The History of Graphic Design has traditionally been a survey course from the Lascaux Paintings (15,000 BC) to present. For our students who are used to hands-on projects in studio courses, the lecture model has proved problematic. They become frustrated by the amount of information served to them without a sense of relevance to their own studio practice. Their frustration often turns to disengagement.
In order to address the trend of disengagement, I’m approaching the class from a collaborative learning model with some elements of inquiry-guided learning mixed in. The students will collect, analyze and connect historical artifacts across multiple contexts — design, society, culture and technology — surrounding four key design movements: German Renaissance, British Arts & Crafts, Bauhaus, The New York School. Asking students to generate, organize and visualize a collective knowledge base should aid in students taking ownership in their learning.
Design Narratives, the first project of the class, asks students to “look at four key design movements in history to discover how context plays a role in the creation and dissemination of design artifacts.” Students will create:
a database of historical materials surrounding each movement
mind maps that visualize the relationships between database entries
a remix that creates a connecting narrative across time
Students will be part of two groups for the project: a context group and a connections group. Context groups focus on one context for a movement — collecting deep knowledge. Connections groups will contain at least one person from each context who will serve as their content area’s expert. The core process repeats four times, once for each movement. The group members will stay the same all four times through the process. With a new movement, a context group will be assigned a different context so that everyone gets an opportunity to research all four contexts. In the connections group, each members’ context expertise will shift accordingly.
There are six steps for each movement.
As part of a context group:
Research. Do individual research related to your context.
Build. Add your materials to build the collective database.
Arrange. As a group, create a mind map that organizes the collected materials from your context area.
As part of the connections group:
Combine. Explain your context mind map to other group members. Look and listen for common themes.
Connect. Create a mind map visualizes the relationships between contexts.
Share. Present your connections mind map to the class. Justify the choices made in the chosen connections.
The repetitive nature of the project should allow students the ability to internalize the process of analyzing design’s relationship to other contexts. After having done this four times, students will then have to pose their own question, do additional research and create a design remix as a response. Tying threads through the movements should lead them into Project 2, which uses the same process but looks at design in the present. Not only will the context-based framework to analyze any historical work help them explore other points in history, but it easily transfers to the studio. Project 3 takes it one step further and projects the process out onto the future.
In order to test if the pedagogical experiment is working, I’ll use a combination of the student deliverables — database, visualizations and the remix — to report on the quality of the work based around the project objectives. I’ll also be looking at informal surveys of student’s historical perceptions prior to class and again at the end. Course evaluations will also be analyzed for relevant data.
The biggest challenge I’m facing is with student expectations. They come in with preconceived notions of how a history class functions, and the course itself has lots of baggage. By introducing a new model, I’ll need to clearly state the expectations carefully, but also be willing to be flexible if things are not working.
During the institute, I accomplished much. In the first week, I went through multiple iterations in defining (and simplifying) the learning objectives, contexts, historical movements and the technology to use. In the second week, I was able to write a first draft of the project sheet and create the form for database entry.
Even so, there is much to do. I still need to more clearly define the remix step and the grading mechanisms. I’ll be testing out the database entry and it’s tie in to timeline and mapping tools. Then I will need to provide some ground rules and research starting points for the context groups. I also need to identify who I might bring in as experts on meta topics such as writing narratives.
Overall, I feel like I’m in a good place on the project and have a plan to move forward on the additional tasks that need to be accomplished before the beginning of the fall semester.