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Critique Methodology: Replacing Conformity with Creativity

Keith Owens

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Higher education in America is caught in the horns of a dilemma. On the one hand, it receives droves of new students who equate learning with acquiring information and achievement with the ability to pass standardized assessment tests. On the other hand, it is expected to graduate students who can meet modern society’s need for creative professionals and active citizens. If graduates cannot trigger innovation in the new ‘creative economy’, businesses who are looking to them for leadership will resort to less enlightened ways to endure. Moreover, if graduates cannot envision ways to help society answer the challenges posed by an increasingly fractious world, the tenuous social bonds that unite humans will continue to fray. How can higher education address this quandary?
     This presentation will highlight one pedagogical tool common to many specialties in design—the classroom critique—and how this neo-Socratic approach can be used to engage both sides of this vital issue. First, the presentation will suggest that this method can act as a corrective for students conditioned to a ‘single-answer’ mindset. To support this view it will discuss how classroom critiques can challenge this convention in two ways: by re-centering learning around student driven discourse rather than student–teacher dialectic and multi-solution exploration rather than single answer recitation. Second and more broadly, this presentation will discuss how this method—by freeing students from their narrow mindsets—enables them to develop the creative skills necessary to manage the expectations the world holds for them.
     This presentation will be supported with visual representations of this method as it plays out in a classroom setting. It will also present student outcomes of and comments on the process.

Author Bio(s)

Keith Owens is an assistant professor at the University of North Texas School of Visual Arts. Recent articles by him concerning design, morality and ethics have appeared in the International Journal of the Humanities, on the past two American Institute of Graphic Design (AIGA) National Education Conference web sites and in an upcoming issue of Visual Communications Quarterly. As a visiting instructor, Mr Owens has also taught at Texas Tech University. Between the two teaching appointments, Mr Owens worked as a designer in Dallas, Houston and San Francisco. Mr Owens serves as the current education chair of the AIGA Dallas, Fort Worth chapter.