At the outset, the teacher stated that there was no content in his course. In clarifying what he meant by this almost emphatic statement, we determined that there was curriculum (as we recognised it) but it was not prescriptive or rigidly fixed as is typically the situation with many industrial design courses which are designed for students to develop specific technical skills. From our understanding, ‘content’ existed in the CG in that there was a general framework of purpose and intent in this course, demonstrated by the overall objectives set by the teacher, but students had a wide range of choice about what they explored and how they explored and learnt., which, in the discipline of design education is not widely recognised as ‘content’.
Other key issues to emerge from the interviews with the teacher concerned his beliefs underpinning his teaching, his general strategies for teaching and his experience of teaching the CG. These issues are explored below.
Beliefs underpinning teaching
In his narrative of his teaching experiences, the teacher revealed beliefs framed on the notion of ‘shifting the learner’ where students are supported to develop to their full capacities. He related that for him the essence of learning is about learning to think in creative ways in order to solve problems. Importantly, learning, for him, is not based on acquiring content, but on developing process or intellectual capacity. Related to this belief is his approach that in addition to setting up deliberate opportunities for active learning, one aspect of learning is about ‘just being in a space’ and allowing students to be immersed or surrounded by the unfamiliar and strange sensations of what they are learning in order to gradually adjust and settle into layers of familiarity.
In revealing his beliefs he also described teaching as a process to facilitate learning that encourages students to discover and think about new ideas for themselves. He also implied that teaching involves encouraging students to move into uncomfortable spaces and to fully experience the awkwardness of being trained or built up in their learning, like athletes. This meant that for him, teaching is always an act of faith where he can only hope that students will take the challenge to be stimulated to learn.
In his personal teaching objectives for developing the learner, the teacher also knew that in order to be able to shift or ‘transport the learner’ he first needs to effectively reach them and this requires gaining their trust. He therefore grounds his teaching with core principles of building respect and maintaining the personal dignity of everyone involved.
He also expressed a commitment to the effectiveness of community activism and the lived experience of the advocacy, application and sharing of learning within a wider network. He expressed a strong commitment to Robert Chambers’ principles of respect building in social interactions and community engagement.
Strategies for teaching
The teacher talked about a range of strategies that he employed in his approach to teaching and learning.
He has learnt from his twenty years of teaching the importance of measuring student energy to understand their engagement with the courses he teaches. He is aware for instance, that in the early stages, he needs to engage and motivate his students. If he feels their engagement is cool, he is willing to use a ‘stock trick’ in order to get their attention and reveal to students that he believes he has screwed up and failed as a teacher and that as a community they need to renegotiate their approach to learning in the course.
He also understands that intense learning can create an environment of uncertainty and this in turn can generate nervous energy, lots of questions and arguments and requires constant affirmation and feedback to students to maintain their trust and sense of safety. He recognises that good learning is accompanied by high energy levels and he encourages students to generate lots of exuberance and excitement in their own connections with him and each other.
He spends a great deal of time planning and preparing lectures for his students with their interests and capabilities totally in mind. He sets high standards by aiming to produce unforgettable and provocative educational events that will unsettle his students to think differently and be shifted as learners. He prepares countless handouts and tries to reach students through a variety of mediums (eg film) to demonstrate concepts of design. He tries at all times to work with themes or points of reference that are relevant or of interest to students. He uses narrative and story to ‘open their minds’. He considers lectures and resources as tools to inspire the students’ own learning and investigations of intellectual discovery.
He is conscious of being respectful at all times with his students and introducing them to new concepts without being dismissive or patronising in order to be inclusive and earn their trust. To assist them in developing personal intellectual stamina, he adopts an approach of immersion where students are surrounded by the vocabulary and discourse of an issue and encouraged to just ‘be in the space’. He also views the semester as an opportunity to ‘slow things down and amplify the small’ and thus creates opportunities for students to engage in considered investigation and detailed examination of issues and processes.
Experience of teaching the CG
The teacher admitted he found the experience of teaching the CG personally consuming in the amount of preparation required and the commitment he made to being attentive to his students. This commitment meant he wrote notes about every student, reading and making comments about their blogs which the students used as reflective tools to support their learning. He also ensured that to continue building trust with the students that he was honest with them and answered all their questions about himself.
He reached agreement with the students that the lecture was his time with them and that they then had the freedom to conduct the weekly workshops. In his lectures he shared practical approaches and tools for thinking with his students as well as preparing what he hoped would be memorable events with extensive handouts and resources to inspire their learning. He also maintained his own blog which became another highly developed intellectual tool of communication with students in the course.
He established processes of peer review so students could comment on each other’s contribution in the course with an emphasis on personal development and risk taking behaviours without focusing on judgment and criticism. He also gave them individual feedback about their progress, being careful to not give too much and hence encourage potential cue-seeking behaviours.
He introduced the learning contract to remove the stresses associated with trying to achieve high marks. Each student agreed upon and their individual grade at the beginning of the semester and was then able to manage their own learning and life commitments accordingly. If students chose to aim for a Pass, they could expect to achieve ‘rite of passage’ outcomes without too much sacrifice, whereas if students chose an HD goal, they could expect to be learning and developing intensely but with little room for much else in their lives.
The teacher designed the course around the theme of a game and exploring ideas. Students were given ‘conditions’ to maintain each week which included a set dress code. Games and films were the key resources for inspiring learning. He provided guidelines for discussion groups based on principles of respect, value and dignity. His blog for the course was designed like a theatre with actors and personas taking roles to express various issues and reveal implicit dynamics within the course.
He modelled ways for the students to express themselves, helping them to discuss intellectual and creative ideas. He encouraged them to use their blogs as tools for self-talk and engaging in reflective processes.
The teacher was aware that not all students were passionate in the ways they embraced the opportunities to learn in the studio. He noted that those who chose not to engage so intensely or exuberantly in the discussions were often alienated or ostracized. Some students did not participate with blogs and on the basis of respecting difference he left them alone until about two thirds through the course and then attempted to draw them in by talking individually and gaining commitment to use the blogs.
He agreed that at the end of the course, he certainly did see many students transformed in their abilities to think and discuss ideas. These changes, even at mid-semester, were becoming obvious where he observed changes in the students’ abilities, evidenced by the depth of discussion they were able to have with staff at that time.