Pedagogical Principles

Pedagogy refers to the means of instruction: how important themes are taught, how students assimilate essential beliefs and principles, and how faculty assess learning.

Design Education Beyond the Classroom

New designers often struggle with the messiness of design in the world, where the nice clean methods taught in the classroom need to be modified in the face of many competing constraints, stakeholder values, political views, and of course economic and time constraints.

The transition from school to work is an important pedagogical consideration. Design is a field of application to the world, yet students are usually taught idealized procedures that often must be skipped, modified, or otherwise transformed because of the practical constraints on time, resources, and complex factors outside the formal design process. Students need to understand the difference between classroom knowledge and how it is practiced. (Note that teaching idealized methods is proper: but students also need to learn how to deviate from the ideal state when this is required.)

Students can gain understanding of real-world practices and values through internships in industry, government agencies, or non-government organizations (NGOs), and by bringing outside speakers who work on applied problems into the classroom.

Social and Evaluative Pedagogical Practices

Classroom practices should foster social skills in a situated, problem-solving community. Work in studio environments supports a range of approaches and opinions through ongoing interaction with peers. Critiques are valuable, but have to be constructive and allow student reflection and response to feedback from peers, experts, and faculty.

The word “failure” should be replaced with the phrase “learning opportunity.” Quite often the best learning opportunity occurs when the student (or professional) has not succeeded or has encountered a stumbling block, a conceptual problem or knowledge deficit. This should always be treated as a positive situation (the person will likely think of it as negative), and working out the solution jointly is a powerful pedagogical tool.

Although teaching styles vary among faculty, instruction should favor coaching and safe opportunities for students to fail over an authoritarian approach that seeks “right answers” and “almost perfect” solutions. Effective pedagogies should emphasize helping students learn how to learn by themselves. Evaluation should emphasize and motivate learning by foregrounding goals rather than polished performance. Assessment should be thought of as a tool to enhance learning by showing where to support the learner.

Principles from Learning Science

Modern Learning Science has a number of simple but powerful principles for learning. Many recent theories in learning science argue against traditional structures. They call into question a fixed number of years in study with each year divided into semesters or quarters and each class assigned to a standard number of contact hours. Some programs experiment with mini-courses and accelerated learning sequences in which students progress through content at their own pace. Theories also challenge traditional methods for presenting material, including lecture as the most popular method of university instruction. Here are some examples of principles:

We hope to expand upon these and other principles of pedagogy in our essay series.


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