Technology: Beast, Burden, or Blessing?

Filed Under: Tools and Resources

...what might help in dealing with the problem of using software (i.e. Photoshop, Flash)? Should we teach it "outside" the class, i.e., done as workshops by techs, or as a totally separate "nuts and bolts" unit?

No matter the course or its content, students must learn how to master software on their own. This does not imply that no instruction should be given, but instead calls for a method of teaching students how to progress from the basics and into a life-longpathof teaching themselves about how technology can shape their solutions. Students find this challenging, and as an instructor I've found it equally difficult to instill self-reliance. From my experience, when it comes to learning software, there aretwotypes of students: self-reliant and instructor-dependent. The self-reliant student will dabble, toy, and experiment until they reach some level of mastery with Photoshop, iMovie, or the like. Both within and outside the classroom, they will becomenearlyas valuable as the instructor. Peers will rely on them for help. Oftentimes the instructor even looks to these masters for technical assistance; the self-reliant student is the model for a teacher's assistant, helping other students troubleshootduringclass.

On the other hand, instructor-dependent students feel the teacher must direct them in all methods and operations of software. And most instructors will take this responsibility seriously because they want to help the student solve the problem. However,thishurts the instructor-dependent student because they will constantly need the instructor for help, or look to their self-reliant peer(s) for solutions. Technology changes so frequently that they must learn to understand its nature and be able to copeasit evolves, or know where to look for answers. Unlike a pencil or brush, the Photoshop of today will not be the same years from now. At an early level of development, students must recognize this, and learn how to adapt to technology's dynamism. Tofacilitatethis, I recommend teaching computer media at a 100-level foundation. The Computer as Creative Media would introduce students to the fundamentals, history, and usage of hardware and software. The course would have one lecture per week on historicalandtechnical data, with breakout sessions for studio work or computer lab sessions. As an alternative, I would teach the course as a straight 100-level studio with exercises that move them through one piece of software to the next: Photoshop for bitmapandcontinuous-tone renderings, Freehand/Illustrator for adding bitmaps to vectors and objects, and Flash for combining the above with motion. Only after passing this class and a series of rigorous exams, would students then move into focused studies(suchas a concentration in design). These Media courses would serve as prerequisites for any program that uses technology-based media in order to instill a solid foundation and demonstrate the value of self-reliance.

The ideal design education should instill idea generation and form creation-strong conceptualization and craft skills. Will the student take one of those paths, or can they master both? Before taking said Media class, students should have a strong foundationinvisual literacy, communication studies, and visualization so they will use the computer as a production device rather than rely on it for answers. By showing them from the outset that the computer is nothing more than a tool-a vehicle that they mustusein conjunction with strong ideas/concepts-students will have a better long-term relationship when it comes to weaving their ideas into tight formal solutions.

About the Author:

Jason Tselentis is an educator, writer, and designer living in North Carolina. As Associate Professor at Winthrop University’s Department of Design, he teaches visual communication design, brand strategy and development, web design, and typography. Jason has volunteered as Development Director for the Charlotte AIGA and he has served on their Advisory Board since 2009 focusing on education and membership.

His writings about design and visual culture have appeared in Arcade, Eye, mental_floss, Open Manifesto, HOW, and Print magazines. He is a Print contributing editor. Jason has four books to his credit on design and typography principles, and design history.

From 2003-2009 he contributed to the award-winning design forum Speak Up as an author. He has blogged for RockPaperInk and AIGA, and writes for,, and