Checks instead of grades in digital media class

Art instructor Nicholas D’Acquisto discusses how to take steps in creating a design for a menu for a Mexican restaurant. “This assignment will not only give (students) something for their portfolio, but if their design is chosen, they will be given $50,” D’Acquisto said.

A common complaint some students might have when learning new material is how it can help in the real world. New art instructor Nicholas D’Acquisto addresses this complaint in every lesson.

In order to make his lessons applicable in the real world, D’Acquisto uses fake paychecks to represent grades.

“The goal is for my students to get a job when they leave,” he said. “If that’s the goal, then why not make my class more real world so when they get in the real world it’s not a shock? That’s why I give them grades as checks. It’s to reinforce that mindset that if you do a bad job, you’ll get bad money.”

D’Acquisto said the checks are for $100, but on bigger projects, the amounts increase.

Junior Jordan Cooper said D’Acquisto’s usage of checks as grades adds a more realistic perspective on assignments.

“Our future bosses aren’t going to give us a $100 check for something that should be worth $50, and the same goes for us in our classroom with his grading system,” he said.

D’Acquisto has been a teacher for five years, but he first began teaching digital media at UNA in spring 2017.

D’Acquisto said his realistic teaching style evolved over the years.

“By my second or third year, I began to realize that students were getting jobs with the knowledge I gave them,” he said. “I thought to myself, ‘What is something I can bring to my class to reinforce that?’ About a year later, I came up with the idea of using checks.”

Cooper said this teaching style was not one he was used to.

“His real-world teaching style freaked me out at first because I was used to doing four or five digital media projects in a semester in Digital Media 1, but this is preparing me for that fast-paced world of design,” he said. “He has definitely picked up the pace from my prior class, but I have learned so much from him.”

D’Acquisto said he also tries to ensure the class feels similar to a work environment.

“I make it feel like a job and treat them like employees, but I still keep it relaxed,” he said.

He makes the class feel ‘laid-back’ through his mellow personality, said junior Carson Traylor.

“He offers friendly pushes to encourage us to do better,” she said. “Once he explains something, he won’t show us again, but he will ask us questions that help direct our mind to the correct answer or method.”

D’Acquisto said when he does not teach, he works at his graphic design business, D’Acquisto Design, in Tennessee.

D’Acquisto said he has taken a work request and turned it into an assignment for his students. They were given the chance to redesign a menu for a Mexican restaurant.

“I don’t give them work that people would consider ‘busy work,’” he said. “It’s a waste of my time and theirs. I like to give them assignments that they can use and look well in their portfolios. This assignment will not only give them something for their portfolio, but if their design is chosen, they will be given $50.”

Traylor said it is a great opportunity for students to get their work out there.

D’Acquisto said he is amazed he has made an impact on his students within a few months.

“I always try to make sure my students are well-prepared for the world they will work in,” he said. “I’m glad that my students have found my lessons helpful and impactful.”