my teaching philosophy

My approach to teaching is exemplified through concepts on tacit knowledge found in the work of Donald Schön (1983), including the complementary processes of reflection-in-action and reflection-on-action. I believe much of modern education is characterized by what Rittel & Webber (1973) term “wicked,” ill-defined problems—where multiple endpoints may be equally valid, problems are essentially unique, and problem formation and scoping is highly difficult or impossible within a traditional rationalist mode. While characterizing much of higher education learning as a potential “wicked” problem may seem like an insurmountable hurdle, the thrust of Schön’s pedagogy—and my own—works to embrace this indeterminacy, focusing the student’s attention on how the instructor models inquiry-in-action to begin their own process of reflection.

I model this behavior in online and face-to-face contexts, and in formal and informal learning scenarios, emphasizing the need for individual engagement and the application of learning tasks to real-world contexts and problems. Learning isolated facts in the classroom is easy, but engaging in real-world problems with no easy solution—or any solution at all—is challenging, and brings the student to a space where they are co-designers along with their peers and the instructor.

Reflection in this situated sense starts with the professor. If I expect for students to reflect in an active way to increase their expertise as designers in the studio and classroom (Schön, 1983), I must employ techniques of reflection-in-action as a core part of my identity as a designer and instructor. I encourage reflection using a variety of means, both through externalizing design decisions in the moment of creative activity, and through formal reflection in multiple modalities (Gray & Siegel, 2014). Ultimately, my own sense of reflection comes from an ongoing experience of performing design work with authentic clients. I seek to continually build my expertise as a practitioner by engaging in authentic design practices, bringing these experiences back into the classroom in the form of active reflection, encouraging a dialogue about my design philosophy, and how my awareness of this philosophy affects and changes the way I practice (Nelson & Stolterman, 2012).

I believe in the power of an integrated student experience through the studio model of education, which has the potential to transcend physical spaces (Gray & Howard, 2013). The studio—broadly stated—should model a heightened reality of practice, encouraging students to develop in their core understanding of methods and processes. The studio should also play a role in developing the ”soft skills” of being a designer with team members in the context of authentic problems—moving beyond technical ability to the professional judgments that allow those abilities to be applied in a directed manner. In a wide range of designed experiences, student designers should engage in the realities of practice, preparing them for the jobs of today and the future. This challenge requires significant exploration of design theory and design projects, encouraging the development of a personal design philosophy through the act of designing that will guide the student into their future professional practice, preparing them to be a leader (Nelson & Stolterman, 2012) and competent professional.


Gray, C. M. & Howard, C. D. (2013). Expectations of reciprocity? An analysis of critique in Facebook posts by student designers. In Critique 2013: An International Conference Reflecting On Creative Practice in Art, Architecture, and Design (pp. 381-395). Adelaide, South Australia.

Gray, C. M. & Siegel, M. A. (2014). Sketching design thinking: Representations of design in education and practice. Design and Technology Education, 19(1), 48-61.

Nelson, H. G., & Stolterman, E. (2012). The design way: Intentional change in an unpredictable world (2nd ed.). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Rittel, H., & Webber, M. (1984). Planning problems are wicked problems. In N. Cross (Ed.), Developments in design methodology (pp. 135-44). Chichester, MA: John Wiley & Sons.

Schön, D. A. (1983). The reflective practitioner: How professionals think in action. New York, NY: Basic Books.