I teach studios from a place that combines activism, aesthetics and authentic engagement. I vigorously privilege the student’s emotional journeys. My course planning and assessment, drawing on constructivist theory and development discourse, contains peer learning, student self-assessment and a focus upon unique high achievements. The ‘peer assessment’ of my teaching practices rates my practices highly and validates the soundness of the theory behind this way of performing education. I have consistently performed with high levels of students satisfaction demonstrated by high scores in the Course Experience Surveys (CES) filed by students.
I have focused upon enabling diversity in the design classrooms where I teach. My teaching practice, which is both, student-orientated and focussed upon the educating event, accommodates students with differing abilities and aspirations:
- In studios I teach I allow student to set their own goals, thus allowing students to take ownership of their individual self-development. This freedom from judgement can be profoundly transformative, especially for international students for whom English is a second language (ESL). In a recent Peer Assessment of my Teaching Practice, one reviewer saw my teaching practice as embodying contemporary best practices in student-centered education. At the same time another reviewer had difficulty with the extreme form of student ownership of learning that he witnessed in the teaching session he reviewed. In this session individual students were presenting their work to a panel of student peers, while the teacher (Soumitri) sat at the back of the class observing the proceedings.
- Much of the pedagogic practice in design uses the approach of project-based learning. Referred to as the studio, the actual practices vary quite widely from the truly student-centred to the extremely authoritarian. I disagree with the simplistic view that the authoritarian and didactic are instances of poor pedagogic practice. I have a more nuanced approach where I have experimented with ‘memorizing’, the setting of extremely high expectations and the role that challenges play in activating learners. With a strong theoretical knowledge of oral scholarship in traditional, & ancient, societies in Asia I have a fine appreciation of contextually specific modes of learning. I am able to value and respect the schooling backgrounds of Asian students and have the experience of engaging with and drawing high levels of work out of students who haven’t previously valued an argumentative form of learning. Having worked in Japanese design studios at Hitachi I am able to deploy modes of creative practice that do not rely on verbal articulation. I demonstrate through my teaching practice that the quest for perfection in design outcomes can be navigated both; through the verbal, thus justificatory, and the visual, thus experiential and appreciatory.
- I am passionate about the performative dimension of my teaching. I enjoy being in the design classroom with students. In May 2003 the 25 students, of the Graduate Class at IIT Delhi, and I stood around the 1929 Austin 7 and everyone was grinning – we had done it, the grin said. In January when we started there were two facts – a course in technology that needed to be done – and a derelict vintage car that needed restoring. I had taken the car into the classroom and had asked if the students would be interested in restoring the car as the way for them to learn about manufacturing processes. I have developed this ‘intensive or block mode’ of my teaching where I now deploy a few different ways of giving students a charged experience of learning from that of; doing design sprints with year 1 students and enabling students to be embedded, within a hospital, for a yearlong honours project.
On Content & Curriculum
As an Honours project supervisor I set up access for students to work within organisations, to understand the current challenges and the desire for a changed future for the people they serve. I help students to learn the Experience Based CoDesign framework as the key way to practice evidence based design. I facilitate students to be embedded within hospitals and support students to develop technologies, products and services in the health sector, and to realise their project solutions as patents, ventures and startups. Being a Mechanical Engineer, and an Industrial Designer with a PhD in Social Science my health focused teaching supports student projects in product development, process improvement, and patient experience.
I have taught in the Industrial Design Program in Australia and in India. I have taught studios and lectured in Israel and France. I am comfortable in diverse cultural contexts of design education. This ability of mine to function in context-aware ways, with the related knowledge capabilities and agility in diverse contexts, enables me see the content of design education as an arbitrary construct. I have been sanguine and un-anxious about protecting course content and have instead been a challenger, disruptor, when confronted with the preservation of some older ways that need to be archived. This ability has also allowed me frequently to pick up opportunities to formulate new course content. I have reimagined curricula in programs where I have taught. I have also undertaken commissioned work to develop curricula for new programs and to evaluate programs and curricula in established programs.
- At RMIT University I have overseen two cycles of curriculum change over. The first ‘new curriculum’ was in 2004 when I set up the provocation that the curriculum had to respond to “the end of manufacturing in Australia” and proposed a goal of going beyond how the curriculum was then being visualized: as focusssed upon graduates employable by industry as a professional industrial designer. With traditionally defined design jobs becoming scarce the established position was untenable, and unjustifiable, in a post-Industrial (Design) ecosystem. The new curriculum, won awards, and jockeyed student work repeatedly into the global limelight. There were suddenly fresh, radical and exquisitely unreasonable design projects being unveiled: designs that showed technical competence alongside a willingness to leave popular topics of design alone and focus upon new and contemporary products and services.
