This blog is about Graphic Design, Vector Art, and Cartoon Illustration

Teaching Graphic Design on three levels

When I started teaching Graphic Design at a private college, I remembered how difficult it was for me to stay interested in the classes back when I was in school. And in fact, how difficult it was for anyone, no matter what level they were at, to stay interested in a class, any class. And that's because there are three levels. If you're a good teacher you know that, and address the three levels, because if you don't, students will get bored and find ways to keep themselves entertained.

The most obvious level is people who have no idea what the subject is all about, and why they are even in the class. If you put me in a class for Introduction to Advanced Astrophysics, that would be me. I would have no idea what you were talking about, and I would have difficulty keeping myself from being bored to insanity for the duration of the class. If I had no choice other than to stay in a room with nothing to do, I'd probably start drawing cartoons, or passing notes around. This is a critical group to address, so I had what I called "First Level" things for them. That is, I would give them something to do (I did mostly lab classes) that would keep them entertained and occupied, and hopefully they would suddenly start to "get it".

The second level is the middle. The middle level is the smallest group, the ones who are in the right place and need exactly the material that is being presented. Of course, just having the correct assignment for that level is what they need. So it was important for me to know exactly what that level was, not too low for them, and not too high.

The third level is the top. These people are pretty much stuck in the same situation as the people at the bottom. They're bored, not because they're lost, but because they already know the stuff. I'd look out for them and they often got special assignments. They weren't just in class for a grade, they were building portfolios, with an eye to their professional future. They could do some amazing stuff, and I was never reluctant to ask them to do it. Grades didn't interest them, design did. I called them "Superstars" and would sometimes apologize that all I could give them was an "A".

I protected, and defended, all levels. As a continuing student myself, I appreciate teachers who don't ignore the three levels. In some of the classes that I've taken, I've been at the bottom, and have resented being ignored, as if I were already supposed to know this stuff. I'm in school, and that means that I don't know it - get me inspired! I do try to get people who are dazed and confused to understand and develop confidence, because people do learn, and I've seen people move up to Superstars.

I never talked about this, because I never wanted anyone to think that they had been shoved into a particular category. But I could tell where people were. The Superstars would be off and running, while the majority of the class sat wondering what "Adobe Illustrator" did. I would show lots of examples, I would encourage people to find out more for themselves. People can go from "dazed and confused" to Superstars. I know, because I did it myself.

At the top of this post: Example of Graphic Design. Level one - cartoon animals, Level 2 - juxtaposition of various elements (type, logo, illustration), Level 3 - Adobe Illustrator Vector Art.