Christian Montoya

Teaching Web Design, part 5

Opportunity of a lifetime: when my professor offered me the opportunity to teach today's lecture, I couldn't pass it up.

It was right around the second week of classes that my professor asked me to prepare & teach today's lecture: Visual Design 3, Contrast and Repetition. I never thought I would have the chance to actually give a lecture while still an undergrad at Cornell… it was basically a dream come true. I was also a little surprised, since I don't think of myself as a visual design expert. As the story goes, it was one of the professors from last year that recommended me to the current professor, and being that he himself doesn't know much about visual design (he's a computer science kind of guy), I guess for them it couldn't hurt to have me do this lecture. Besides, the material I covered today was something that wasn't really covered last year, so I was doing them a favor by making lecture slides they can use in the coming years.

So I got the opportunity to teach this lecture on contrast and repetition… and in thinking about it, I realized that for a 50 minute talk I should really extend the topic and cover the full set of basic design principles that everyone discusses in first-year visual design: Contrast, Repetition, Alignment, and Proximity, or C.R.A.P. for short. Yes, today's lecture was "Designing with C.R.A.P."

Now I have to say, preparing lecture slides is hard. Especially when you are covering topics that haven't been covered before, and you can't just copy stuff out of a book. I spent over 10 hours preparing the lecture for today… some of that time was spent working with software (OpenOffice.org Impress), some was spent making custom graphics, some was spent looking for examples and resources on the web, and some was spent simply thinking of the right things to say. Oh, and there was also an hour spent making an example webpage for my interactive segment, but more on that later.

I had a meeting with the professor two days ago (Tuesday), when I was about a third of the way through my lecture slides. I explained the four principles of C.R.A.P. to him, and I told him about how one of the required books for the course, The Non-Designer's Design Book, is all about C.R.A.P. (literally… it's written by the lady who apparently coined the term). I also had two questions: 1. Can I say crap in lecture (yes) and 2. Can I show these slides to anyone (also yes). I was very happy to hear that the professor usually puts his slides under Creative Commons, because that's exactly what I was hoping to do with mine. I was even more happy to hear that the slides I made remain under my copyright. Plus one for forward thinking.

So I was up very late last night working on this lecture, and at 2:30 I had enough enthusiasm and caffeine to show up bright-eyed for my debut into the world of lecturing. Ah yes, lecturing.

"Lecturing: The art of transferring information from the notes of the lecturer to the notes of the students without passing through the minds of either."

— doma, urbandictionary.com

Well, not quite. I did actually think about this stuff… a lot. I learned a lot about C.R.A.P. while I was preparing these slides, and I realized a lot of things I could do to improve my own work (which is key right now, since I really need to redesign this site… and boy, does my work need improvement).

Anyway, I was really nervous before I started my lecture, but the professor gave some administrative announcement before handing the floor to me, and somehow I lost all that nervousness while he was talking. My setup was kinda neat; I had my laptop with my trackball as well as foxy's drawing tablet connected, because Impress has a pen feature that allows you to draw on the slides as you are presenting (and a USB drawing tablet is the next best thing to a tablet screen). I had my example website preloaded in Firefox tabs and my presentation up, and from the moment I started I was able to roll rather smoothly. It was definitely new ground for me, and I had to speak really loud because the microphone for the room was missing… with a large lecture room filled with almost 120 students. I can say from experience now that from the front of the room, you are basically blind if there are a large number of people in front of you… it's kind of like a sea of faces that never ends. I can also say that there is a constant stream of feedback coming from the faces of the students, which might explain why some professors never actually look at the crowd while they lecture.

What was key about my lecture, and really helped keep me moving, was that I had a command over my material; I knew what I wanted to say, how to explain the topics I was discussing, and how to bring all the ideas together. I knew it was important to keep moving to keep the momentum going and keep everyone interested; I wasn't trying to teach everything there is to know about C.R.A.P., but rather just introduce the class to it and build some enthusiasm that will motivate them to learn more about it. What was great about the lecture was that as time progressed, the dynamic between the crowd and I became a 2-way exchange; I could sense that they were feeding on my enthusiasm and energy for the material, and I was further motivated by the enthusiasm that was building up in them. I guess another way to put it is: it was fun. Especially when I reached the interactive portion, in which I pulled up a simple page and asked the students to help me decide where to apply C.R.A.P. to make the page look better; I think I had 10 or 12 students raise their hands with ideas, and good ideas too. It's enough to make you think that they might have learned something, which would be great!

So in the end my first lecture ever was a success. The professor liked it and the students liked it too, and I had fun doing it. You can have a look at the slides I made: Designing with C.R.A.P. [PDF, Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.5]. It's not as good as having me around in-person to actually give the lecture, but if you want the full experience you could totally fly me out to your university as a guest lecturer… or hire me to be a professor :)

Last but not least, here is the sample page that the students helped me fix, before and after (click them to view larger sizes):

before
after

Here's to hoping that all their future projects look like C.R.A.P. … pun, pun. Oh, and a big thanks to the InfoSci department for giving me the opportunity I never expected :)

Thank you for reading • Published on September 28th, 2006 • Please take a moment to share this with your friends