Conteporary Issues in Design Education Friday, June 8th, 2018

Making Paths to Math for Designers

Janet Esquirol, Assistant Professor of Media, Art, and Technology, CUNY BMCC 

Explore failures in STEM pedagogy, propose methods for implementing more making into [math] curricula, and describe replicable assessments with a design prof.

8 out of 10 students I advise in the Media Arts and Technology Department (over 1000 majors & 26,000 student body) have something negative to tell me about mathematics. I can relate to their hardship, but through professional experience I know math matters deeply.

Design students joining the modern workforce need portfolios demonstrating information synthesis — masterful aesthetic presentation will no longer suffice. A graduate without strong foundations in reading, research, writing and math will struggle to find employment, make slower career progress, and possibly abandon the field altogether. Why can’t math departments reach my students?

In fact, how could math (or research, reading, writing) possibly reach my students if it’s not integrated into their creative process — the parts of their brains that light up when they’re in the midst of making? But can we even ask a Math Department to devise problem sets that will speak to design students? How could they successfully achieve this without industry experience? Such assignments would seem malformed or contrived to a multimedia design student.

In 2016 I joined a research study at my institution called QLAC (Quantitative Literacy Across the Curriculum) where accepted faculty worked with the Math Department, the research team, and a graduate fellow to modify the curriculum of a current course in their own field to add deeper mathematical thinking. This QLAC study is an ongoing opportunity to research two premises I have long held: (1) I believe design students will perform better if their math lessons are presented in the context of making, and (2) I believe design students will have better long term economic prospects because of such an intervention.

This short paper will explore the gaps in current STEM pedagogy, propose methodologies for implementing more making into curricula, and describe replicable and objective assessments.