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

May 9, 2018

The benefits of cooperative learning to students and teachers

When I first started teaching graphic design and computer programs, in the '90s, I would go into the room, do a presentation, give out handouts, show how to do things, write things on the board, show people where the stuff was in the book, and then I would spend hours in the labs re-explaining it to many people, moving from one student to another, and many students had to wait a long time because there was only one of me. And that's when I discovered cooperative learning, and it really worked for the classes that I was doing, which were always project-based.

Everything I taught was always open book, open notes, you could ask me, you could ask anyone, because that's how professionals work in the "real world". I wanted people to learn, not memorize. And so I asked people to find a "study buddy" (which was already happening). And since in most classes you're not supposed to ask anyone for the answers, this puzzled a lot of people. But when they did it, their learning experienced skyrocketed. I'd like to believe that I invented this, but of course I didn't. But I'm a big believer in it.

Before I started teaching, my background was in graphic design. I was essentially teaching a technical skill, so having me being locked up in academia for years would have made me useless. I used Photoshop every day, and lots of other Adobe programs, doing graphic design. It was my life, and I wanted to share it. And in my professional life I was never expected to have everything memorized, I always had reference books, and learned to use the help menu. I asked my coworkers stuff. When the internet was invented, I learned how to get answers there, and I still do that. I'm a cooperative learner.

For a lot of people, this type of learning makes no sense. I've known a lot of people who have only been asked to memorize things in school for a short period, take a written test, and then move on. With a software program, that's very wrong. I've been using Photoshop since it was invented, and I'm still learning stuff. If I can get people to realize that they'll never know everything about Photoshop, then they're on their way to understanding it.

Like I say, this worked well for the classes I did, which I designed as project-based. The students didn't do step-by-step tutorials, they didn't memorize stuff, they created artwork, such as vector art, or web sites. And I saw them learn in a way that still makes me smile to this day. They didn't need little pieces of paper with signatures to prove that they could do it, they really could do it, and the pros can see that.

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