Welby Ings - Tertiary Teaching Excellence Teaching Profile
Teaching profile from Dr. Welby Ings (Associate Professor, School of Art and Design, AUT University) - a Prime Minister’s Supreme Award winner 2002
Associate professor, School of Art and Design, Auckland University of Technology
Welby Ings is a leading design educator with outstanding commitment, integrity, creativity and love for teaching. His commitment to excellence and his particular gift to communicate that commitment to those around him is held in the highest regard by both his students and colleagues. Welby's teaching is based on five basic principles - assessment, reflection, co operative planning and reflective appraisal, research, and passion. (The quality of Welby's teaching has been previously recognised. In 1999 he was a recipient of one of the AUT inaugural University Distinguished Teaching awards). Welby's engagement with reflective teaching is expressed in these closing remarks of his portfolio.
In my studio at home I have a wee quote by Oscar Wilde. It sits between photographs of students spanning 27 years of teaching. It is growing old now and the paper has begun to yellow a little. In times when teaching reform and experiment have met with opposition or misunderstanding, I have sat quietly in front of it. I think it is tied to a kind of vision based on glimpses of the extraordinary limits people can take themselves if they believe in themselves and feel supported. Wilde's quote acts as a kind of arm around my shoulder... A dreamer is one who can only find his way by the moonlight and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world.
This is not easy to write. I do not claim to walk on water or to carry some divine formula for effective teaching. A lot of the ideas below are not my own, I learned them across years of working with the young men and women in my classes.
As an educator I need to be constantly reminded of the frustration and exhilaration involved in breaking new, creative ground. As a result I continue to ‘make work'. This exercises my creative thinking and reinforces the empathy that feeds both the enthusiasm and commiseration that is part of supporting the growth of creative thinkers. It also keeps me current in terms of new media (both digital and malleable) and puts my work ‘out there' in front of students so that they can see the truthful position I adopt as an illustrator and designer without theoretical overtalk. The quality of this work therefore enables them to assess the pertinence of my advice in terms of their own journeys as visual communicators.
In essence there are the five basic positions from which my learning and teaching operates.
Assessment for Learning - not Assessment of Learning
The measure of performance is not the measure of learning. The idea is fundamentally flawed. Learning goes well beyond performance, it is an integrated and subtle transition, best truly measured by the learners themselves.
To this end and with the assistance of my students, I design assessment formats that generally provide three layers of reflection.
- A personal critique by the learner.
- A peer group critique of the work.
- A consideration and synthesis of both by the tutor.
Generally the students submit a critical evaluation of the process and outcomes of their work. They then become part of a group of peers who critically appraise other students' work in the class. Finally all of the student's work and assessment forms are left with the tutor to review and comment upon. These assessments are formative, carry no marks, but give a very full and analysed evaluation of work for the student's consideration.
Written feedback is always very extensive and personalised, and reflects back upon the student's personal evaluation of their work. This takes many hours of writing and is sometimes seen as a bit excessive by some of my colleagues. I find that students rarely get this kind of personalised, detailed consideration of their work in relation to their own vision of themselves and the result of this feedback is often more risk taking and commitment because students know how thoroughly their work will be considered. In general, I try to avoid marks or working for grades. While these eventually become a formality, they are very poor substitutes for assessment, no matter how many explanations of criteria you give.
Most assignments are accompanied by small group or individual tutorials that allow students to test ideas on somebody who will ask them questions to help clarify their thinking. This enables on-going evaluation rather than just a simple summative ‘prize giving' at the end of the assignment.
I try never to criticise.
This may seem a little unusual for someone who values critical thinking but it has been my experience that ‘constructive criticism' is a much over-rated phenomenon. It is the teacher giving advice rather than drawing out a critical analysis from the student. Often when we are criticised we magnanimously thank the critic but in our heart we think that they didn't understand. This idea is not my own. Dale Carnegie was writing about it in the '30s. Questioning rigorously and constantly reflecting back what has been said actually works. Generally when a piece of work is being assessed I ask the student, ‘What is effective and why?' and ‘If you had half the time again, what would you change and why?' This kind of questioning avoids both the self-flagellation response and waffling around in the ‘feel good' zone. The rigour of the questioning gives a clear insight into the nature of the student's critical analysis.
In the long run, it is this criticality that they will walk out of the education system with. Without it students will be constantly forced to seek external evaluation of what they create. In that position, students only take creative risks if they are told what they are allowed to do.
Co-operative Planning and Reflective Appraisal
The third principle behind my practice is based on co-operative planning and evaluation of the learning experience. Within the flexible guidelines of modules, courses are co-shaped. At the end of every module the students and I collectively redesign the programme for the next year, retaining aspects that have worked and modifying or deleting those that haven't. This has meant that we have modified time allocations and resources and developed a whole series of spiral curricula which gather skills and complexities as they wind through the year and develop expectations that constantly push standards to higher levels of rigor.
