Critical Studies

The Critical Studies Program curriculum is mission–driven and based on providing students with the knowledge and skills they will need to enhance and promote their professional lives, as well as offering an opportunity for intellectual exploration and self-expression.

Critical Studies Coursework

Flashpoint’s liberal arts curriculum offers students a full complement of coursework to help them gain the skills they will need to enhance and promote their professional lives, as well as offering an opportunity for intellectual exploration and self-expression. Promotion of responsibility to community and the importance of lifelong learning are key components of the Critical Studies program to identify the skills and knowledge that employers value most in graduates.

Critical Studies at Flashpoint is woven into each program’s curriculum to establish their importance early in the student’s studies and to explicitly establish relevance to the concurrent discipline courses. Rather than simply tailoring the general education courses to connect them to the discipline-specific courses, Flashpoint has integrated the critical studies competencies and skills into the outcomes of specialty courses, especially evidenced with the writing and oral communication skills outcomes. This enables the student to recognize the importance of these competencies and skills. It also allows them to further practice and refine them, and facilitates faculty assessment of learning outcomes to identify deficiencies in those core competencies and skills as evidenced in student application. Flashpoint’s critical studies philosophy asserts that the broad categories of critical competencies and skills are essential for the student to thrive in a diverse, global society. They underpin the core values of Flashpoint, and are the foundation upon which the student will base career and life decisions.

Flashpoint Chicago educates students in the art and science of communications and the diverse media of contemporary storytelling within an exploration of the liberal arts. Our rigorous course of study and practice prepares graduates to be analytical thinkers and effective communicators who are creative, knowledgeable, and responsible contributors to advancing a curious, thoughtful, and compassionate global community.

The Critical Studies learning outcomes are: I. Critical Thinking and Problem Solving II. Oral and Written Communication III. Global Awareness and Responsibility IV. Information Literacy V. Quantitative Reasoning and VI. Aesthetic Literacy

The following are brief descriptions of each skill category:

I. Critical Thinking and Problem Solving

Being a proficient media arts professional is not just solving a problem. Inherent to the enterprise is the ability to recognize a problem and find its root cause. Critical thinking, research, and a logical approach to a specific project—or, more importantly, a life decision—is fundamental. Understanding how one came to a decision or reached an outcome is essential to learning and growth. Research, analysis, and assessment of logic-based outcomes provide a framework for informed decision making. It is the cornerstone of all good leadership and responsible living.

II. Oral and Written Communication

Responsible decisions must be communicated in an effective manner. Communication, whether written, verbal, or visual, is a human being’s most important connection to the world. Responsible leaders must know how to construct, interpret, and influence the behaviors of those that they serve and direct. Responsible media arts professionals must also construct, interpret, and influence the environments in which that behavior is elicited.

III. Global Awareness and Responsibility

Recognition of the human condition and the shared connection of all people regardless of time or geography are essential to a mature and responsible sense of self-awareness. The ability to connect to the thoughts and ideals of a different culture can only enrich understanding of one’s own beliefs. By broadening the scope of experience through the humanities, social sciences, and other academic disciplines that form the foundation of the Critical Studies curriculum, Flashpoint enables the student to recognize commonality and respect differences. A broad scope of experience also raises awareness of social and environmental issues at the local and global level. Stewardship and ethical behavior are promoted as the ideal. Integrating this into the discipline-orientated sequence allows students to confront a problem and provide a solution, effectively empowering them to be agents of responsible social action and change.

IV. Information Literacy

The ability to recognize when information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate, and use the needed information for a wide range of purposes is an imperative skill for the media arts student. Undergraduate students today can access an amount and variety of information at their fingertips. It is less clear if they know how best to access it, how to judge the relative quality of information from various sources, and fully understand when and how to bring evidence into a discussion. Information literacy, then, encompasses a variety of skills from making the judgment that more information is needed, to searching the academic literature and web for more information, and then documenting what information was used.

V. Quantitative Reasoning

The ability to apply mathematical concepts to the interpretation and analysis of quantitative information in order to solve a wide range of problems is essential for the media arts student, from those arising in pure and applied research to everyday issues and questions. This may include such dimension as the ability to apply math skills, judge reasonableness, communicate quantitative information, and recognize the limits of mathematical or statistical methods. Quantitative reasoning looks different in different disciplines and so, it can be understood at a basic level, as seeing mathematics as a way to think – not just a set of techniques – and having some degree of confidence when thinking in a quantitative fashion.

VI. Aesthetic Literacy

The appreciation of beauty and the ability to interpret the qualities of a design, a film, a song, a process, a work of art, or a piece of rhetoric is a key component in a good media arts student’s learning. Recognition of beauty and the ideal is necessary for setting standards of excellence. Understanding why something has engaged a person aesthetically can lead to insights into human behavior and the human condition. Appreciation leads to exploration. Exploration leads to intellectual curiosity and lifelong learning.

Flashpoint strives to assess student learning and achievement to the core competencies of critical studies that are intended to capture the broad spirit of a well-rounded liberal arts education.

The culmination of the critical competencies is evidenced in the ability to collaborate, and more clearly, in the ability to assume responsible leadership. Critical thinking, communication, awareness, responsibility, and an appreciation for excellence, when under the direction of a focused and responsible leader, can be employed to achieve the goals that the mind conceives.

The skills of patience, organization, and the ability to synthesize other critical competencies are necessary to the creation of effective team members and leaders. Critical Studies courses are designed and chosen based on the categorical focus and how knowledge and skills are applied. The goal of the program is to build the core competencies and skills listed above for use in the technical specialty courses, while direct assessment of student learning outcomes in the five areas occurs in the Critical Studies courses. As the students move forward in the curriculum, the number of competencies and skills that are engaged in technical specialty courses multiplies. Additionally, the Critical Studies classes provide application-based learning through projects as students’ progress through the curriculum.

Students begin with Critical Studies coursework focused on critical thinking, communication and information literacy as these are used in all discipline classes. They move to coursework that promotes aesthetic literacy, quantitative reasoning, and gives them a foundation in social science. Engaging critical thinking and global awareness and responsibility, as well as responsibility through science and humanities, provides students a platform for synthesis in the technical specialty courses and Critical Studies courses, where all core competencies are challenged and assessed within collaborative, project-based coursework. This culminates in a humanities capstone (HUM 411 – Language, Symbols and Society) course, which parallels the student’s capstone course in the core curriculum. This course measures the effectiveness of the institution’s ability to promote the intended core outcomes of the critical studies program. Students are asked to research, evaluate, and synthesize information on various theories, designers, and historical or future design movements from a global perspective. This process complements the studio skills displayed and allows the Flashpoint to assess the learning outcomes of the Critical Studies program in one place.


In Sociology 101 we allocated the last two classes to volunteer with Farmworks, a non for profit urban farm in West Chicago.  Everything they grow is donated to local food pantries.
We had a great time and everyone did a great job. The students learned about growing techniques, localized food systems and the importance of access to healthy food in low income communities.


I  wish more of the classes were devoted to this!  – Vincent Mullen – Flashpoint Chicago –  Animation + Digital Art


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