I have been fortunate to teach studio and lab-based courses in web design and interactive media for several years. The beginning of my working career coalesced with the growth of the World Wide Web, and I have spent the better part of two decades understanding the complex interrelations between humans, information and communication technologies, and media systems. When my students first begin to question how these systems are constructed, I am happy to greet them with questions and critical theories to help them understand the complexities while providing them resources for further exploration. And most importantly, I want them to play with technology and experience the joy and challenges inherent in creating digital media.
My career has provided me with many challenges and fantastic opportunities. I have taught media and telecommunications history and theory, web design, interactive design, and digital media production courses. Each classroom experience has shaped the way I prepare for courses, and I have become well-versed in pedagogical techniques for both classroom-based and online learning environments. No matter the goal of the course, a spirit of exploration and discovery guides the way I construct a classroom experience. As both a practitioner and a researcher, I attempt to imbue my courses with an emphasis on professional practice while grounding that practice in theories that aid students in discovering how social, economic, and technical systems emerge and shape our lives.
At the heart of my teaching philosophy is a desire to create a classroom environment where ideas take shape, and I make every attempt to extend learning possibilities beyond the classroom into local communities and into networked communications environments. My job is to place the students’ ideas into a larger context of social, political, technological, and economic systems.
On my most successful day, the classroom is alive with questions and contributions from the students. In the first few sessions, I introduce a conceptual framework for the course and guide students through the process of asking good questions and finding reliable resources to aid in their exploration of the topic. Once students can feel confident in their basic understanding of the subject at hand, I begin to see their minds open and their ideas emerge. Lively classroom conversations occur once students can trust that their opinions are valid, when they can ask questions without fear, and when the topics intersect with their current experience. I know I have been successful when the tone of the classroom shifts from monologue to dialogue.
In addition, I encourage students to extend their interactions with me beyond the classroom. I engage in a dialogue with students via email, particularly when office hours are not convenient. I ask students to email me throughout the week with their concerns and questions, and I utilize technologies like Google Hangout or Skype as a way to more fully answer a question or address a concern.
I enjoy the process of experimentation, particularly in technical courses and computer lab environments. Students have access to so many resources in a computer lab, and I attempt to take advantage of those resources in many ways. I offer tutorials and structured activities, but I also encourage learners to play around within a piece of software to make something they’ve never seen before. At times, I will assign in-class group research projects on topics like Internet history or Creative Commons, or I will ask students to be “fact checkers” as I explore a topic. I will invite students to submit technology tutorials so I can build those techniques into future demonstrations after properly vetting the resource’s reliability. In most production classes, I assign “beginner” and “advanced” exercises to allow novices to learn skills while allowing those with software experience to extend their skillset. In more traditional environments like lecture halls and classrooms, I leverage Blackboard as a way for students to enter into discussion groups or write weekly blog posts about our dynamic media environment.
The spirit of experimentation applies not only to student-centered work but also to my own classroom techniques. In a recent assignment, I introduced students to an interactive design technique called paper prototyping. I was nervous about introducing the process because I had never attempted the process with a group of students, but I felt confident that my experience and the students’ energy for mobile interactive design would lead to a successful experiment. Students formed small groups, conceptualized and designed the workflow for a mobile app, sketched screen designs and put together a sequence for user-based testing without using a computer. The project helped students focus on the proper sequence of each screen and the placement of each element on a screen to guide a user through an information-seeking process. As their instructor, I acted as client, art director, and confidant for the groups. The students came up with projects that surpassed my expectations, and they learned skills that will aid their transition to professional environments.
In studio and computer laboratory settings, I enjoy opportunities to provide one-on-one interaction and to work with students to solve design problems, explore new ideas, and suggest technical or research-based resources. In these moments, I find that the conversations lead to better outcomes. I enjoy meeting with students throughout the term to listen to their concerns, advise them on their academic ambitions, discuss their career goals, and ease their classroom anxieties. These conversations build confidence. The student finds confidence in their ability to speak about complex issues, and as they build trust in themselves, I can more readily offer them advice on their most vexing design or academic problems.
I teach because I enjoy the process of discovery. My success as an instructor is based upon the success of the students, and I find no greater joy than to see students discover their gifts and talents. I am proud to be part of my students’ professional development as they discover and find their own niche in this expansive world of communications and interactive media.