TMAC sat down with Allan Espiritu (Associate Professor, Fine Arts) this week to talk about the rewards of teaching graphic arts in a student-centered, problem-based studio environment. As we discussed the vital blending of theory and practice, groups of students hovered intently around wide-screen Apple computers, even though class had ended a while ago. Professor Espiritu enthusiastically explained how he asks his students to think non-linearly, to learn rules, but also break them, and to value the insights learned through error. Espiritu is most excited when he describes the importance of having students work with real clients so that design is not just an academic exercise.

In all his classes, Professor Espiritu challenges students to solve problems of design by drawing on ideas from cultural theorists and artists. To do so, they need to delve deep inside an aesthetic rather than simply apply surface features, and this takes time. Imagining what lessons from teaching design might offer other disciplines, we agreed that notions of “classroom as studio,” a space where student make things, play with ideas, compose but also counter texts. Above all, Espiritu believes, students learn by doing and by being challenged to defend their work through rigorous critique.