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Class discussions offer a great opportunity to help students think through the broader issues that will affect their professional development as artists and designers. In a studio class, in particular, you might want to add one or more discussion topics throughout the semester to help students connect with their broader aspirations and professional goals — and think pragmatically about the steps they will need to take in order to achieve them.

A professional development discussion might either replace or supplement the discussion topic already planned for a particular module. Depending on the content of your course and the needs of your students, you could make these discussions required or optional; you might let them run for several modules or close them at the end of a single module.

Discussion Prompts

Here are a few prompts that you might find useful in getting a discussion started in your class about professional development issues:

  • What are your sources of inspiration?
    Post something that inspires you and explain specifically what you find inspiring and why.
    (This might be a work of art that moves you, someone whose career you would like to emulate, a social issue you want to address, etc.) Ask students to do the same and to discuss.
  • Share useful and relevant readings.
    Post an article or a link to a book — or summarize a key idea — that you have found helpful in your creative or professional work. Explain why it was useful and how it helped you. Ask students to do the same. Perhaps ask each student to read the article suggested by a classmate and to post a response to it.
  • How do you plan and track your progress?
    In a group-directed-study or thesis-forum class, a student’s main task is to make progress on one or more projects. How do students know whether they’re making appropriate progress? At the beginning of the semester, ask them to devise (and post) a system for tracking their own work — including a breakdown of the various tasks they need to accomplish and a schedule for their work (with key milestones). Once they review each other’s systems, given them an opportunity to revise their own system. Have them use their own (revised) systems to assess what they actually accomplish over the course of the semester. Discuss how their system helped them in their work this term and how it might serve them in their professional careers. What revisions might still be needed to make their systems more useful?
  • Where does your time go?
    Everyone struggles with time management to some degree. One key step in taking charge of your time is to understand how you spend the hours you devote to your professional work. Ask students to document in detail how they spend their project time each week — how much time is devoted to each task? After a few weeks, ask students to review and assess their use of time. Are they surprised by any aspect of their time use? Are they spending their time on the most important aspects of their work or is too much time “frittered away” on minor tasks? Can they think of ways to make their work efficient? (If desired, this discussion could also include consideration of what a designer bidding on a project or — an artist putting a price on a piece — needs to consider.)
  • Who are your classmates?
    Taking classes offers students the chance to begin developing the professional network that will support them through their careers. To create more opportunities for students to get to know their classmates, post some optional topics with icebreaker questions to get students talking together. This can be a great way to start the semester off or to rekindle energy after a break.
    Resource: Icebreakers & Refreshers
  • What are your resources?
    Resources come in many forms: from equipment and materials to studio space, from financial support to time management strategies, from friends who will brainstorm with you, to peers who will give you honest feedback, mentors who support and teach you, and colleagues who could collaborate with you... Ask students to think about and begin identifying the resources that they will be able to draw on as they move into a professional career or start a business.
    Where are the gaps? How might they go about finding or developing the resources they lack? In what ways might they be(come) resources for one another?
  • What are you struggling with?
    Share some of your own challenges as an artist/designer. Ask students to discuss their own struggles — in the current semester or in general — and to offer one another support and suggestions.
  • What do other people think of your project?
    Students working toward a professional career need to have some sense of how a potential audience might receive their work. Ask students to do some research to learn more about this. They might identify other professionals in the field and ask them for feedback and advice, or identify a target audience for their work and do some market research (interviews, focus groups...), gather feedback from an online network, etc. The idea is to broaden their
    understanding of how their work is received. Have students post a description of their research and their findings — and discuss what additional research they need to do, as well as what changes, if any, they might make in their project in light of their research.

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