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OCTOBER 26, 2007    

Notes from PIL meeting

Sabbatical... oops, I mean Personal Improvement Leave

Wikipedia says "A sabbatical year is a prolonged hiatus, typically one year, in the career of an individual taken in order to fulfill some goal, e.g., writing a book or traveling extensively for research."

At Tri-C we don't have sabbaticals, we have Personal Improvement Leave (PIL). I'm eligible for one next year, so went to an informational meeting today to learn about how to apply. When I walked in I had no idea what my plans were, but the guy running the meeting immediately pointed to me and said, "So, what do you plan to do on your PIL?" After hemming and hawing a bit, two ideas popped into my head.

Idea #1

I've often thought how great it would be to sit in the classroom of a really great teacher to learn how he/she operates. Since one of my ongoing issues is the problem of teaching software + design—what's the best ratio in a field that's hugely software-dependent—maybe I can make this happen.

First I'd have to figure out which schools and which teachers are producing students with solid, innovative, and accomplished skills in interactive media. That means online research, posting to listservs like AIGA-Education, and lots of phone calls to friends and colleagues.

Next I'd need to contact these schools/teachers and ask if they'd be willing to have me sit in on classes for a week or so. Maybe I could prepare a lecture/presentation as a way of earning my keep. I could visits schools in the U.S. and maybe even London's Royal College of Art. For the U.S. portion I envision buying an Amtrak pass and heading out for a few weeks at a time. Since I can get a Senior discount (ugh!) it would be $650 for 30 days of travel.

This would be immensely valuable in improving my own teaching technique, materials and strategies. Since all PILs have to explain how the college would benefit, I could make a strong case for my future students learning more and better as a result of my experience.

Idea #2

Another idea that's been kicking around in my head for more than a year is to set up a Tri-C student "studio" in downtown Cleveland that would focus primarily on web/interactive. We would get space in the proposed "Design District" which, despite its emphasis on product design, is also geographically home to many of Cleveland's web firms.

I see this studio as a "post-graduate" experience for our best students who've completed the two-year Interactive Media degree. At that point they've actually learned enough to do significant work, but they're out the door. The studio would be a one or two semester experience that would combine academic/research projects working with local designers as mentors, and real projects for clients.

The student design studio is fairly common in graphic design, with Kent State's Glyphix now 35 years old. Akron University and Herron School of Art are other schools with similar projects. None of them focus on web design, and all are located on campus at their respective schools. Putting ours in the heart of the local design area would give students a much better connection with the industry and make for a more exciting experience. The location would also make it much easier for professional designers to spend time teaching and mentoring students.

I think this idea has great potential, but requires significant "buy-in" from the college. I'll need to have conversations with my associate dean, campus president and whomever they recommend before I commit to this one. It would be exciting to make it happen, and would be a opportunity to really jumpstart student careers. It also puts me in the relationship-building business, one that I enjoy.

Not as many train trips required, though. I'll have to think about that.

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