Promoting an Active and Inclusive Learning Environment
When addressing multiple learning styles, experiential learning implicitly offers a variety of ways to present course material, an array of assignments, and multiple methods of assessing student learning. Methods that I combine include
- demonstrations (through material and visual examples)
- student presentation of the group and individual projects
- field visits
I facilitate lively and intellectually stimulating discussions among students, for as much as students learn from their instructor, they also learn from one another, and perhaps more-so by negotiating and synthesizing ideas. Education should be memorable, grounded in concrete examples, and when appropriate, education should be experiential.
Industry Collaborations in the Classroom
The ability to ‘think like a designer’ is best learned by experience. By including industry partnerships into an academic curriculum, we can encourage problem-solving skills. I aim to incorporate industry collaborations into my courses so that the transition from the academic environment to the apparel industry is smooth.
In my teaching, I encourage students to engage with the end-users for which they are designing to reduce prescriptive design. Experiential learning models (e.g. project based learning) enable collaborations where the needs of end-users can be worked into the framework of the class objectives.
Effective Design Problems
Particular to apparel design, the main framework that organizes this experience is the design problem, typically wrapped up into a singular project. This does not mean that I will rely on projects alone to carry all the educational experiences necessary to become fluent in design. Nor is it outside of limitations of scope and time, but the design problem is organized to ensure specific experiential outcomes. In my opinion, design problems simultaneously advance the student’s practical and theoretical training in the field.
One primary method that I focus on to provide experiences in the classroom is project-based learning. As students progress through project-based learning courses, they may be challenged with a variety of people and contexts. Because of this, sensitivity to diversity is inherently imbued in each project and overall in the classroom environment. Teaching in a project-based system is in itself is a form of research into the nature of design and product development.
Good teaching needs underpinning by research. Through my research, I show students how research-driven design can make lasting impacts in the apparel industry. Clearly, my research and teaching are intertwined as my research sets the stage in the classroom, and the stimulus of industry collaborations through coursework is a catalyst that provokes new research projects and connections.
Technology - The elephant in the room?
I characterize today’s students as efficient, self-confident, worldly, and curious multi-taskers. But students also have short attention spans and a need for instant gratification! I hate to blame it all on technology, but as we are evermore online, technology has a large contribution to the confidence, connectedness, and savviness of students today. This, in part, has affected student's learning styles.
One cultural difference between undergraduates and professors, that may be perceived as inattentiveness, is the misconception that students using technology in the classroom are not paying attention to the professor. YES, this can be true sometimes, but at times students are looking for supplementary information to support or clarify what is being taught in the classroom. I think we should try to embrace technology (as much as we can) in the classrooms – down to student's handheld devices as a way to engage them.
In speaking with current faculty about this issue, one professor uses the available (student) technology to her advantage. She asks students to fact check her, but acknowledges that it ‘can be tricky.’ Her intention is to acknowledge the student's technology, but she is directing the technology use toward a particular productive purpose.
I believe that the more we embrace ‘their’ technology, the more chance we have at connecting with students, which shows them that we care about the way they do things. And by embracing technology, we can do to to create a more engaging, attention capturing, and active learning environment.
Stephen Brookfield, a seminal researcher on teaching, is a champion of critical reflection. Critical reflection is necessary means to understand the dynamics between and within students/teachers, students/students, and teachers/administrator relationships. In understanding these relationships, we may addresses biases and assumptions we hold that have both positive and negative impacts on the learning environment.
It is important to be critically reflective of our teaching methods in the classroom. Through reflection, we can highlight any assumptions that may be negatively affecting student experiences. One classic example is ‘The Circle’ discussion method. Methods such as these are frequently used during discussions sessions with the intention of creating an atmosphere conducive to conversations. As Brookfield addresses, it can cater to students who are confident and loquacious, but also encourage irrelevant comments because of pressure to contribute to the ‘conversation.’
As a person who needs time for reflective analysis, I agree methods such as 'the circle' is more conducive and natural for conversations, but it must be made explicit that if students don’t have something to contribute, then they should not feel pressured to do so.
It is my professional development goal to be critical about each method used in the classroom. I will do this though informal course and teaching evaluations midway throughout the semester. Evaluations will provide me with student feedback that can modify the classroom dynamics and address any unknown assumptions on my part that may not be aiding in student learning experience.
To read more from Stephen Brookfield, click the button below.
Although I currently do not have any document of my teaching in the form of course evaluations, once my teaching starts to become evaluated, I will share them here.
Last Updated: 5/14/2014