Gabe Tippery is an adjunct lecturer from OSU’s Design department, whose passion for strengthening teaching with technology dates back to his years here as a GTA. During spring semester, I had the opportunity to observe one of his classes and talk with him at length about some of the assignments he has used over the years to increase student engagement.
As a TA for Design 200, Gabe made blogging a primary component of the course to “give the students a formal place to encourage reflection and writing relating to the content.”* He went with a platform agnostic approach, allowing students to create blogs at sites of their choosing—with a few of his own recommendations for guidance. Using an RSS reader made it easy for him to follow all of the students at once, which was especially important since they were required to turn in all of their assignments through the blogs. The response from students was overwhelmingly positive:
“We didn’t have to waste any paper on a paragraph summarizing our books, and I could include pictures/video/etc really easily in my homework. I honestly wish all of my classes went to this blog format, it just makes things so much easier and more organized.”*
Using this medium to collect assignments allowed the students a more creative approach and some of them actually started vlogging—with Gabe’s approval—in lieu of writing reflection papers. Moving the interactions to a digital space also helped with engaging students who traditionally may not have been as inclined to speak up in class:
“I liked that [we] used blogs weekly. It made me feel like my voice was heard.”*
When the course was done, some students continued to use the blogs, which allowed Gabe to maintain contact with them and see their future progress.
For the past semester, Gabe has been teaching Design History to a class with 84 filled seats. In my experience, college history courses were comprised of four things: a lot of lecturing, a lot of reading, a little in-class discussion, and 2-3 papers to be turned in throughout the term. Larger class sizes make it difficult to move away from this model and even Gabe’s course uses lecture for a large chunk of the content delivery. What I found most interesting though, was how he was able to engage students in a large classroom through group projects and a unique attendance policy. The syllabus reads:
“Attendance is taken each class and represents 30% of the Final Course Grade. It is your responsibility to get any assignments or notes if you miss class. E-mail me if you will be missing class. No contact about missing class will be considered an unexcused absence. No exceptions!”
The rest of the course grades are split up between three group projects that build on each other to create a bound design history book for the final grade. While many groups use Adobe InDesign, they are not limited to any specific computer program. Gabe decided to make this assignment platform agnostic as well, because not all students have access to the same software. Grades are given as a group score and “based on good visual presentation and well researched and useful information on the chosen topics.”
When I observed his class toward the end of the semester, Gabe made a few announcements at the beginning, told them he would be around for questions and turned it over to the students to meet with their groups in the room or elsewhere. I was surprised to see that most of the students stuck around when they were not being required to, but one of the students I spoke with afterward explained it this way: “Even when we were not explicitly asking for his opinion or guidance he was great at overhearing our group discussions and chiming in with solutions that we had not considered on our own.” While many students see group work as a hassle, project based assignments are essential to design because it’s how design work is done the real world. “I personally learned a lot through the process about how to manage a large group project and how to use Adobe InDesign, and in the end we ended up with a final product that our team was really proud of” said Ryan Wells, a first year undergrad in the Interior Design program.
Hearing the various student responses, I was reminded of Jim Groom’s keynote at Innovate 2013. Giving students an opportunity to get involved in their own way and allowing them to try different approaches to the assignments really increased the level of engagement they felt, which in turn drove motivation. While Gabe’s platform agnostic approach worked for these classes, one frustration that he expressed was that while there have been university regulations to try to limit things like blogs, we have not provided a university sanctioned alternative. While Carmen and CarmenWiki can fulfill a few of these needs, they’re not the same thing. If schools like Mary Washington are providing each of their students with personal web space, maybe we could go halfway and give ours their own blogs?
More about Gabe, his teaching philosophy, and design work is available at gabetippery.com
*Tippery, Gabriel. “Learning to Be in the Digital Era: A Holistic Learning Framework for Design Education.” MA Thesis: 53-57. The Ohio State University, 2012. OhioLINK ETD Center. Web. 02 May, 2013. <http://rave.ohiolink.edu/etdc/view?acc_num=osu1343327316>.