My teaching experience revolves around wearable electronics and several topics that live under that umbrella such as soft circuitry and e-textiles. The beauty of wearable electronics is that it calls for an interdisciplinary approach. It’s a blend of DC electrical circuit design, fashion and textile design, rapid prototyping, and interaction design. This fosters a rich opportunity for innovative and collaborative student design and learning opportunities.
My teaching philosophy can be boiled down to three statements:
+ Individualize a student’s learning experience
+ Experience the experimental with the practical
+ Embrace the Process
Individualize a Student’s Learning Experience
Whether I am teaching a short workshop or settling into a semester-long class, I find it’s important to get to know each student. To ask them what their background is and why they chose to take the class. This starts a dialogue between me and the student that I continue through the semester in hopes to create a safe and comfortable space for them to ask questions and converse with me in. This also allows me a chance to hear about what the student values which I feel is important to nurture and look at constructively throughout their classroom experience as something to guide their designs by.
In all classes, I take a hands-on and project-based approach. Part of my philosophy is to get students to play and build with materials as soon as possible. I go about this from a few different angles. One is a collection of prefabricated swatch examples I’ve put together over the years which after being introduced are left in the classroom for the semester as a reference. In addition, I give demos that are created and prioritized based on the interests of the students. This makes each class a little different and tailored to the students’ needs. Demos are either followed by a student build or a Q&A session to help cement the how and the why of the demoed technique or concept.
Providing guidelines for success also means allowing room for students to discover and make mistakes from which they learn from. Incorrect building techniques also show me what the students are not grasping conceptually. If I find that a student does not understand a concept I provide another demo then have them test their understanding of the concept through hands-on experimentation.
Experience the Experimental with the Practical
Students can change electrical resistance by stretching, squishing, and stroking hand-made sensors made of conductive and resistive fabrics. Basically, using gestures that you wouldn’t normally get to do with store-bought sensors made of plastic and metals. This opens the door to fun and experimental interfaces for creative expression and practical applications. I find music and sound as an output is fun, engaging, and creates a wonderful one to one relationship between the interaction and the output. Getting students’ hands on conductive materials that are connected to a noisy circuit which they can manipulate quickly is exciting for them and allows them to experience the changing electrical properties of the materials in a novel way.
I try to create a playful and fun environment in the classroom where exploration is encouraged. Questions such as “Do you think this will work?” is met with “Try it and see!”. With the play also comes reflection and critical thinking. While experimenting, I encourage students to document what does and what does not work and to continually evaluate the relevance and meaning of what they are creating.
In an innovative field that stands on the precipice of industrialization with potential mass adoption, there are plenty of problems still to be solved as the industry gets built from the ground up. Students are excited when they understand that they too are a contributing factor to this larger community. I myself have learned new ways on how to insulate conductive fabric and make hard to soft connections (two things still being perfected in the wearable electronics field) from my students and feel it valuable for them to engage and learn to skill share with the greater community.
I seek unique opportunities and partnerships that bring real-world and human-centered applications to the students. The satisfaction students feel while they are solving real problems in collaboration with people who need creative solutions affirms their role as a designer who makes meaningful designs. They also get the chance to listen and help form narratives around new technology and interfaces that are meant to but don’t always have a human-centric origin or narrative. I’ve found that making a connection between culture and practice is important for students to gain context and insight into the world around them. Students are always thrilled to know that the punch card system developed for automating weaving on the Jacquard loom was the first time data was stored in an industrialized piece of machine. And that it was subsequently used for storing and administering programs to computers.
Embrace the Process
Needing to speak and write about your work helps to understand it on a deeper level. Assigning students the task to document their work and process offers the opportunity of reflection and gets them in the habit of recording work they can revisit. This has come in the form of either writing an instructable on the popular show and tell platform Instructables.com or keeping a student documentation page.
To embrace the process also means to value each step during project design and development, whether it’s a step backward, to the side, or diagonally. It’s tough not to focus on the negative aspect of a failure. I like to introduce the concepts of modularity and to expect something not to work the first time. Once students understand that trial and error is part of the process they see a failure adds to their experience and is an opportunity to add to a troubleshooting checklist to reference when things go awry.
For me, teaching is an evolving and reflective process for myself and my teaching practice. I learn from my students, my colleagues, and the world around me. It’s one of the reasons I enjoy it so much and I look forward with excitement to what I will learn next.