Compared to textbook-heavy coursework in the sciences and humanities, ID is much more about hands-on experience than absorbing required reading or lectures (though the latter are a key element of higher education in general). That can put the educator in a tough place: How do you guide students in a creative field that depends largely on a practitioner's own motivation? If pedagogy has been debated and refined since the Pre-Socratic era, so too has this subject has been popping up in our discussions boards since day one. Meanwhile, our own Allan Chochinov helpfully distilled his thoughts on the subject in 2006, and while we look forward to an update from him in the D-School Futures series, the forum community has a few suggestions of their own.
On the other hand, focusing on conceptual problem-solving at the expense of practical matters may be equally problematic. Encouraging students to let their imaginations run wild one thing, but real-world considerations are paramount. Product tank shares his thoughts:
Everything we did was very blue sky. When I then got into consultancy, I had no idea how to take a set of real components, (a PCB with various height components, a battery, switch and LED etc) and put a package around them that could be tooled, with draft, where to put bosses, addressing sink issues, what spark on a tool was, how two parts could be fixed together, etc. At that point everything I thought I'd learned in university—that was supposed to equip me for the real world—went out of the window as I had no idea if my good ideas could actually be made.
We'd always had the freedom to create designs that looked as good as possible without really considering whether they'd work. While some elements of blue sky concepts really helped me, with hindsight I would want much more of a balance between that and the real world. I would advocate running a project where you get students to design a product and then at the end tell them that steel prices have gone up and they have to take 40 percent out of the design (!) or the battery specs have changed and the battery has to now be a larger rectangle or the client wants their logo in the middle. In university it was all about the portfolio, but we were never taught that no matter how good you feel your design is, or how finished it may be, it has to meet a price point with components from various suppliers and—even after final presentation—may need to be radically changed.Professionalism (a.k.a. Getting Students to Meet You Halfway)
Sure, it might be ok to inhabit your finest sweatpants when you're burning the midnight oil before a big deadline, but there is nothing more off-putting than a beautiful piece of work presented by a schmuck in a coffee-stained hoodie and plaster-dusted pants. Composure (and hygiene) si a given, but professionalism comprises much more than that. A discussion on the forums aptly titled "Student Professionalism" explores the ways a teacher can help instill better methods of presentation in their students.
In terms of being timely, it's tough enough getting your students in their seats by the time class starts—getting them there early to set up? Pssssh. But considering that higher education is something they are paying for in some shape or form, Sain has some advice for students: "Be on time. This means not showing up to class before 9am, but being ready for class to start at 9am. Deliverables are hung on the wall before the teacher gets there. Not during the first 20 minutes of class. It's a waste of class time." Do the math and figure out the dollar amount of each minute they wasting—a valuable bit of perspective for any academic setting.
Another peeve that sent educators into a tizzy was the students' inability to name files in a consistent manner. Students, for your sake, give your teachers a break. Rkuchinsky spells it out: "Your work should be organized and formatted in a logical way. This includes filenames, board formats and layouts. It is suggested to follow a file naming/versioning system such as: firstinitiallastname_course_project_phase_version#.extension." That's one that'll come in handy later in life when students take on multiple freelance gigs or clients.
Perhaps even more important is instilling a sense of proper e-mail etiquette. Rkuchinsky has more words on that: "Email, written correspondence and text in your projects should be at a professional level," he says. "Check for spelling and grammatical errors. Don't write something you wouldn't send your boss or client. It is always better to be in communication than not. If there is an unexpected delay or unplanned event it is better to give a heads up in advance than an excuse later." It sounds like common sense, but with "text speak" taking the wheel in many digital conversations, it's might be worth getting the message (about electronic messages) across on day one.
Give Grad Students a Push
Allan mentioned it in his original article, and after posting a teaser to the full write-up in the forums, the sentiment took on a life of its own. Sure, grad students usually have some real-life experience under their belts, but should that afford a level of freedom that undergrads don't have? Moderator Yo shares his own experiences: "I found the harder I pushed grad students, the more they respected the fact they were getting their money's worth (since they paid themselves). They also really had that 'FEAR' of screwing up and looking stupid in front of their younger classmates..."
Another thought was to adapt your teaching style when it comes to adult learners and let them do a bit of the teaching. According to dnp607:
The key is that adult students need to teach each others more than to be talked at by an instructor. An instructor's job is to set the guidelines, build the dynamic of the group and then let the individual test their own preconceived notions by taking on some of the teaching! Grad school is not merely a way to get 'more knowledge' on the same subject, it's a transition into learning how to teach others what you have locked in your head. Grad students are typically ready to be heard, and it's that same level of wisdom that can contribute most to their learning.
Bad Teacher: How to Deal as a Student
As much as we'd like for all educators to follow the guidance of our forum members, it doesn't always happen, for one reason or another. Forum member erikb81 looked to the discussion boards when he found himself stuck with a lackluster professor. Every day in class he faced negative responses to his questions, a teacher unwilling to facilitate crits and provide feedback, while showing up to his own class late and unprepared. What's a student to do? One piece of advice may have been to leave it be and claim it as "real-world experience," many other commenters had advice of their own when it comes to the educators we pay to teach us the ins and outs. A user named Lexicon broke it down for readers:
1. If you feel comfortable, make an appt to meet with the prof and explain your concerns. Try to be constructive, try to be explicit, give him/her the benefit of the doubt going in, explain why you believe it matters. If you aren't comfortable or worry about retribution in some way, maybe not an option. But I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.
2. If above can't be done or its unsuccessful, go to the dept head. Especially with a group of students with a spokesperson. Explain your concerns. Be constructive and ask for something explicit. Think of yourself as a professional, not a student, going in and behave accordingly. You'll get more credibility and be more likely to evoke change.
3. If above fails, go to the Dean. Repeat 2 with the Dean.
4. If none of the above works, suck it up, get whatever you can out of it, and be thankful its just one course in one term. Life isn't always fair, at school or at work. And if you have the opportunity, nail him/her on their evaluations if you get to fill them out.
There are a ton of ways to avoid being this kind of teacher. The easiest? Hop to our forums, check out the thread on "Advice for Teacher – What to Teach?" and read up on what the students (and fellow educators) are saying.