teaching statement

My philosophy and approach to teaching in the classroom, boardroom, workshop, or one-on-one.

All the world is a laboratory to the inquiring mind
— Martin H. Fischer

My approach to teaching reflects my background in both the sciences and the arts. Recent pedagogy literature supports the hypothesis that active learning techniques result in better student achievement of learning outcomes [3, 5]. My background in psychological science and informatics informs my belief that active learning experiences in design should be driven by the scientific method: Students 1) observe a problem that can be solved through design; 2) formulate a hypothesis; 3) find ways to test that hypothesis (e.g.: experience and service design; physical or digital prototypes); and 4) draw conclusions based on test results. Students then use that information to iterate on a design.

In addition to psychological sciences and HCI, I studied both the Meisner acting technique and improvisation. These trained me to sense and respond to the perceived emotional states of my scene partners. Acting and teaching are exercises in bringing my authentic self to interactions with an individual or a class full of individuals. I am present, in the moment, and ready to empathize and respond to their changing needs.

On science in design

During my ten years in industry, I have observed that great designers consider the principles of design and combine them with an inquisitive, methodological approach to understanding a problem and discovering solutions. The very best designers practice human-centered design, considering the perspectives, attitudes, and experiences of those around them, including minorities and persons with disabilities. I aim to educate the very best designers, so I believe that all of design education must be human-centered. Therefore, when I mentor designers and when I teach students in the classroom, I give them real problems to solve for real people and guide them to deeply understand the humans they are designing for – through literature reviews, market analysis, and user research, and participatory design. In much the same way that the scientific method provides a guide for collective collaboration in the sciences, design thinking provides a guide to problem solving collaboratively with the makers and users of designed experiences. In grounding design in research, students learn to draw on different perspectives.

In my most recent workshop, I taught a nonprofit organization in London a human-centered design process based on Blevis’ PRInCiPleS Framework [1]. This framework, which stands for Predispositions, Research, Insights, Concepts, Prototypes, and Strategy, helps students understand the flow of the design process, articulating design in an approachable way for non-designers, and connects the design process to the scientific method: observe, hypothesize, measure, experiment. In that way students can see the design process as something tangible, rather than something abstract that only designers can do.

In the workshop, students were given a brief introduction to the process, and then continued with hands-on activities throughout the three days to give them the chance to not only theorize, but also to make. They spent time reflecting on what they learned from a two day event with their clients, thinking about and discussing the problems these Global South NGOs face when trying to have an impact on their community. Once they uncovered some of the problems the NGOs face, they spent time creating concepts for solving those problems through digital products and services. At the end of the workshop each team presented a service or product concept, described how they would prototype and test it, and set the stage for taking their next steps.

on storytelling in design

When I teach workshops, I ask students not only to provide thoughtful, evidenced-based designs, but also to tell the story of how they arrived at their conclusions, and how people’s lives will be different if their design is implemented. I also ask them to think about the social, economic, and ethical ramifications of a design – to think about how their design will impact the lives, communities, and cultures of those who use it.

Storytelling also helps build empathy, the core of the human-design process. During an empathy building component of a design research workshop I taught at Groupon, I asked students to form small groups to interview each other. The interviewer had the goal of being able to retell the story as though it was their own, taking on the point of view of their partner.

I hypothesize that experience-taking (i.e. taking on the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors of another person in a narrative) helps students gain an understanding of the needs and desires of the people they are designing for. By practicing empathy-building activities such as bodystorming and roleplaying, I believe students gain a stronger connection to the human component of design.

on designing the classroom experience

I approach the classroom teaching experience much the same way that I would a design project. Approaching course creation through backward design [6], which is similar to how goal-oriented design [2] frames designing products and services, I start with an understanding of industry and learner needs that drives the creation of course material and projects. And design is inherently a collaborative process, so designers should learn to work effectively with people from different backgrounds. I model this collaborative atmosphere in my classroom by using multiple modalities to ensure that people from different backgrounds, such as introverts and extroverts, or those with different economic, social, or cultural norms, have a chance to engage meaningfully with the class material and with each other. For example, not everyone is comfortable speaking in large groups. To make sure their voices are heard, I break classes into smaller teams to spend time discussing a topic. We can then come back to the larger class experience and the teams can decide on a spokesperson to be the voice of their discussion. In a large class, I could use online polling software or Q&A software such as Google Moderator to ensure that those who are uncomfortable or unable to speak up are able to ask questions and voice their thoughts on a topic.

Like a designer must learn to gather feedback and iterate on their designs, I assess the projects, approaches, and outcomes of my students through pre-and-post course surveys, interviews, and assessments. An example of this was my work with the professors for the design and usability courses at Indiana University while I was a graduate student. After my first year, I interviewed students in my cohort and discovered that they felt the two courses overlapped but not purposefully. I spoke with the professors, and we decided to try joining the course projects such that the design course focused on the design side of the work while the research course focused on the research. In this way, students could engage more deeply in the main learning outcomes for each course while still getting the benefits of seeing how design and research are tools that each designer should have. I was then the assistant instructor for the research methods course, and helped the students bridge their projects between the two courses. Each year, Indiana University submits to the CHI design competition, and that year 5 of the 12 accepted projects came from our students.


I believe that design education is best served by including diverse perspectives. In order to foster diversity in the classroom and open students to points of view they may not have otherwise experienced, I want to include recommendations for how to create a more inclusive community in computer science in my design classrooms [4]. This serves two purposes. It allows students to be more comfortable in the class, and because much of design work is creative work, where students are already required to be vulnerable when presenting ideas and creative work for critique, it is imperative that students feel safe in their learning environment. It also fosters in the Cognitive Science department an atmosphere of inclusion of ideas, backgrounds, and identities, drawing students to the department that might otherwise be intimidated by an unfamiliar or difficult sounding area of study.


  1. Blevis, E. (2013). The PRInCiPleS design framework. In Creativity and Rationale (pp. 143-169). Springer London.

  2. Cooper, A., Reimann, R., Cronin, D., & Noessel, C. (2014). About face: the essentials of interaction design. John Wiley & Sons.

  3. Freeman, S., Eddy, S. L., McDonough, M., Smith, M. K., Okoroafor, N., Jordt, H., & Wenderoth, M. P. (2014). Active learning increases student performance in science, engineering, and mathematics. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 111(23), 8410-8415.

  4. Lee, C. (2015, September 28). What can I do today to create a more inclusive community in CS? Guest Post from Cynthia Lee. Retrieved December 9, 2016, from https://computinged.wordpress.com/2015/09/28/what-can-i-do-today-to-create-a-more-inclusive-community-in-cs-guest-post-from-cynthia-lee/

  5. Seth, D., Tangorra, J., & Ibrahim, A. (2015, October). Measuring undergraduate students' self-efficacy in engineering design in a project-based design course. In Frontiers in Education Conference (FIE), 2015. 32614 2015. IEEE (pp. 1-8). IEEE.

  6. Wiggins, G. P., & McTighe, J. (2005). Understanding by design. Ascd.