Jenna Spevack

NYC College of Technology, CUNY

WAC Writing Intensive Certification Portfolio

Reflection

Recently I was visiting with a group of Communication Design students who were lamenting about having to take a writing-intensive course. They asked, “Why do we need to take all these writing-intensive courses, Professor? We’re visual designers.” When asked this question, my immediate answer is always “writing is a design skill.”

A designer will regularly communicate with clients or collaborators who are not designers. They will need to explain why they have made certain design choices and explain complex visual scenarios. Writing helps visual designers communicate and articulate their ideas. Before sitting down to formulate a visual solution, a designer will need to research, organize, and synthesize written information and data. Reading, writing, and critical thinking are integral to the design process.

In writing-intensive courses, whether taken as part of the Communication Design Department or General Education curriculum, students practice skills to find, evaluate, organize and communicate information. Even if they are not excited about the topic, they will gain experience in the practice and process of creative design thinking. I remind students that as designers, they will work for all types of clients, from banks to boba tea and everything in between. It’s not the subject but rather the process of finding a creative solution that is exciting. Writing is part of that process.


For the WAC Faculty WI Certification, I revised the syllabus and improved scaffolded assignments for COMD3504 Communication Design Theory. I also participated in the OER Fellowship, where I refined my openly available and clonable COMD3504 Model Course and Communication Design Theory OER, which provides faculty with a detailed course structure and assignments to improve curriculum consistency across sections.

Revising the low-stakes writing assignments (Discussions and Reading Responses) and the formal Research Paper on the Model Course site helped me rethink and refine how these learning exercises scaffold to meet the course learning objectives.


I initially developed COMD3504 to address several learning objectives missing from the curriculum and provide students with additional experience in reading, writing, and critical thinking.

  • To think critically, to distinguish between fact and opinion in the analysis of different kinds of design.
  • To evaluate critical and historical materials for the study of design and to construct a coherent and substantiated argument, written in clear and correct prose.
  • To develop communication skills and demonstrate the ability to reflect critically on the learning process.
  • To develop a historical appreciation of communication design, including designers, technologies, media, processes, creative expression, challenges, effects, and significance.
  • To acquire an understanding of different forms, traditions, processes, and styles of communication design in various national and international contexts.

Between 55-70% of the coursework uses written assignments to meet the learning objectives.

  • Informal writing exercises are used to research, evaluate, organize and communicate.
  • Students submit critical analyses to design projects and readings via weekly blog posts.
  • Students articulate thoughtful responses to critical readings or media during online written discussions.
  • Students use Hypothesis to annotate difficult readings collaboratively.
  • Using reflective writing in their design journals, students articulate their knowledge and opinion of design styles, movements, and history.
  • Informal writing assignments are scaffolded and lead to two formal research papers and a final Research Presentation in which students identify primary and secondary sources using MLA formatted citations.

Student writing is assessed with an eye toward self-expression and clarity. In written discussion and reading responses, I encourage students to use whatever written communication skills they have to express their critical ideas about design history through social issues, politics, ethnicity, psychology, personal experience, etc. Because the content of the course is often theoretical and written for a narrow audience, I work with students to communicate in clear, well-structured, and easy-to-understand language. Having the ability and courage to write from your heart and express your spirit and personality is also important. This combined practice gives students the confidence to apply these skills to their design projects.

I am currently exploring other approaches to assessment in COMD3504, including “ungrading” and “contract grading.” I encourage students to submit a finished draft for feedback and then revise until they are satisfied with the final work. The work is not graded but is marked completed after a couple of rounds of feedback and revision or when the student feels they have met the assignment guidelines. I’m also interested in encouraging students to write with the goal of submitting work to City Tech Writer or for inclusion in student-curated essay collections. I’m looking forward to experimenting with other ways to encourage students to showcase their written work.


The WAC Writing Intensive Certification was a welcome addition to a busy semester. The experience of working with WAC Fellow Weiheng Sun was the most valuable part of the WI certification process. Weiheng provided practical suggestions for improving writing assignments that I’ve been struggling with for years. I also enjoyed the workshops but often felt the delivery of the content was not tailored to the audience. Many of the participating faculty teach and practice in STEM or STEAM fields. In some workshops I felt there was too much information presented and not enough time to digest the content. I would suggest smaller breakout rooms led by WAC Fellows to help faculty discuss and work through the content, rather than having an open-ended shareout with the entire group. Overall, an excellent experience. Thank you!


Portfolio

COMD3504 Communication Design Theory Syllabus and Schedule

Informal writing assignments that lead to a formal writing assignment.

