Pedagogy Teaching and Learning page 5


Self-paced Learning
Problems at the Sophomore level and first-semester Junior year are more effective when the work is self-paced without deadlines other than the semester's end. Particularly with perceptual studies and formal values, if students advance before they demonstrate understanding or have acquired the necessary skills, it becomes a meaningless experience. Also, self-pacing permits more experienced or talented students to move forward without waiting for slower students to catch up. It allows both quick and methodical students to work without undue pressure. The problem for students with deadlines is the deadline becomes the objective, rather than the understanding. It is far better to wait until the second semester of the Junior year and throughout the Senior year to enforce the discipline of deadlines.

A procedure borrowed from the Basel program was having students keep progress books. Students were required to retain explorations or references, sketches, refinements, roughs or notes and bind them into a book at completion of the project. At the introductory level, these books were very revealing to students regarding improvement in handskills, growth in understanding and their general advancement in the program. Learning became tangible, and students reacted with a sense of accomplishment, greater commitment and increased productivity. We had equal success with progress books at advanced levels. Students could review the design process from beginning to end. Also, the books were an asset to the portfolio if an interviewer wanted to know how a project evolved.

I quickly learned that students were more successful reaching objectives if the focus of problems was uncluttered. Teachers often try to accomplish too much within a single problem. Difficulties with materials and media can distract students from educational objectives. For instance, Albers taught introductory color classes with color packs because he wanted students to concentrate on color, and not have to struggle with techniques of mixing paint and applying it to paper at the same time. Objectives are kept clear by establishing limitations. At the early stages of design education, limitations by the teacher are the most restrictive in terms of scope, tools and materials. As students move ahead in the program, limitations become increasingly flexible and there are less of them. Setting objectives, combined with limitations, which are conducive to student focus, usually results in substantial educational dividends.

Theoretical vs. Perceptual Learning
In this country, there has always been controversy regarding the value of theoretical studies in professional education. Whenever working designers visited our program to lecture or critique, they showed interest in student perceptual work. Invariably, they would ask, as tactfully as possible, why we did not consider adding type to the imagery, make a package design out of it, or in some way convert it into a professional application.

Too many regional Graphic Design programs are overly influenced by local professionals. Ties with the professional community are important for the program and for students, but there has to be selectivity in choosing professionals as educational advisors, and balancing their input with educational integrity. Designers might make a living as illustrators, art directors or graphic designers, but it is insufficient grounds for assuming they will be beneficial mentors for students, or that they can effectively teach.

Each designer tends to define the profession by what he or she does. Design practices vary from studio to studio or from one segment of the profession to another. It is impossible to teach professional practice by simply doing applied problems.

I am not proposing an Ivory Tower educational program for Graphic Designers. Students must have technical information and abilities, knowledge of professional practices and contact with working designers who are good role models. In school the goal is learning; professionalism is achieved on the job. It is important to aim the program at the highest levels of the profession rather than directing it toward employment opportunities within the immediate community.

In school, professionalism can be reinforced in student attitudes, punctuality, reliability, demeanor and work habits rather than by problem content. Contrary to professional practice, in school the process by which students move from beginning to conclusion of a problem is equally as germane as the end result; it is a learning situation. Devoting the last semester of the Senior year to putting together and polishing student portfolios is a waste of precious time. Teachers should advise students on their portfolios, but there is no need to create a class for this purpose.

Problem Relevance
Problem relevance affects student interest and productivity. This mainly applies to Junior and Senior level problems. During the years of student activism in the 1960s, we gave many projects dealing with zero population, environmental issues, drug abuse, social or political movements and contemporary music. By relating problems to student interests, we went through the period with few difficulties and were able to maintain a strong program and reasonable discipline. If teachers are sensitive to student interests and concerns, classroom productivity can be improved by selection of relevant problem content.

Individual teachers often reflect personal values and educational priorities. Alvin Lustig taught that the solution to any design problem lies in an analysis of the problem. He also identified Graphic Design as visual communication. Therefore, there were criteria based on analysis, interpretation and communication. Lester Beall wrote a comprehensive statement which was handed out to students as part of the problem presentation. In addition to definitions and limitations, he included background information which contained irrelevant facts to mislead students. He expected students to sift the information, ignore the irrelevant, and identify pertinent facts as the basis for the design solution. Under Beall's direction, ability to analyze was a criterion in evaluating student work.

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