May 20, 2013
Pixels and Tweed: Teaching Graphic Design in a Distance Education Classroom
Research Goals: Athabasca University, Distance Education EdD Program
Lisa Hammershaimb // January 15, 2013
I propose to study how graphic design distance education instructors best connect with their students to produce transformative learning experiences. The following represent specific questions I plan to address in my research:
- How do graphic design distance education instructors, many of whom have only been part of the traditional ground school learning model, successfully make the jump from being on-ground instructors to distance education instructors?
- Do graphic design distance education students, lacking the benefit of the physical presence of an instructor, learn differently from their on-ground peers? If so, what sort of pedagogical and curriculum changes must take place to address these differences?
- How can graphic design distance education instructors build genuine distance-transcending bonds with their students, creating safe environments and refining the unique creative vision of each student?
- What can we learn from graphic design distance education pedagogy that can be applied to the distance education teaching of other disciplines that traditionally are taught within a studio-based model?
Why study the best practices in the Graphic Design Distance Education Classroom?
Graphic design as a vocation lends itself to long-distance interaction. Distance education instructors, many of whom are experienced in geographically diverse client interactions, should be the leaders in distance education programs. Unfortunately, there has been very little research done on effective graphic design distance education practice, pedagogy, and instructor training in distance teaching methods; thus, many instructors are not adequately prepared to make the jump from an on-ground studio setting to a distance education classroom. Training instructors to engage more effectively with their students in a distance education setting has the potential to create profound outcomes in graphic design distance education and bring high-quality graphic design education to a whole segment of learners who could not otherwise actualize their design goals.
Through rigorous study of existing literature on instructor presence and connection in a distance education setting, paired with observations in both graphic design distance education and ground school settings, I will study and compare how graphic design distance education instructors and on-ground graphic design instructors connect with their students. I will then formulate best practices for how graphic design distance instructors can be better trained and graphic design curriculum can be better produced to bridge the distance gap.
My Distance Education Background
I have substantial experience on the student end of the graphic design distance education spectrum, having received my MFA in graphic design through the distance education division of the Academy of Art University, a large art school in California. While working on my MFA, I was engaged in a thesis project that allowed me to work one-to-one via video conferencing methods with my thesis advisers, as well as present both my midpoint and final thesis review via video. Though my topic was not related to distance education, the 18 months I spent working on my thesis gave me deep insight into how one communicates via distance methods with an advisor, conducts primary source research, and works independently with a larger-end goal in mind.
I am currently employed as both a department chair with the Graphic Design Distance Education Division of Stevens Henager College in Salt Lake City, Utah and as an adjunct graphic design instructor with The Art Institute Pittsburgh Online Division in Pittsburgh, Pennslyvania. In my current department chair position, I have led faculty training sessions on best practices in asynchronous discussion forums, conducted informal research through my own classes as to how my students best learn and retain information via synchronous live video lectures/asynchronous discussion formats, and written graphic design curriculum to make the learning experience more approachable to distance education students.
As an adjunct instructor, I have conducted informal research in my own classroom around personalizing and bringing the human element back to a completely asynchronous learning experience, developing a personal code of best practices even in the midst of large time-and-space lapses.
In both cases—though students have shown a sharp rise in overall satisfaction, feelings of connection, and ultimately successful completion in the courses I teach—I still see ways in which the curriculum, instructor training, and my teaching practice could be improved. My time in the Distance Education EdD program at Athabasca will give me a solid foundation upon which I can develop resources to improve both curriculum and instructor training and in turn, help others secure an even more successful distance education experience.