the irony and the ecstasy

by urquiza!

teaching philosophy

the teaching

philosophy of

john tapia urquiza


student learning outcomes.

My goal is that students will be fearless in the situations they encounter. They will have the ability to solve the problem by asking the right questions of the obstacles before them. And, fearless in that they know themselves enough to approach what they want from life with the understanding of how to get it.

Seemingly a broad statement, but consider my teaching experience across many disciplines from photography and design, to branding and graphic production. Many students I find here are quite entrepreneurial and I hope that they leave with the keys to unlock the doors in their path.

The courses I have instructed breakdown into these three processes with many having related skill sets. The skills for these outcomes represent the central focus and are specific to each course, as well as serve as its assessment value.


a) (analytical)

data research and analysis, creative problem solving, strategic planning, knowledge based with multiple creative solutions, i.e. brand imaging, marketing, communication and design.

b) (creative)

visual problem solving, creative art based, ideation and communication with targeted conclusions and analytical processing, i.e. typography, graphic techniques, design one, layout and design, photography and mass communications.

c) (methodical)

systematic processes, linear thinking path, knowledge based with absolute conclusions, i.e. graphic production and sections of photography and typography, colour and design principles and software based courses.


I did not believe in the idea of teaching until I began teaching at the high school level. I still sincerely believe to an extent that students learn far less from the instructor than they do in their peer groups or on their own. Thus, I believe more in learning than actual teaching. Essentially the tactic is in creating barriers and obstacles for students, motivating them to rally around the issue, seed the circumstances with breadcrumbs to follow and provide the resources and support to overcome the obstacle. These obstacles may take many forms from a statement or position to a task that students will develop into an ownership of the knowledge and the achievement.


“Everybody says Urquiza’s class is hard,” first student. Second student, “I learned hella more in his class than…” Third student, “dude, uhm he’s right behind you…”

—conversation overheard in elevator



While the idea of the obstacle or challenge is somewhat provocative I use the fairly common information model below to assemble information around. One of my goals is to foster Socratic discussions with each step and set the foundations for self-organising peer groups. More importantly is how those peer groups form which is answered in every term, every class session and every moment in contact with students. Student populations are very diverse from cultural, demographic and psychographic point of view. It is really the first day introductions that are the most valuable. Understanding student’s backgrounds, goals and visions allow me to adjust my engagement, but also to guide them through the course goals. These alliances that form also serve as an input stream or resource for knowledge, as well as ideation and critical feedback. And, it serves the college brand as an experiential touch point!

An example of this can be found in a photography course. The assignment is to shoot an essay. In the beginning there is typical critique conversation of the individual images. The group is then asked to edit each student’s individual essays and share their logic as to why. What rises to the top is the application of everyone’s sometime partial knowledge and points of view forming the complete puzzle that all students share in. Camaraderie is formed when they see that they can meet or vanquish the obstacle as a group.


(information model)

1) input stream

• research contemporaries (individual)

• tools and terminology (lecture)

• text book theory (student)

• illustrated concepts



2) synthesis

• process

• dissecting the concepts or task

• students performance



3) critique

• production value

• process

• dissecting the concepts or task

• measuring effectiveness


4) sense and respond

• re-evaluate

• revise


reflection and assessment.

Assessing the effectiveness has several layers just as input streams. My rubric is limited to (3) categories in each course. It reflects the course goals, but skews towards the above-mentioned “analytical” “creative” and “methodical”. All assignments, development tasks, research projects and exams are indexed to fit within that system and represent a fairly equal percentage towards final assessment or grade.

Most importantly students must apply that knowledge in a capstone project that is a practical visual assignment or written paper which represents remaining 20-30% of a students assessment. However, no capstone project can evaluate a creative concept without understanding the process. Peers both informally and formally as well as myself evaluate projects at different stages of the process from research, sketches to comps and pre-presentation. In Mass Communications students present research and pitch rough ideas in a coffee shop to a table full of students. Some courses also allow for one-on-one critiques on occasion.

Self-assessment is implemented constantly in the teaching process. It is at its best an open two-way conduit between student and teacher. It is observation and questions: Are students being productive? What information is not making contact? And, what strategy can I use to make it stick? Do I need to find some help from another instructor? Is there a quorum of students participating in the conversation? What can I do to facilitate more? Does an underperforming student need extra input from me, tutoring, or counseling? Have I earned their trust enough to lead them into the next great obstacle? If I cannot raise the enthusiasm level in a session or if students are not diving into the next challenge then I know something needs to be adjusted.

Measuring my effectiveness beyond the course for me is equally important. One quarterly practise I do is to look for how students incorporate coursework into their final portfolio or progress portfolio. Because of my unique position with the alumni association I have also had a chance to recruit former students for projects. That process gave me a good sense of their professional development. Also for many years I maintained an e.mail newsletter that allowed me to keep in contact with students. Now with social media I estimate that 11-12% of the students that have passed through my door are still in contact. My first question I ask when they find me is, “so where are you working, what are you doing now?!” This is by no means a quantitative study, but students have shared their success with me from becoming teachers themselves, to art directors, to production managers, to owners of a creative business, to brand mangers, to fine artists. The common thread is they are fearless and they have vision of where they want to be. Many have stories where they walked into their position knowing, thinking, “I can do that” and they did.


“I had to teach everybody the correct way to do pre-press where I work, thanks…”

— bryan arri, designer



Many students I have encountered want to create with their hands, their minds and generally seek a life more unique. In any course I might be leading including a branding or technical class I try to underscore an open creative source and work towards developing student’s individual vision. In some courses I have the luxury of a self-portrait assignment to exploit vision. It is a simple exercise to reflect and express simultaneously. While vision may waver on being subjective, production value is not. As individuals and peer groups it is encouraged to achieve these two goals. I am always wary of stifling students imagination or conforming to a dogma. I do not believe that I have all the answers, but it is after all about the questions we ask that drives our learning. I do believe in a great course we will discover and bask in the uniqueness of each other’s work, ideas or process together.


just when i thought you couldn’t be any more tougher on us, you pushed even more… that was great. don’t ever change.

— giovanni rodriguez, art director


visit link to portfolio of student work.


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