the irony and the ecstasy

by urquiza!

teaching statement

john urquiza

student learning outcomes.

One of the goals I try to design into courses and teaching moments is that students develop a fearlessness in the situations they encounter. They will have the ability to view the situation in a totality and solve the problem by asking the right questions of the obstacles before them.

My experiences traverse across many disciplines from photography and design, to branding and graphic production, but I have also learned in that process of interaction with students. They have an entrepreneurial spirit that drives them. Teaching becomes a duty to help students find the keys that unlocks the doors of fear and obstacles.

I have broken down my course specialties into these three processes with many having related skill sets. The skills for these outcomes represent the central focus, but can be unique and specific to each course. The also serve as a baseline rubric.

  1. a) (analytical)

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

  1. 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, branding and marketing.

  1. 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 teaching, but in learning. There are some levels of development that require teachers or figureheads. Students learn far less from an instructor than they do in their peer groups or on their own. The tactic is to create 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.




While the idea of the obstacle or challenge could be provocative I use the fairly common information model below to define the obstacle. Developing Socratic discussions around the obstacle set the foundations for self-organising peer groups. More importantly is how those peer groups are nurtured with every moment of contact. Understanding student’s aspirations allow me to adjust my engagement, but also to guide them through the course goals and resources. These team alliances that form also serve as an input stream or resources 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 and the value of collectivising knowledge is raised 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 to 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 instructor. 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. I have also had a chance to recruit former students for projects. That process gave me a good sense of their professional development long after the course.




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 facilitating 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.

portfolio of student works



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