A copy of one formal writing assignment sheet, including a rubric explaining how student writing will be evaluated.

Communication Design Theory OER

The City Tech Library supports faculty to replace textbooks with no-cost open/alternative course materials through a faculty development program called the Open Educational Resources (OER) Fellowship.

I participated in the OER Fellowship in Spring 2019 and developed a Communication Design Theory OER for use by faculty teaching Communication Design Theory COMD 3504.

Communication Design Theory OER image
https://openlab.citytech.cuny.edu/groups/communication-design-theory-oer/

Cumulative Self Evaluation

First Year Learning Community at The Cooper Hewitt

First Year Learning Community at The Cooper Hewitt

“Community Collaboration”

Teaching

Course Improvements and Coordination:

Over the last five years, as more of my workload hours at City Tech have shifted from Teaching to Service, I have had the opportunity to focus on what is most essential in my work with students. I feel fortunate to have been able to devote my time and energy to the development and coordination of one course, Graphic Design Principles 1. This course, a first semester required course for all COMD majors, serves as a critical foundation for incoming freshman. As Course Coordinator, I have worked with part-time faculty to develop a framework that better connects the course content to its counterpart in the second semester, Graphic Design Principles 2, and to create unified learning outcomes, specifically with regard to a shared design vocabulary and design process.

Additionally, I developed a series of digital projects to help faculty integrate the use of digital tools. Several faculty members have been teaching the course for decades and had focused on the use of traditional, hand methods. This transition was a challenge for many, but all faculty have now incorporated several digital projects into their course sections. I supported faculty through this transition with workshops, individual tutorials, use of our OpenLab Course Coordination project, and by encouraging the incorporation of OpenLab student ePortfolios into the course learning outcomes.

Learning Communities:

In Fall 2013 I began collaborating with Professor Jody Rosen, English on our Learning Community, “Ways of Seeing: Adventures with Image & Text.” This Learning Community for COMD students taking COMD1100 & ENG1101 includes field trips, hands-on projects, and cross-sensory experiences to help students discover and express their creative vision and supports their first year learning experience.

As our Learning Community has evolved we have explored cooperative (small-group) learning, alternative assessments using peer critiques through blogging and commenting on our shared OpenLab Course Site, low-stakes writing assignments, field trips, shared assignments, and critical thinking activities.

Our 2015 semester-long, cross-disciplinary student project “A Humument,” which was based on artist, Tom Phillips’s altered text, culminated in an exhibition at the Ursula C. Schwerin Library and also a student research poster at the City Tech Student Research Poster Presentation. Both were well received and gave first semester students the unique opportunity to showcase their creative writing and visual design to the college community.

CUNY BA Mentorship:

As a CUNY BA mentor, I have worked with twelve students (six in the last five years) to guide them with the development of their own curricula, tailored to their career goals and interests. I am currently mentoring Shofiyaa Abdul Samad and Sara Solomon. Both students are working toward their CUNY BA degrees for anticipated graduation in 2018. Being a CUNY BA mentor is a volunteer position, but it has helped me to look at my teaching in a different light. My CUNY BA mentees are often self-driven, independent, mature students. By comparison, the freshmen I teach are at a very different point in their education, requiring academic and emotional support at a much more basic level. I find this diversity of experiences invigorating, and it has pushed me to grow as an educator to meet the needs of all my students. I love the contrast and enjoy the intellectually stimulating conversations I share with my CUNY BA students as we work together to navigate their curricular and professional paths.

Online Teaching Resource & Portfolio:

When I built the initial iteration of my online teaching resource profspevack.com during my first year at City Tech, the concept of open access to educational resources was not widely accepted among my colleagues. As a teaching resource, my site has provided a way to document and reflect on my activities over the years, but it has also been of benefit to other faculty who work on related courses and initiatives. My teaching materials have been open and available for all to use for over fifteen years. Faculty from City Tech and other colleges have used my site and its contents for their courses. On many occasions, I have had the opportunity to help new faculty avoid the “trial by fire” that I experienced in my first year of teaching by sharing my course content and giving them a structure to build upon.

Profspevack.com has grown and evolved, archiving over a decade of my teaching sites, housing my teaching portfolio, and more recently a blog, which I have used to document and share certain scholarly activities and observations. My teaching portfolio is used as an example for faculty on the City Tech Faculty Commons website and in professional development workshops. As an early adopter, I am pleased to now see a growing number of faculty build and share their course content and teaching experiences with the College community. Continue reading

A Brief History of Failure

The road to innovation is paved with failed designs.

