City Tech - NYC College of Technology, CUNY

Category: Institutional Service

OER Fellowship 2023-2024


Project Scope Abstract: I’m creating from scratch a collection of student writing and research presentations to be used as a supporting text in COMD3504 Communication Design Theory to help broaden the course readings to include a diversity of voices and perspectives. This collection will include research papers, essays, reading responses/reviews, manifestos, and research project presentations selected from coursework or submissions. Students interested in publishing their work openly/publicly will work with faculty and/or peer reviewers to prepare their work for inclusion in the collection. The collection will be published as an OpenLab Project and linked from the existing COMD Theory OER.

In support of a student-led / co-creation model of education, this collection of student writing will provide an opportunity for students to publish their unique perspectives in the historically privileged field of communication design. Part of our course curriculum and the COMD Department’s mission is to increase the variety of voices in professions that utilize creativity, technology, and design. While every attempt is made to present a broad view of design history and theory, the first half of the course takes a mainstream viewpoint in order to prepare students for the field.

Dec 2023 Proof of Concept: I will work with two current students to help prepare their essays for publication, create a submission with a release form, and test some new possible “book-like” themes (similar to Pressbooks) in OpenLab Dev.


  1. Worked with two current students to refine/revise their essays for publication.
    • The first essay is “Simple Driving.” It analyzes how the 1971 Mini Automatic advertisement perpetuated gender stereotypes through coded messaging.
    • The second essay is “A Look into the “Get Down”. It analyzes a 1970s McDonald’s advertising campaign, which launched a new era of African-American representation in media.
  2. With the help of other COMD faculty teaching COMD3504, we created a release form.
  3. Two other faculty, Profs. Nicolau and Goetz are collecting work from students this semester.
  4. My OpenLab colleagues and I are reviewing “book-like” themes (similar to Pressbooks) to install on our testing server.

WAC Writing Intensive Certification Portfolio


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!


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

Workshop: Designing Digital Projects for ADV1100

On Wed. January, 23rd I will be facilitating a workshop for all faculty teaching ADV1100: Graphic Design Principles 1.

After teaching Web Design for my first six years at City Tech and observing that only a minority of students appeared to have grasped basic design principles and concepts by the time they reached their concentration classes, I asked the Department Chair if I could teach the foundation class Graphic Design Principles 1 (formally known as Design and Color).

My aim was to explore how this course was taught and try to find ways for our students to successfully translate the basic design principles learned in ADV1100 in upper-level courses. It was a mystery to me how some students could produce strong hand work in their first semester and weak digital work in subsequent years.

What was causing this disconnect?

  • insufficient exposure to digital tools in their foundation courses?
  • a focus on a “fine art” rather than “design” approach in foundations?
  • lack of consistency across the course curriculum? ie: each faculty was teaching a different set of principles?
  • the principles were not being reinforced in upper-level courses, beyond foundation year?

These are things I have been trying to explore for about two years. My attempts to actively collaborate and collectively explore this challenging issue have been slowed by OpenLab directorship duties, a year-long sabbatical, and the challenges of coordinating adjunct ADV1100 faculty meetings during a busy semester. I set up the ADV1100 Instructional Resource project on OpenLab to encourage faculty to contribute, but with only a few digitally-confident faculty, I haven’t been able to jump start a dialog.

At the start of this workshop ADV1100 faculty will discuss the course goals and learning outcomes, foundation principles and skills, and pedagogical practices that they are currently using and compare those with the department’s master syllabus. Together I would like to propose a set of learning outcomes based on our current curriculum, student needs, and lack of computer access and work together over the semester to improve the master syllabus.

Next I will present some small digital tasks that faculty can introduce into their class assignments throughout the semester. Rather than ask students, many of whom are not yet skilled in digital tools, to complete an entire assignment in Photshop, Illutrator or InDesign faculty can introduce the basic use of these tools as part of a larger project. Other faculty members are encouraged to post their example tasks to the ADV1100 Instructional Resource.

Examples might include using Photoshop or Illustrator to:

  • create proportional color inventory
  • recreate a simple paper collage project
  • scan and trace a sketch
  • create Simultaneous Contrast pairings

Lastly, we will work together to propose pedogogical solutions that still allow basic design principles to be explored through experimentation and traditional  skills, but also find ways of creating a “bridge” to real-world design projects. I would like the group to come up with two digital bridge assignments that will act as stepping stones into the next course: ADV1200 Graphic Design Princples 2.

These projects should address the following principles:

  • Structural Thinking (ie: Organizational Frameworks, Planning Systems, Visual Filling Cabinet, The Grid)
  • Visual & Information Hierarchy (ie: Classification, Data Chunking, Visual and Conceptual Order)
  • Proportional Color (ie: Schemes, Palettes, Inventories)

EXAMPLE: Ask students to deconstruct a magazine layout, web page, game interface, etc. and reduce the structure down to a grid framework and limited color palette. Essentially a page of hierarchically ordered colored boxes. Ask students to identify the information hierarchies and explain how they are supported by the visual design choices (color, proximity, scale, balance etc.). Ask students to create a proportional color inventory of this deconstructed framework and show how the palette is used to reinforce information hierarchy and create a unified composition.

I strongly believe that students NEED a course that gives them the freedom experiment and fail- to think creatively and challenge their beliefs about what is possible. This is hugely important for the majority of our students, many of whom come to us from the public school system and have never been asked to “invent” a solution to a problem and partake in a collaborative design process. ADV1100 is only class that allows that freedom to experiment and fail.  I hope we can allow this exploration, but also find ways of translating the basic concepts of design to the real-world practice.



Navigating the Sea of Instructional Technology

By visulogik

On behalf of the OpenLab I will be attending City College’s CUNY-wide participatory forum, presented by The Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning, for those involved with training, implementing and planning instructional technology.

Via a series of discussions, problem-solving group work, breakout sessions and presentations, participants will engage in open dialogue with their colleagues. More here: (PDF)

Teaching Portfolios on the OpenLab

Credit: Mark Crossfield

During the winter break I worked with Julia Jordan and Paul King to improve the Teaching Portfolio section of the template I had previously created for faculty Portfolios on the OpenLab.

The goal of the Teaching Portfolio section of the template is to simplify the creation process for new faculty and those who are looking to translate their paper teaching portfolios into a digital format. It will also be the first time City Tech has recommended that its faculty use a web-based teaching portfolio for promotion/tenure– a logical and long awaited step for a College of Technology.

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