It's been a minute since my university days, but I got to appreciate education through a new lens over the past few months working as a university instructor.
Welcome to GD 357
I came across a colleague’s email seeking an instructor to teach Digital Project Management for Creative Practitioners at the University of the Fraser Valley. The class is part of their graphic design program.
Part of growing professionally and as a person is by challenging yourself. I did what any creative professional would do—I jumped in with both feet (after a thorough vetting process from the university).
Here are five things I learned from my first semester of teaching.
1. As a new instructor, you learn as you go.
In my professional life, I've worked on many teams and helped other coworkers build their skills, but teaching a class is a new beast. You need a plan—not just for the day, but for the semester. You have to invent assignments that help students gain and apply knowledge. You need to figure out the best delivery methods for information so students don't merely show up for class but engage.
The biggest challenge was knowing what to do. There wasn't a manual or instructions for doing it, so I had to build my own style and way of teaching. I did have a syllabus to follow and objectives, and I went with that to create hands-on experiences, workshops, and student deliverables.
2. Simplifying is best for everyone.
Group work can be challenging, and communication is so important! I've been in the digital marketing industry for a long time, and if there's one takeaway I can't stress enough, you must learn how to communicate.
Step aside, fancy language and ambiguous acronyms. If you want to help students (or others in general) succeed, you need to be very clear. For students, simple instruction and explanation help them grasp concepts and help everyone avoid misinterpreting an assignment.
3. You must foster the potential in your students.
I was so impressed by my students. These up-and-coming digital professionals are smart and talented—which isn't always a given. I had to adapt my teaching style to challenge but not overwhelm my class. Part of fostering their potential is offering them learning experiences that imitate the real world.
As part of the semester, I assigned the students a term-long project. They had to work as a team and create marketing and communications material for the Chilliwack Community Arts Council Events (CCAC), the Chilliwack Craft Market, or the Vedder River Art Walk. Soon, they will present to the client, the Executive Director of CCAC, and a Board Member. While the project is fictional, they do have the opportunity to work with the client and gain some valuable experience.
4. Cut your students some slack.
Stress, anxiety, and burnout in students are very real things. School can be overwhelming, and we never know what others deal with daily. In the real world, you can negotiate deadlines or share work with others. Instead of creating a learning environment that adds stress, as an instructor being amenable is a must.
Having flexibility in the classroom enables students to take better care of themselves and manage their workload. It teaches them that advocating for their needs is okay if they require more time with an assignment.
In the classroom, we communicate openly. I ask them many questions about what else is happening in their life. We've worked on the big rocks theory, which offers perspective on prioritizing our deliverables, projects, life, and more.
5. In-person learning is a different experience than virtual learning.
In the digital space, I spend much time engaging with coworkers and clients over video calls. Interacting this way certainly reaches targets and enables work to happen from anywhere. Still, I noticed a pronounced difference between teaching a class through a screen and in-person learning.
In-person classes were often more successful and more productive. Being in the same room built stronger connections between myself and the students and the students with each other.
Applying My Semester Teaching to Good Digital
The students have challenged me on content and thinking things through, which can easily apply to my day-to-day.
They've helped me grow as a leader and a role model in the industry. I rarely think about it that way, although having students ask for advice or tell me about their challenges has given me perspective on where I can be of service to them.
See You Next Year?
I like the hybrid of owning a business and teaching. If the opportunity presents itself, I'd be interested in teaching other classes in the marketing/communications department.
In the meantime, you'll find me here at Good Digital, trying to improve the world, one project at a time.