Philosophy of teaching
Design education is the intersection of critical thought, creative problem solving, and representation skills. In my classroom, I support student development of each skill through an environment where students take risks, make mistakes, and respond to critique, all in an effort to creatively discover a uniquely appropriate design solution. To think critically about a design problem requires a student’s ability to understand the problem holistically. Creative problem solving requires a designer’s ability to explore multiple solutions, examine the relative success of how well each solution addresses the problem, and re-explore new solutions based on the information gathered from each solution. Many beginning design students struggle with the organic non-linear nature of problem solving. Furthermore, students struggle with the notion that one often finds success through the failed execution of multiple design experiments.
In Self-Theories: Their Role in Motivation, Personality, and Development, Carol Dweck describes the “patterns of vulnerability and hardiness that students display as they confront difficulty”. Through her research with 5th and 6th grade learners and their ability to conceptually solve difficult problems, Dweck identifies a strong connection between an individuals belief of fixed or malleable intelligence and how that students engages (or disengages) new problems. If a student believes that intelligence is acquired as one grows, challenges are seen as an opportunity for intellectual growth. Failure is not a reflection of their ability, so the associated risks are low. If a student believes that intelligence is fixed at birth, each challenge is the potential end of their intelligence. Failure signals the limit of one’s ability to learn and is usually avoided through disengagement and/or avoidance.
Teaching critical thinking through creative problem solving to beginning design students mirrors the behavior of 5th and 6th graders. Some young designers immediately relish the challenge and ambiguity of design problems in studio. These students make teaching design seem incredibly easy. Another set of young designers react to each new assignment as the potential end of their design career. They avoid potential failure through procrastination, lack of engagement in project goals, or by simply redefining the assignment to something that they already understand. I see the relative success and failure of my studio teaching in my ability to both challenge those students who give more than what is expected and scaffold assignments so that “helpless learners” can learn to find success through smaller accomplishments and recognize the role of failure in problem solving.
In my classroom, I create an environment to help students separate their intelligence from their ego. By allowing students to see their design education as something that is acquired through experience (both good and bad), they are more likely to take risks and engage new problems without fear of failure. My pedagogical approach differs for each student but always includes: clear learning goals for an assignment, transparent evaluation methods, and opportunities for students to improve understanding through their peers’ success. Clearly stated learning goals provide a framework for struggling students to attack a particular assignment without pre-determining the solution. Desk critique and group critiques that directly engage these learning goals help all students understanding the intellectual focus of an exercise. Measuring a student’s understanding through their work, words, and ability to talk about peer work provides multiple opportunities for students to demonstrate understanding and explore the project.
I measure a student’s successful development of critical thinking skills through their ability to solve new complex problems applying data gathered in earlier projects. Because almost everything is new to students in foundation studio, I develop projects that progress in complexity through the addition of variables including design principles, program, and context. Development of critical thinking can then be measured by a student’s ability to solve the new variables while continuing to strengthen their understanding of concepts in prior projects.
I measure my success as an educator in the growth of each student during the semester. For the student who understands how to think critically on day one, I am successful if I am able to introduce them to new methods and strategies to evaluate a problem. For the student who struggles through week eight, I am successful if s/he leaves the studio having solved one new problem on her/his own. My struggle as a design educator is finding the balance to work with both levels of student understanding within a single studio. As an educator I strive to learn new methods to engage a diverse body of learners in critical thought, creative problem solving, and representation.
– Douglas R Seidler