Look Back, Look Ahead

It goes without saying that 2020 has been a tremendously difficult year for educators, particularly for those who also balance parenting, caretaking, and other responsibilities.

For us, in spite of having a combined twenty years of teaching in higher-ed (and a bit of additional experience teaching first graders and high schoolers), this in many ways felt like our first semester teaching: experimenting with what worked, reflecting on what didn’t, adjusting and re-adjusting. We felt burned out in many ways, but we’ve also begun to find a new rhythm with the instruments these strange times have brought us.

Teaching felt like an act of urgency in the early phases of the pandemic as classes were suddenly online and we scrambled to finish our semesters. But, as time wore on we realized that this wasn’t a sprint; This is a marathon in which we need to observe and create meaning. Our Design Educators Community reflected on what the Value of Design Education was, as guided by Anne Berry and Penina Acayo Laker. Additionally, with the rise of Black Lives Matter protests after the lives of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and so many others were lost, our community developed the Value Design Education Pledge through which educators could commit to being anti-racist, to uphold all design histories, to distribute knowledge, to demonstrate impact, to create culture, and to promote healthy student experiences. As 2020 drew to a close, we listened to the failures and the successes of educators: more faculty incorporated inclusivity statements and land acknowledgements to their syllabi, they updated lectures and projects to be more inclusive, and they tested and tweaked technologies while petitioning institutions and organizations to make technology more accessible and available to all students.

Yet, as difficult as 2020 has been, we have felt so supported and inspired by the Design Educators Community, both by our incredible board members, and through the conversations we’ve had with individuals throughout the year. Our DEC board strived to provide resources to educators (including tips for Pivoting Online, recommended standards for Promotion and Tenure in the time of the Coronavirus, and the DEC + DEI Anti-Racism, Equity, and Inclusivity Resources) and platforms for connection. Even pre-pandemic the DEC was exploring ways of building community online when Rebecca Tegtmeyer started what turned out to be a prescient Virtual Roundtable Series in which design educators connect via Zoom for discussion. And over the summer, three of our board members (Alberto Rigau, Ali Place, and Liese Zahabi) led the efforts to create our first-ever entirely virtual conference, SHIFT (you can still submit to the proceedings until the end of January 2021!). SHIFT gathered over 1,200 people from across the world to discuss Community, Teaching, and Research. Out of this conference also came a DEC YouTube Channel and a public DEC Slack, valuable asynchronous resources which will remain available to our community. 

The AIGA National conference, which had been planned as a face-to-face event in Pittsburgh, also moved online. Throughout the two-day symposium the DEC hosted a panel of truly innovative presenters and we were inspired by the week’s events. Our keynote, Derek Ham (NC State), encouraged us all to be intentionally undisciplined. He told us to see the system, to see the rules, but to also see an opportunity to adjust and to do something more. He left us with the question: How can I take action? We hope that regardless of whether or not you were able to join at that event, that you have found ways to have an impact this year while also remembering to take care of yourself. And, if you like to plan ahead, mark your calendars for next year’s AIGA National virtual conference, September 20–24, 2021.

The DEC Communications Team had several tremendous developments this year to include a complete redesign of the newsletter Decalog spearheaded by Ali Place, the new series Beyond the Bauhaus created by Kaleena Sales, who also along with Kelly Walters developed the series Perspectives and Reflections. Beyond the Bauhaus aims to highlight design contributions from underrepresented cultural and social groups who do not have roots in modernist or Bauhaus methods. The goal is not to deny the contributions of the Western world, but to broaden the scope of what we teach and discuss in the classroom. Perspectives and Reflections serves as a place for thoughts on Identity, Race, and Design Education. Submissions for both are encouraged from readers (email Kaleena at ktucker2@tnstate.edu). 

We also couldn’t be more excited to announce that AIGA National has committed to funding Dialectic, our scholarly journal of thought leadership, education, and practice in the discipline of visual communication design. We will have more details on this relaunch soon! Until then, we want to thank Bennie Johnson and the National Board for their support of Dialectic. Additionally, the DEC will be hosting several design writing workshops and events in Spring 2021 with the support of the wonderful team at Design Incubation

Finally, we want to thank all of you who have given back to design education in myriad ways: from contributing projects to the Design Teaching Resource—a peer-populated platform for educators to share assignments, teaching materials, outcomes, and project reflections (the DTR now has 307 projects from 199 educators and an expanded resources section!), to volunteering to help with k-12 engagement activities, to devoting time and energy into your own classroom and communities. Thank you for all that you do.

We hope that this holiday season you have found some time to rest and recharge, and we wish you all the best in 2021.

Meaghan Dee & Meena Khalili
AIGA DEC Co-Chairs

By aigaeducators
Published January 13, 2021
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