The Independent Study program is a 4-week program in which students work on their portfolios, resumes, and career readiness after going through core design instruction and working on a collaborative project ("Labs.") I wanted to create an environment where students get presentation practice, feel comfortable talking about their projects, and work on their portfolios without feeling intimidated by the task. Independent Study, compared to other parts of the program, is fairly free-form and students have very few constraints as to how they want to spend their time.
One of the ways we make sure students interact with each other and build critical thinking skills is through weekly design critiques on their projects and portfolios. During design critiques, students bring their work into a casual environment prepared with some questions they'd like answered. In Independent Study, students work on different things depending on their priorities, so the critiques range from portfolios, to side projects.
Presentation skills are essential especially when designers are interviewing for a new role. To practice, I encourage students to present their work every Friday in sessions called Show and Tell. ("Friday presentations" sounded a little intimidating.)
One of the first assignments in Independent Study is to create a slide deck and present it in Show and Tell. Students get practice by presenting a project of their choice, receiving other students' feedback, getting inspiration from other presentations, and giving feedback.
After their presentations, I provide individualized feedback for each student as well as high-level feedback that applies broadly to student presentations. With this feedback, students have a choice to incorporate that feedback and present their project again.
We also hold a live whiteboard challenge once every month so that students can watch examples of presenting your work on the spot.
One of the gaps I noticed in Independent Study was that students lacked clarity when writing about their projects. I wanted to create a lesson to practice writing, but in a lightweight way—improving writing skills is a huge undertaking, and I didn't want to add more stress to the huge tasks at hand. The area I wanted to focus on was clarity.
Rather than going through every grammatical error possible, I wanted students to practice looking at dramatized versions of common mistakes and fixing sentences to be more clear. By practicing these skills in a fun and casual way, I hoped that they would find editing their own writing to be easier. In the future, I'd like to run this as a series where students can practice weekly or biweekly.
Creating holistic, meaningful relationships with each student is not a one-size-fits-all, scalable process, but it's hands-down my favorite part of my role. I try to talk to as many students as possible and make sure that I'm available and responsive to their concerns and questions.
I like connecting to students through individual 1-1s, but holding office hours a couple of times a week has become a space for students to ask questions about their work, vent about their frustrations, or giving each other cooking advice (by this, I mostly mean the students give me cooking advice).
These are just a few of the ways I think about engaging students while they're working on their portfolios! Some of the questions I'd like to continue working on are: