What is this?

Borne out of the trials and errors of teaching a Type 101 class to illustration students, this site compiles my attempts at making learning about Typography a fun, engaging experience as well as the resources that helped along the way.

Who is this for?

If you’ve been asked to introduce a room of reluctant victims to the wonderful world of Typography, then hopefully there’s something useful here for you. If you’ve been teaching (Typography or anything else) for a while and have some wisdom to share, then there’s definitely material here for you to critique and offer feedback on. This’ll always be a work in progress.

Why am I doing this?

This site started off as a way to keep my head organized as it was getting overwhelming wading through all the books, journals, websites and podcasts on both pedagogy and Typography. Since in all that research I still haven’t stumbled on one definitive guide to teaching Type, I thought I would share what I’ve found in hopes that it could help anyone else finding themselves in the same situation I was in a few years ago; thrown into the deep end of teaching a college level course with very little knowledge of how to teach.

What you’ll find if you click around are the various activities I subject my students to, along with my notes and occasional  images indicating what worked and what didn’t. Hopefully you’ll find something you could use in your own course, even if you’re not necessarily teaching typography. If you do find something useful or, even better, a way in which a particular project, exercise or lecture could be improved, please drop me a line and let me know.

Teaching Approach

I’ve found that the key to keeping students’ precious and fleeting attention during class is to have them involved as much as possible. Like many of the teaching insights I learned the hard way, it turns out there are some very smart people who’ve already written extensively on this, and they even have a term for it; it’s called Active Learning.

In the Sources page I’ve listed some materials  that outline the benefits of Active Learning better than I ever could, so check those out when you can and have your mind blown. But the crux of it is that they’ll learn better and retain more if they’re actively involved in the learning process. The famous quote you’ll see floating around AL circles is:

“Tell Me and I Forget; Teach Me and I May Remember; Involve Me and I Learn.” 

Attributed to Ben Franklin but there’s some contention about that

This approach takes on many forms in my class now ( read about some of the thinking behind this in my article for Faculty Focus) :

  • No traditional lectures where I just talk at them for an hour. I still call them lectures, just because I haven’t come up with a better word, but what the students end up doing more resembles in-class activities than sitting and listening. Jigsawing, Think-Pair-Share, Games, Crossword puzzles and a few custom made activities all come into play in what were previously dry snooze fests.

  • Break the talking up into 10 minute chunks then do an activity. When prepping for a class, if I find there’s a long stretch of me talking, I look for the 10 minute mark and then insert an activity. Anything, even if it’s just a simple “Stop. What did I just say?” type activity keeps the eyelids from drooping and has been shown to aid in retention.

  • Each project gets an appropriate in-class exercise to practice the skills needed for the project.

  • Critiques are part of the grade. As much as I drone on about how important crits are to learning any creative visual skill, there’s always a challenge encouraging that feedback from students. So I incentivize participation by making it a part of each project’s grade. Then I mix up the crit formats for each project so that all personality types can feel comfortable contributing feedback. (e.g. some people aren’t comfortable giving feedback out loud in front of the whole class so I use a few silent or small group formats to help with that).

  • Give plenty of chances to get an A. This has less  to do with Active Learning methods and more to do with a personal teaching philosophy. I don’t want students to lose hope about their all-mighty grade if they miss 1 or 2 grading opportunities (E.g. being sick on a day when we’re doing an in-class exercise.) So I baked in plenty of chances to affect their grade. 8 projects, 6 exercises, lecture research tasks, 2 quizzes, and a type journal to be exact.

  • Allow multiple resubmissions – This mirrors the real world where you never hit it out of the park the first time. Besides the crit’s would be useless if students couldn’t use that input to improve their work. So the chance to up their grade is an incentive to listen and apply what their peers are offering.

  • Give bonus assignments (or Side Quests as I affectionately call them) are small Type related missions selectively released throughout the semester. They’re mostly there so students can boost their grade or make up for a missed grading opportunity like a crit or in-class exercise. Intermittently II give them a sense of the Side Quest leaderboard to show that the points do matter and use  a lil’ friendly competition to motivate more participation. If you choose to adopt this expect a sudden burst of side quest activity near the end of the semester as students have a come-to-Buddha moment about their grade are frantically trying to fix it before it’s too late. To put another layer on the incentive cake, I let them know that the top 3 finishers on the leaderboard receive prizes at the end of the semester, usually in the form of gift cards. 

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