Savannah College of Art and Design

I’ve just completed a six-month sabbatical (Jan-Jun 2010); I was in residence as a Visiting Professor at the Savannah College of Art and Design, usually known by its acronym “SCAD”. I stayed busy!

  • I taught a couple of classes in a new creative MBA program (that’s actually an MFA) called “design management,” with the titles “facilitating creative thinking” and “managing the innovation process.”
  • I worked on a campus-wide strategic initiative called the Collaborative Learning Center.

But most exciting for me was the research I did while there: I did an ethnography of their culture of teaching and learning for creativity. I videotaped studio classes, and interviewed professors and students. And because I was a professor there, I was a “participant observer” as the anthropologists would say.

Education researchers have long observed that many of our schools are dominated by a model of teaching and learning called instructionism: the teacher delivers relatively superficial information to passive students. This is a problem, because cognitive research suggests that students learn most effectively when they are active, particularly if we want them to learn deeper conceptual understanding, and how to think creatively with what they’ve learned.

So a few researchers have gone in search of “communities of practice” that have different, more active and participatory, approaches to teaching and learning. The most obvious one, found in many of the world’s cultures, is apprenticeship, and studies of apprenticeship have recently had a fairly strong impact on educational theory.

The model of teaching and learning at SCAD is closer to apprenticeship than it is to instructionism. But it’s really a totally new alternative to instructionism, a third way that you might call the studio model. What’s exciting is that many features of the studio model are surprisingly similar to the latest research about how to best teach math, science, and history. So I hope that what I’ve learned at SCAD can help us expand how we think about teaching and learning in all subject areas.

I’ve gathered a lot of research data, and in the next few years, I’ll be publishing articles analyzing the studio model and identifying important lessons for enhancing student learning across the board.

10 thoughts on “Savannah College of Art and Design

  1. Sounds very interesting and exciting Keith. I look forward to hearing more about your discoveries in the upcoming years. I wonder if you will find similarities to the improvisational learning/teaching you have explored for years.

    1. Sure, there is always flexibility and improvisation. In the studio classes, there is a much greater range of potential creative action provided to the students, although the instructor still provides a surprisingly high degree of scaffolding structures, to guide learners most effectively toward the desired learning outcome.

  2. Hi Keith,
    I agree that the SCAD model of art and design education is based on the apprenticeship model and is supported with scaffolding. As Kare Anderson noted–SCAD has a long history of tackling real-world problems in the classroom and in the community. It is a complex environment–ever-changing and adapting so as to provide our students with the skills they need to succeed in the professional career of their choice. I look forward to reading more of your thoughts on your time at SCAD.
    It was great having you at SCAD–please come back very soon!
    Linda Cirocco

  3. SCAD had done an excellent job of marketing themselves recently I would not be surprised to see great things come out of that institution in the years to come.

    1. At other art schools, I have heard some people question whether SCAD is “all marketing and PR” but my experience was that it is a substantial institution and highly focused on delivering a high quality learning experience for its students. It’s true that they spend a lot of energy on marketing and PR, though…

  4. I think this method of teaching would also give them freedom in what they learn. Done properly this would end up with education that is tailored and specific to their needs and would be a lot more effective.


    1. Getting it right takes a lot of skill and teaching expertise. The ability to do so varies quite a bit, even among people who are experts in their particular area of art and design. Being a great painter is no guarantee that you’ll be able to design effective learning experiences.

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