Goals & Approaches

Sharon’s Teaching Goals, Approaches and Accomplishments

In the creative process, thinking and making may typically be thought of as independent activities, mainly done in separate courses, and in sequence. I capitalize on the ideas and opportunities that thinking and making bring when done in tandem. In the variety of courses I teach, this process is the main thread throughout. My courses are typically divided into three phases. The first phase is primarily based on instinctual maneuvers, in making. Then students are directed to use analytical and research skills, alongside making skills, in the second and third phases.

In Phase 1: Discovery, students are encouraged to draw upon their instincts in creating work. They are given an assignment but are prescribed few parameters. They are given only the short-term objective, to avoid preconceived ideas. The parts of this phase are usually done in quick rounds, to make use of instinctual notions, because I find value in (seeming) randomness and chance occurrences. This phase enables students to uncover and give voice to their particular passions or interests, and it allows me to unveil and foster the individual sensibility of design that exists in all students.

In Phase 2: Analysis, Research and Expansion, students reflect on the work created in Phase 1. They analyze their decisions, select the main ideas and consistent methodologies and forms revealed in their work, find out more about these ideas, and expand their project by adding new design maneuvers.

In Phase 3: Final Exploration and Refinement, students edit and narrow ideas to the strongest concepts. Concluding choices are made, and design becomes finalized.

This process leads to a large body of work, which is needed in order to detect reoccurring ideas and forms. My courses are demanding in terms of output. Having accomplished a number of assignments throughout the semester, by the end, students become confident makers, as they have learned how to move forward using both their initial concepts and further research.

To supplement, I assign readings and sometimes screenings at the beginning of the semester and peppered throughout. Depending on the course and schedule, a field trip is ordinarily included, or students are directed to attend specific events. If the class is filled with students I have never met before, in the sophomore or junior level, I start out with icebreaker activities, to promote a relaxed atmosphere and community of sharing, in which everyone has the opportunity to interact with one another in a non-stressful, enjoyable way.

Work reviews are given often and on a regular basis, but criticism is never delivered without suggestions for pathways to improvement; students do not get mired in their current ideas and are advised on how to move forward at every step. Feedback is given on an individual basis as well as in a group setting. I provide feedback to as many students as possible in almost every class session. In addition, I commonly make myself available to meet with students outside of scheduled class time.

Feedback, when given in a group setting, is structured in a way in which every student is prompted to participate by speaking about their own work as well as the work of one or more of their classmates; they each get practice in speaking out loud, in gaining a vocabulary about design, and in spontaneously and verbally articulating their thoughts. Importantly, this sets up a form of peer review, which is vital in helping students to become more critical.

The effectiveness of these methods is evidenced by the number of recognitions that are continually awarded to the coursework of my students. I was selected for the Silver Circle Award (2015) by the UIC School of Design graduating class and was recognized for my teaching most recently by Graphis (2018). Though I am encouraged by the success of these outcomes, I regularly seek new projects and strategies through which to explore better ways of teaching.