Ohio University
Interior Architecture Program
Matthew Ziff, Associate Professor, Area Chair
M. Arch, Architect, NCIDQ


My Teaching Philosophy

Design teaching, design learning: a synthesis and celebration 
(of thoughts and activities)




As A Teacher I Work To Support, Empower and Inform Students

Teaching is a dynamic process that is structured through acts of reflection, analysis, and transformation. A university classroom is a site in which students and teachers build an environment dedicated to the acquisition and development of knowledge, skills, and an appreciation of their discipline. A teacher's role in building this environment requires the possession and use of appropriate knowledge and skills, and an attitude toward students that is inclusive, energetic and synergistic.

As a teacher, I structure course curricula, write project statements, lecture in the classroom, present and synthesize information and ideas, discuss issues in the design studio, interpret students' ideas and goals, try to understand student problems and frustrations, encourage and support exploration and research, and challenge students to understand ideas that seem foreign to them. To entice students out of the familiar and the predictable and to encourage students to explore the new and the unexpected, a teacher must be sensitive to basic human characteristics. Students may be uncertain of their abilities to explore and understand new ideas. This uncertainty can lead students to be hesitant to attempt anything new. I present my classroom as a safe haven for the intellectual exploration and development of students. While my classroom activities have defined rules and boundaries, students are assured that their discoveries will be discussed and evaluated with respect, even when unexpected, unpredictable, and even unpopular points of view are raised.

Energy and enthusiasm are contagious, and I attempt to bring a great deal of both to the classroom. Students are productive when they are excited about their work, students understand information when they can make connections with their own experiences and knowledge, and students enjoy the challenges of the process of education when they feel they are on a journey shared with the faculty. As a teacher I share learning experiences with students by structuring courses to provide regular and frequent dialogue between the teacher and students. I am aware that my knowledge is constantly developing and changing with discoveries that I make as I teach classes and respond to student investigations.

In the design studio environment students are often hesitant to commit themselves to an idea and to a direction for their work. This hesitation prompts students to ask me for 'permission' to explore an idea rather than to directly confront the issues at hand with a curious and critical mind. I insist that my students re-phrase their question into a positive, proposition that describes the investigation they intend to pursue, and then to confidently carry out that investigation. After they have explored some of the initial implications and consequences of their ideas, typically through sketches or models, we are able to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of their proposals. This is a simple teaching device that helps to persuade students that their ideas have virtue, and are worth exploring. This device also helps to empower students, as generators of ideas, and positions the faculty to be used as a resource and a guide rather than as a 'permission giver.'

Teaching is, for me, a process that empowers students, allowing them to become more capable and self sufficient:  it also expands their knowledge, and connects them with the world beyond their experience. This is a building process that my students and I undertake together.


"Concrete Balconies" photo by Matt Ziff