On teaching philosophies… and education

I wrote this short essay for Professor James Gladman’s Motion Media Design Portfolio class in my last term at SCAD, roughly a year ago. I now feel like sharing it with you.

I started my MA at SCAD in fall 2008. I have had many different teachers, some left no mark, a couple I could have done without, a few made a difference.

Who were these? They were people who cared, who sought for a relationship with their students, even breaking through the screen barrier of online teaching. They were “interested”, they were more than “doing their job”.

I’ve taught a couple of classes myself – physically, not online – and I enjoyed it a lot (it is, in fact, something I’d like to pursue, though not as a full time option). It’s not a job you can do for mere pay (if you do it with passion you’ll be always underpaid, as you’ll put in much, much, more time than you’ll be paid for). There’s more to teaching than a paycheck, there’s an added plus: the opportunity to provide a piece of information, an added knowledge, an extra skill, the seed of a thought, that will initiate change in someone else’s life. How cool!

The list of people that have inspired me and changed me, in life, is not too long (but not short either) and to each of them will always go my gratitude. Here at SCAD, there’s one lady that has opened up my world in a way that has had a true great and practical impact in my life, and that’s professor Rebecca Hemstad.

Rebecca has done two marvelous things for me: the first one has been to find the way to get HTML and CSS coding across to me (I did try before, and darn… I always felt that something was simply eluding me). Through this, she’s allowed me to enter a world that I kept feeling rejected by.

The second, powerful, courageous and surely more taxing on her, was to set up a class totally different from the one scheduled (in web development changes happen over months, so things get obsolete in the blink of an eye…). The originally written course – I would say a couple of years old – was about flash programming and other pre-historic-web stuff, so Rebecca started out with asking us if we wanted to follow the stream or if we were interested in understanding the buzz word of the moment (this was spring 2012) which was “HTML5”.

And so we dug into that. She provided alternative readings and alternative assignments, and we actually learned the “hot” stuff, the stuff that was happening while we were studying it. We learned about responsive design and about the latest trends in CSS styling.

Did she follow Bloom’s taxonomy of educational objectives? I don’t know. What I know was that she guided a group of differently skilled people through the process of understanding and assimilating the language of coding. And the result was successful for everyone, as each student kept its own pace and was able to set sustainable goals for himself.

On my part, I learned to code, which I had been trying to do for a couple of years and was never able to grasp. And that changed me. Enlightened me. Gave me added skills and knowledge. And those are powerful tools to be equipped with.

Going beyond, pushing further, experimenting, interacting, thinking laterally and creatively: modern teaching requires new skills and an open mind and the will to try a different approach are key requirements for the teachers of tomorrow (well, of tonight, I’d say).