Sterling Engine is being revived and tied to solar panels to power a small business or a rural village.

What follows is — depending on how you want to think about it — either a gallery of technologies we lost or an invitation to consider alternate futures. Some of what might have been is fantastical: a subway powered by air, an engine run off the heat of your palm. Some of what we lost, on the other hand, is more subtle, like a better way to bowl or type. As new standards emerge, variety fades, and a single technology becomes entrenched. (That’s why the inefficient Qwerty keyboard has proved so difficult to unseat.)

We can take heart, however, in the fact that good ideas never disappear forever; the Stirling engine didn’t pan out in the Industrial Revolution, for example, but it can keep the lights on for a small village. As you look through the images, then, please consider not only what might have been but what could still be again. — RYAN BRADLEY

A Brief History of Failure | New York Times Magazine

Drawing needs to be a curriculum essential

Drawing has creative, expressive and educational value; it remains fundamental to translating and analysing the world– Anita Taylor

“Drawing remains a central and pivotal activity to the work of many artists and designers – a touchstone and tool of creative exploration that informs visual discovery. It fundamentally enables the visualisation and development of perceptions and ideas. With a history as long and intensive as the history of our culture, the act of drawing remains a fundamental means to translate, document, record and analyse the worlds we inhabit. The role of drawing in education remains critical, and not just to the creative disciplines in art and design for which it is foundational.”

“As a primary visual language, essential for communication and expression, drawing is as important as the development of written and verbal skills. The need to understand the world through visual means would seem more acute than ever; images transcend the barriers of language, and enhance communications in an increasingly globalised world.”

“If we really want to move the STEM to STEAM agenda, drawing could be the connector at the heart of it all.”

From theguardian.com “Why drawing needs to be a curriculum essential” Anita Taylor, 29 May 2014 : http://www.theguardian.com/culture-professionals-network/culture-professionals-blog/2014/may/29/drawing-needs-to-be-curriculum-essential-education

Not STEM, STEAM

Science Wonder Art ven diagram

The Imaginary Foundation

“The neurobiologist Antonio Damasio has written about Descartes’ error that, to put it in shorthand, “I think therefore I am.” Damasio instead makes the compelling argument, empirically based in neurology, that feeling and emotions as expressed in art and music play a central role in high-level cognitive reasoning….. much of the focus in education these days from Singapore to Shanghai to American schools is on STEM — science, technology, engineering and math. As important as that is, it is short-sighted. We need to add the empathetic reasoning of the arts to the mix — STEAM. The values behind arts integration — collaboration, flexible thinking and disciplined imagination — lead to the capacity to innovate.” Behind The Cello, Yo-Yo Ma – adapted from a conversation with WorldPost 

Link Between Art, Perception, and the Self

Lithograph of the brain (via Wellcome Library)

Lithograph of the brain (via Wellcome Library)

“When you look at a painting and feel that somehow it was made just for a person like you, it might actually be true. New neuroscience research shows that deep feeling of personal resonance from some works of art is linked to your brain’s sense of self.” Neuroaesthetic Research Probes Link Between Art, Perception, and the Self by Allison Meier

“‘…certain artworks, albeit unfamiliar, may be so well-matched to an individual’s unique makeup that they obtain access to the neural substrates concerned with the self—access which other external stimuli normally do not get. This mediates a sense of being “moved,” or “touched from within.’ This account is consistent with the modern notion that individuals’ taste in art is linked with their sense of identity, and suggests that DMN activity may serve to signal “self-relevance” in a broader sense than has been thought so far.” Art reaches within: aesthetic experience, the self and the default mode network by Edward A. Vessel, G. Gabrielle Starr and Nava Rubin

Open Pedagogies on the OpenLab – Poster Session

11th Annual Poster Session of Faculty and Student Research, City Tech
“Open Pedagogies on the OpenLab” November 21, 2013

The Annual City Tech Poster Session exhibits the research of faculty and students. On behalf of the OpenLab we presented the OpenLab poster to students, faculty and staff.

Open Pedagogies on the OpenLab

  • Jody Rosen, English Department
  • Jenna Spevack, Department of Advertising Design and Graphic Arts
  • Charlie Edwards, Project Manager
  • Maura A. Smale, Libary

Since Fall 2011 City Tech’s OpenLab has grown into a vibrant community of over 8,000 students, faculty, and staff using the platform for teaching, learning, and collaboration. Many faculty members have created assignments that take full advantage of this open digital platform to increase student engagement. We will report on compelling pedagogies on the OpenLab from a variety of disciplines.

PDF Program – pg25

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