by Marcia Pearl
As a first year Communication Design instructor in the Art and Music Department, I attended a Critical Thinking Seminar on Professional Development Day in October 2004. The seminar was very informative. It included a discussion on the cooperative learning model of instruction─the grouping of students, each with different levels of ability, into teams to achieve academic goals. Each member of a team was responsible not only for learning, but also for helping teammates learn, thereby fostering an atmosphere of achievement. According to the printed material distributed at the seminar, which I found to be of great interest, proponents of cooperative or collaborative learning exchange ideas within small groups. This exchange increases interest among participants and promotes critical thinking. The shared learning experience gives students an opportunity to engage in discussion and take responsibility for their own learning. Purportedly, research bears this out; students learn and retain more information when they work in teams comprised of their peers.
Prior to the seminar, I was somewhat familiar with the methods of cooperative learning. However, the discussion aroused by curiosity and I decided to test the validity of the cooperative learning instructional model for myself. The following week, I assigned the third class assignment in my ART 157 Introduction to Computer Graphics and ART 266 Digital Imaging classes─Tuskegee Airmen Poster Design Project. The first week of classes, I established that the students would engage in a team project during the course of the semester. A poster honoring the courageous achievement of the Airmen seemed suitable for such a design application. The idea for the theme of the project was conceived following a PGCC Book Bridge Project forum at which several of the Airmen were the guest speakers.
I had attended that forum with my Digital Imaging class. A student in that class, Pat Yinkey, suggested the idea of some sort of design project to honor the achievement and legacy of the courageous Airmen. After further class discussion, we decided on the poster for the project. Based on the cooperative learning instructional model, students organized into teams for the project. Each team was responsible for producing a poster design, the theme of which would be The Tuskegee Airmen. Each team member was designated a specific job, with authority and responsibility. Students were instructed to take into consideration each team memberís strengths and level of technical ability when deciding who would assume a particular role. The team roles and their respective responsibilities were as follows:
∑ Responsibility 1. Ensuring that all team members had what was needed to succeed in their specific jobs.
∑ Responsibility 2. Maintaining a production schedule, assigning deadlines, making sure those deadlines were met, and coming up with a practical plan B if and when deadlines were missed. The PD had the final san on deciding the tasks and deadlines, in consultation with the team.
∑ Responsibility 1. Managing the production of copy.
∑ Responsibility 2. Lead finding the questions that had to be answered.
∑ Responsibility 3. Locating the resources to answer those questions. They might be found in books or magazines, on the Web, and so on. This person was primarily responsible for all the text, words, and copy.
∑ Responsibility 1. Taking conceptual ideas and rendering them in illustrated form. This included layouts and comps and any illustrations that would effectively tell the story to the defined audience. This person had the final authority to decide on illustrations.
∑ Responsibility 1. Assembling the predetermined copy, illustrations, and composition into a digital document.
∑ Responsibility 2. The Document Creator communicated directly with the printer. This person set technical specifications for submissions of words and illustrations.
∑ Responsibility: This person had the responsibility of managing the design ideas and input of the WHOLE TEAM. This person had the power to make final design decisions.
The classes worked on the project for several weeks. Over the course of the assignment, I chose lessons to emphasize concepts of typography and poster construction. To my delight, I saw immediate indications of the effectiveness of cooperative learning. Several students mentioned to me that they found it helpful to review digital techniques and design concepts with fellow students. They seemed to begin to understand and readily apply the techniques successfully as the posters began to take shape.
The results were phenomenal. I am extremely proud of the studentsí success in achieving their respective team roles. They really performed beyond my expectations. Each of the posters is uniquely individual and incorporates many of the principles of design and typography that we discussed in class, and the technical executions are very impressive. I concluded that something could be said for this cooperative learning stuff. I have decided to adopt it as a vital component to my teaching methods. Subsequently, I mentioned the design project to Mary Brown, chair of the Book Bridge Priject. She was delighted with the idea. She visited the Digital Imaging class and viewed the work-in-progress on the poster designs. After the visit, she proposed to invite the students to present their designs to the Airmen at a scheduled Book Bridge in spring 2005.
The cooperative learning exercise turned into a real production. I have maintained contact with the students who worked on the project, and we are currently preparing to go to press. We are planning to outsource the production to a professional printer. The entire shared learning experience has been invaluable.
The Instructional Area Newsletter, Volume 20, No. 2