To enable this notion of collaboration, I utilise three kinds of appraisal system. The first type uses formal faculty appraisal forms. These target specific core student experiences like effectiveness of feedback, clarity of delivery and understanding. When using these forms, I talk with the group of students and explain why I am seeking feedback. Generally I use this appraisal system when I am analysing the outcomes of educational experiments. In 1998 and 1999, these experiments centred on methods of heightening sensory stimulation from visual texts. In 1996 and 1997, I used feedback to monitor student reaction to the establishment of the ‘professional state', a learning environment where formal structures around time management, deadline obligations, collaborative processing of ideas, assessment and clear communication mirrored current professional practice. A colleague facilitated the appraisal process and the feedback was debriefed in a joint analysis of the data.
Two other methods of teaching appraisal are also helpful. The first involves the use of peers who sit in on my lessons (in return for my doing the same). Generally these have been colleagues whose own practices I respect even if they are not similar to my own. In this area of evaluation I am particularly indebted to Peter Gilderdale and Lesley Kaiser.
This system of appraisal has allowed me to pick up on issues like questioning patterns, pace, clarity of answering and exploitation of resources. Discussions following these observed lessons are generally fairly involved and have given rise to changes like adjusting formats for aurally impaired students and the development of multi- layered image, sound and text resources.
The third appraisal method built on this notion of collaborative development of learning comes from close personal relationships. I find this the most effective method. I talk and listen a great deal to the people with whom I work. I try to be clear, not only about what we are learning and why, but also about how I am intending to facilitate the learning. I tell them the educational experiments I am seeking to trial. This means that very honest relationships and reflections on process emerge because the strategies are monitored and critiqued by both the learners and myself. As a result the learning becomes co-designed, rather than just the educational experiment of a lecturer. From lecture programmes to small group tutorials, the process has enabled an annual sifting of approaches so that all aspects of my teaching can be redesigned from the position of learner needs.
At postgraduate level, this approach has led to a system of ‘tailor-made' supervision styles that vary hugely in nature, from 10.00pm coffee sessions in the back of students' flats, to hours pouring over exegesis drafts with tape recorders and note pads in the corner of my office. From Saturday morning critiques in my home up in the bush to long afternoons close reading advertising campaigns on a studio floor with a video player and a frame pause handpiece.
For many student designers working at levels seven and eight, critical appraisal has to be carefully underpinned with support and reassurance. A personalised approach helps to return people to the ground on which they feel secure so that their thinking does not get hi-jacked by fashionable, ideology adopted because of failing confidence.
I take risks because I believe that learning is a passionate act. In the beige world of curriculum implementation it is too easy to become afraid of failing and for me that single fear gives birth to mediocrity. In the past I know that I have failed sometimes, but I am not ashamed of that because I know that I have learned from it. It has caused me to listen carefully to the students with whom I work and to develop learning and teaching strategies that enable us to reach well beyond preconceived horizons. I work to create richness and intensity in learning experiences which run the gamut from delivering lectures on the influence of the Vienna Secession, dressed as an Edwardian gentleman, to shampooing my hair with raw egg, dish washing detergent and polypropylene glycol to illustrate the concept of marketing identical product bases by the use of simulated constructions. I facilitate ethics workshops where people unwittingly expose the deceptions they create in games of chance and take students to retirement villages to contextualise and challenge the comfortable assumptions they hold as designers of information. I do this because I believe that knowledge is not the rational articulation of ideas; it is an emotional and reflective response and learning sourced in this has a more meaningful application.
My life is not divided into a public and a private zone. I help assess peoples' work and also go to their weddings. I eat tea with them and help them unpick the structures of their dissertations. To me these things are connected. I work intensively with small groups, helping them to critique each other's work in progress and I spend a lot of late nights in one-to-one tutorials.
Once, many years ago, one of my students gave me the works of Lao Tse to read.
In the book was written,
"The greatest teacher is he whose pupils say ‘I learned this myself'"
I aspire to this. I use it as the most critical measure of my teaching and yet, all too often, fail. For me there is a dangerous line between the inspirational educator and the performing God. Passion is useless if all it leads to is a love affair with a personality. Discipleship is a dangerous and seductive phenomenon; it strokes the ego of the charismatic but is ultimately hugely disempowering of the learner. I try hard to keep my ego out of my teaching and yet still make the learning experience passionate and exciting.
This is a hard thing to do. Even now I have to stand back and look critically at the way I construct learning systems. The commitment behind the practice is absolute, as is my joy and delight in teaching as an occupation.
It is an undertaking that I consider my life's ‘calling'.