Tips On Earning the Student Choice Award at StartUp Institute

Last week, I was voted by the 2017 Winter cohort at StartUp Institute for the student choice award (best instuctor). This is a quick retrospective on my short journey as an design instructor followed by few tips that teachers of all levels might find helpful.

Teaching is like climbing a mountain, or just moving upwards… or sideways. The goal is that we stay together as a class and explore together. No one is left behind and we all have an accountability to move forward together. And it should be fun. Challenging at times, but fun. No need to reach the summit today… or tomorrow. But as long as we’re moving upward, we’re good.

There’s no one way to do it. Many starting points, many ending points.

In the past, I’ve had classes where the instructor speaks in a linear form.

It sucks, frankly.

During my first semester teaching last year, I spent days refining the curriculum and going over tangential subject matter before each class. It felt like perpetual doom, but I was getting comfortable with all possible paths that I thought a class discussion might go. For this particular cohort at StartUp Institute, I wanted each class to feel like students were stepping into an ecosystem of information. We could spend additional time discussing one topic — or derail from the slides and go on the www to gawk and learn.

Now that the semester is over, I took a minute to think back over what went right – hence these Tips On Earning the Student Choice Award at StartUp Institute:

Question party via Gary Chou Christina Xu. Opening up class by asking the students if they have any questions about anything at all. Jobs, life, doubts, etc. We all come into class thinking about other things — why not take a beat to discuss?

Revisited my notes from previous mentors, instructors, and experiences that might be relevant to each class. I spend a “discovery” day just looking at old notes and new websites, resources, and work from designers I admire.

Interactive office hours. Inviting current students into my network — to hackathons, coffee in the city, quick feedback on Slack, etc.

Photo credit: Mark Davis

Gathered feedback from the department and students. This semester, I would chat with students after class, but I normally use exit tickets (Thanks Lauren Bugeja,) to measure how impactful/helpful class was.

Did improv warm ups before class. After taking 5+ improv classes, I have a reservoir of non-intrusve exercises that help get people comfortable with each other (feedback, questions, speaking up, etc). I’ve found it is an immense help to reset our minds before class and make crit sessions natural and conversational.

Wrote down what went wrong and what went right. Even if I never reference it again, it serves as a mental note.

Kept a student journal. Understanding what each individual in class is working towards is important — after I knew that, I could make class more interactive by when covering case studies and making eye contact with the specific individuals who expressed interest in that area.

Photo credit: Mark Davis

Found points to stop and chat. I try to avoid asking the class if they have “any questions” — but ask them their viewpoint on a specific quesiton — in some instances, a question that I do not know the answer to.

Tried to be more curious than my students. Teaching for me comes from a place of curiosity. Sometimes that is lost in the presentation and delivery. If the instructor is curious, it sets the tone on how the class interfaces with the instructor.

Treated each class as a UX challenge. This is too easy, but overlooked all too often. Who am I creating this thing for? What are their needs? What is the value? How can I measure it? Most importantly, how will I make it better next time?

Don’t be a dick. Plain and simple. Thanks Josh Musick.

A few quick thank yous in no particular order:

Chi Nguyen, Amos Schorr, Gary Chou, Christina Xu, Michael Yap, Mark Hurst, Jennifer Brook, Lauren Bugeja, Josh Musick, and the Magnet community.

You all connected me to ideas and opportunities. You helped me learn the fundamentals of design. You showed me how to put the customer first. You brought clarity to my thinking. And most importantly, you taught me how to have fun while doing it. Thank you.

Shameless plug, I’m leading an online UX Portfolio course through NYU in June. Reach out if interested.

Like what you read? Give James Z. B. Vanié a round of applause.

From a quick cheer to a standing ovation, clap to show how much you enjoyed this story.