- The second change over was even more radical. Yet at the same time a return to a traditional basis of privileging making over imaginings. Articulated by the phrase “Black, White and Blue” I was referring to three paradigms of design discourse – that of the urban studio practice (black collar worker), that of design within large corporate design departments (white collar worker) and finally that of the ‘new maker’ who got down and dirty to make one-off innovations for serial production: working independent of client prerogatives! This form of design practice is not unique to Industrial Design, architects I collaborate with have a strong spirit of digital experimentation and extend the use of robotics in manufacture.
- While these forms of design curricula focus upon valorising the technological they are best privileged in extremely affluent urban contexts such as Melbourne. When invited to develop the vision of a School of Design within a new university in New Delhi named after a social reformer I developed a vision that was focussed upon ‘development’. The curriculum privileged service and emphasized the social and the collective.
Research & Publication
The continuous evolution of my teaching practice has been informed by empirical evidence I have gathered both: by witnessing amazing personal transformations achieved by learners in diverse settings and by exploring alternate ways of activating high quality learning encounters for students.
I have a finely developed and demonstrated capacity in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning evidenced by multiple awards, grants and publications over the years for university embedded projects and initiatives. I have a strong publishing track record in the scholarship of teaching and learning and have a good relationship with faculty and staff in the Learning portfolio of the university. I am currently on a book on design pedagogy (contract with Palgrave MacMillan).
I have repeatedly received research funding for capacity development projects within design education. Awarded internally by the university through a process of competitive funding application the Learning and Teaching Investment Fund grants funds for project ideas that demonstrate an alignment with university priorities and are focussed upon capacity development. I have received two large grants from this fund. One in 2006 was for a project “Ways of Working Together” (60,000$) to set up an industry engaged (Diabetes Australia) and cross university (including students from the Engineering and Business schools) undergraduate studio project to explore challenges in cross university collaborations. The project was a precursor to many future collaborations demonstrating the efficacy of this project also as a capacity building exercise. Another in 2016 was for a project “I Love Blended Learning” (60,000$) to develop capacity in the Design programs for teaching and learning in digitally enabled ways.
I have also received smaller school level grants to undertake pilot projects. One such focus of mine has been on transforming the student experience of university through digital tools and apps. My way of thinking about the future university imagines the Student at the Centre of the design of digital environment. I have worked on, prototyped and launched Apps as a way for students to activate their university experience through their mobile phones. Two current projects that are in use are: one, a School Newspaper App (A+D on iTunes store) that provides a gallery of ‘design news’ and a portfolio of works exhibited by faculty and students for a rich design education experience underscored by exposure to a wide cross section of local creative practice; and two, a Ballotting App that lets students ballot for and choose a tutorial, studio project group, from among 10 to 20 projects on offer every semester.
I am passionate about educational theory and belong to a global community of practice that privileges educational activism and innovative forms of student centered learning. My teaching practice is informed by theory, continuous empirical exploration and regular theoretical reflection resulting in published outcomes. I have a strong practice in activating students as evidenced by the ecology of my teaching practice visible in my publications. I take pride in my passion and my confident expertise in a few things that I have worked hard to develop and now do really well.
- Assessment: I focus on learning experiences. I am aligned with constructivist theory that imagines the activity of assessment as a learning activity. My interpretation of this learning activity then is the proposition that assessments ought to be conducted by students either as self or even as peer assessment. I have a long history of experimentation with evaluation practices and do not privilege numeric grades. I have done capacity development workshops for faculty to develop capacity in alternate ways of engagement towards realising, potentially in the future, practices such as awarding ‘grades at the beginning of the course’. I usually set up peer evaluations and train students in class on the right way to give detailed oral feedback.
- Multicultural Classroom: In the classroom in Australia I see a huge diversity in student backgrounds and cultures. This makes the classroom truly international and multicultural. I have for years privileged alternate ways of education and with bringing diversity of approaches through realising a completely student centric classroom.
- Teaching Development: My past experience of teaching in different countries has made me particularly attentive to different learning styles, and different cultural expectations of teaching and learning. In the first years of my teaching career I would spend an inordinate amount of time planning classes, mapping student growth and reflecting upon what was achieved. I now have a regular practice of identifying courses that have been taught well by faculty. I then approach the teacher and interview them to understand what it is that they have done to achieve their success.
- Lectures: I do lectures that I believe are a treat to attend. They are well prepared. There is music, often film clips and a lot of provocation. I consider public speaking as one of my strengths and have a vast experience of speaking at all manner of gatherings. I use these lectures to construct arguments and treat these events as stimulation for discussion. While the lecture as a format is not valued highly within design pedagogy I have persisted and developed a purpose for lectures within design education. I use them as an instrument for provocation and for upsetting the status quo.
 School of Design, Ambedkar University Delhi