Patch 5: Reflective Commentary
As part of my ongoing development as a teacher in higher education, this commentary serves as a reflection on my teaching practices and the impact they have had on my students. Due to the creative nature of my discipline, I have always been conscious of how student engagement directly correlates with creative performance. Bored students cannot create meaningful designs. Therefore, motivating students has always been a challenge, and this was one area I was particularly pleased I could address. The theoretical literature surrounding the pedagogy of learning in higher education gave me a solid base from which to start implementing new approaches to teaching which have greatly improved my own performance and the overall effectiveness of my classes.
Patch 1: Lesson Plan
This patch gave me the opportunity to plan a lesson in much more detail than I had been accustomed to, and add some variety to my teaching strategies. In the past, I had used short lectures as the basis for group discussions followed by relevant practical exercises and technical workshops. This time I applied the concept of constructive alignment in combination with focused and well-written learning outcomes following Bloom’s taxonomy.
It was obvious that student engagement had increased as a result, as well as overall motivation and interest in the subject matter being taught, in this case, “Design Thinking” and the design process. By using an active learning approach, I found that students were more willing to discuss the implications of what they had learned than I had previously observed.
This approach also gave me a greater appreciation of lesson timings and the importance of selecting the correct methodologies and learning activities to meet the learning outcomes. Having clear learning objectives underpinning the lesson provided a more structured learning space with which to conduct the learning activities and focused assessment on the students learning needs.
With better organization and a clear lesson structure, I also felt more confident teaching the subject material. This is an area I will continue to build on in the future.
Patch 2: Threshold Concepts
Identifying threshold concepts within my own discipline was an extremely important step in further developing my teaching practice. Within my own discipline, the core concept of “design thinking” has always been a difficult area for students to grasp. It also connects ideas from other learning components, such as drawing and presentation skills, which allows students to make meaningful connections which are not only critical to their studies, but also for the rest of their professional careers.
The “troublesome” aspect of design thinking, as a threshold concept, particularly interests me in how students react to the idea that design is not just about creating outcomes using computer applications. In the past students have demonstrated discomfort and disappointment that meaningful design is born out of a process of research, experimentation and ultimately the varied exploration of different design solutions, often using nothing more than a sketchpad and one’s own critical observation. This analytic approach, focusing on the thoughts behind design, is often seen by the students as a waste of time, when what they really want to do is start designing on their computer, when in reality, it is the complete reverse as the computer ultimately limits the designer to their level of competence with a particular piece of software. A sketchpad, on the other hand, imposes no such limitations. This troublesome aspect of design thinking creates an opportunity to unleash its full potential as a threshold concept, notably its ability to create a ‘Eureka!’ moment, the cognitive shift in awareness, as well as an ontological one, which will move the student into unforeseen and heightened areas of creativity, originality and innovation which ultimately characterise mastery of the graphic design field. Within any creative field there should be points where students are confronted by troublesome knowledge and put into a state of liminality, otherwise, originality will be sacrificed for mimicry.
Being able to improve my teaching methods in this fundamental area of my discipline has been an incredibly positive experience in all aspects. My ultimate aspiration is to
Be able to effectively support my students so that they can approach problems and form solutions which are characteristic of their discipline. Otherwise, if they lack this identification with their subject field, they will be very unlikely to master it.
Moving forward I intend to identify more areas of the curriculum that students find troublesome. Giving the Level 5 and Level 6 students a short survey about which areas they found particularly difficult will enable me to target more threshold concepts within my discipline.
Patch 3: Effective Learning Resource
Although technology has always played a central role in my teaching strategies, after creating this learning resource it was obvious to me that I could increase the effectiveness of my teaching by applying some basic principles of good presentation design to aid learning.
The realization that I could use the presentation to link all the learning activities together gave me a much better lesson structure. Furthermore, in conjunction with constructive alignment and well-written learning outcomes, my presentation drastically increased the effectiveness of teaching a difficult threshold concept.
The next stage in my professional development will be to build on this framework by introducing more variety in the active learning techniques I use.
Patch 4: Guidance Notes – Teaching International Students for the First Time
This was a fascinating area for me as my classes are predominantly comprised of international students. Being able to understand the particular difficulties they face in a learning context has given me more insight into ways I can improve their learning experience by employing more inclusive teaching practices. For instance, group work has always been challenging and shifting the focus away from the final outcomes and towards the design process has had positive results by removing a point of contention. Paying more attention to the diversity of team dynamics and encouraging students to celebrate their cultural identity has also increased participation and cultural awareness.
Using the first lesson for group introductions, getting to know the students, managing expectations and assumptions, and discussing the ground rules is something that I have adopted as standard practice.
Patch 6: Teaching Observation and Practice
For my observed teaching I delivered my lesson plan from Patch 1 and used my learning resource from Patch 3. The teaching observation went smoothly as I had planned my lesson thoroughly with clear and simple learning objectives. This proved effective as the class was almost entirely comprised of international students who speak English as a second language.
After the presentation an open discussion was conducted in an enthusiastic manner, with a high level of interaction and participation. The discussion proved particularly interesting as the subject material had been identified as a threshold concept. During the open discussion the students had initial resistance to the core concepts which presented a challenge to their established view of what it means to be a graphic designer. Some students initially rejected the design process concepts in favour of a simpler and faster approach which they believed would yield the same results. The class was then shown a video documenting the design process used in a world class design agency. Some students were shocked by the amount of work involved and the rigorous process employed. The following activity involved the practical application of the design process in a real-world context whereby the students were given a short assignment to complete which focused on the design process not the final outcomes. Removing this final stage from the brief allowed the students to fully engage in the actual process itself without the distraction of producing any digital outcomes. This way the computer was only allowed to be used for research purposes and the group work that followed could be focused entirely on concept analysis and critical thinking. This was the first time that this Level 4 group such an activity, and the feedback I received at the end was positive.
Enhancing Learning and Teaching through Reflective Practice (MOD001545) has had a very positive effect on my ongoing development and teaching effectiveness. The application of the theories I have learnt has allowed me to improve the organization and structure of my classes, clarify the intended learning outcomes and improve student engagement and motivation. My Continued reflective practice will be an ongoing process and I have targeted some areas I wish to develop further such as a wider variety of active learning approaches and further development of course material and effective learning resources.