarded by receiving a high grade. This notion is a more serious inhibitor to student learning than most teachers realize. I think European students know they can do what they want as long as it is within the parameters of the problem, and they recognize studio work is for their learning benefit. American students frequently demand to know the purpose of problems, and they want them defined to a point where they are less likely to fail. They prefer to do an exercise, have a critique, complete the problem, receive a grade and move on to the next one. They are impatient and experience difficulty concentrating. They are often resentful of having to work in class or do projects over and over again. There are many uncommitted students in American programs, and they rarely are weeded out.

Student Attitudes
American students do not hesitate to question the teacher's judgment, either in terms of criticism or in grading. Having less time in the studio than students in Swiss schools, our students are expected to do a great deal of work outside of class time. Many students, especially those in state university programs, are financially dependent on outside jobs. A serious conflict occurs between job and education as it pertains to class work done outside of school. The results are less productivity and inadequate preparation for a professional career. In our program, we asked applicants to declare the hours they expected to work outside of school. We declined to accept students that indicated they would need to work more than twenty hours a week at a job.

In some respects, present student attitudes reflect changes in American education that came about during the period of student activism. Before the sixties, curriculum was largely determined by faculty, and only a small part of it was elective. Student protest led to a reduction in required courses and increased elective curriculum options. Students now want to pick and choose their courses, and they often resent having to take required classes. Compared to Fine Arts, there still is more structure in Graphic Design because of its professional objectives. I strongly advocate that teachers rather than students determine educational requirements.

Instruction Quality
Another extremely important factor has to do with the quality of instruction. Unfortunately, American educational administrators are prone to accept inept teachers with the notion that as long as the position is filled, that is all that is required. In this country, educational management makes little effort to find and hire highly qualified faculty for art and design. A notable exception to this administrative lapse is those educational fields that attract large grants from government and industry.

Performance of students is directly tied to the standards and values of the instructor. An instructor with high standards will demand more from students, and therefore, they perform at a higher level and learn more. Conversely, weak teachers tend to graduate a higher percentage of weak students.

American schools, that offer sound design programs with qualified faculty and high standards, drop unmotivated students from the program, and the remaining ones perform well. There have always been isolated instances of individual teachers or programs that have been commendable. Unfortunately, there have been few, and programs have dissolved when the people responsible for them left the institution.

I believe problems with design education in this country are more attributable to mediocre instruction, institutional limitations and administrative policies or practices, rather than to student capabilities. American students seem to respond well in a credible educational environment.

While there are many talented and dedicated design teachers in our schools, the quality of instruction in this country is shaped by the educational experiences of the teachers themselves. In most cases, American teachers are products of weak programs with questionable pedagogy that provide poor models for individuals who become teachers. With few exceptions, I have found the most effective teachers are graduates from programs with strong leadership, structured curriculum and a definite pedagogical approach to design education.

While it might be helpful, it is not necessary for every Graphic Design teacher to be a great designer, only a good teacher. To have a sound program in Graphic Design, teachers must have high standards, understand them, and be able to communicate them to students and demand that students meet the standards. When the majority of students do poorly, it is more of a reflection of teachers than it is of students. Standards for faculty determine the level of student performance.

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