Project Wellspring

Di Luo's Teaching Portfolio

Teaching Philosophy

Teaching as Conversation

I believe teaching to be essentially a conversation. It is a process during which people exchange their ideas, thoughts, and opinions. The idea of “hierarchy” does not exist while I teach; the classroom is not a “one-person show” but a stage where I—the moderator—facilitates a certain “clash of minds,” creating an atmosphere of active sharing and debating. I have found that oftentimes, prosing questions is more important than harvesting definitive answers. And by encouraging students to “ask” (instead of to “listen”), they are more likely to enter into an active learning mode with their curiosity aroused, intensified, and echoed by an inquisitive instructor.

Conversations and debates necessarily entail different voices. Each individual is unique; each student has a distinctive way of approaching and interpreting things—this is especially true when teaching art history and other humanities disciplines. I believe that teaching is not about settling “disputes” by establishing a “consensus,” a “mainstream” idea or theory to be imposed on everyone, but instead a continual negotiation of these different voices, an intellectual activity which encourages and seeks diversity and inclusion. Buddhism tells that there are many paths to truth, and that truth has various manifestations. It is my delight to lead students on their own paths to truth while alerting them to remain open-minded and forever tolerant and appreciative of others’ choices. Indeed, tolerance is an invaluable virtue that is not a given but needs to be nurtured and constantly practiced, not only in political and religious realms but in the academia as well. The learning experience for students, therefore, becomes not a solitary endeavor but a journey along which one discovers and rediscovers the self in their own eyes and in the eyes of other people.

Visual Literacy

As all college teachers do, I believe that curiosity, originality, imagination, and critical thinking are among the most essential qualities that we ought to foster. In addition, there are three important abilities that I value deeply and believe are central to higher education. The first is “visual literacy,” which includes visual sensitivity, thinking, analysis, and criticism. This ability helps one to read and communicate through images and to clarify abstract concepts and theories; more importantly, it reshapes the way one thinks and solves problems. This is crucial to not just art history majors but students of all disciplines.

Assembling interrelated images, graphs, and charts into a “mind map” has proven to be a highly effective pedagogical method in my teaching. I have always been a keen advocate of the use of visual aids in classrooms to communicate and explore ideas, a habit I have developed after years of architectural training and practice. I feel that the process of learning—however complex or advanced the subject might be—can and should be a joyful and playful expedition of the mind, an expedition that can be successfully experimented when visualized as, and guided by, something like a treasure map. In my classes at the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Southern California, I frequently use the “mind map” strategy to present the materials to be covered, laying out all the key works, terms, and points for the class to discuss. Participants would always be able to focus on particular details without losing track of the progress and overall goal of the discussion. I further encourage my students to create their own mind map (taking the shape of a pyramid or tree) when working on essays or papers, so that the overall structure, the connections between different parts, and the logic of argumentation could be visualized and easily adjusted and modified.

Global Awareness, Diversity, Inclusion

The second ability, global awareness and perspective, has become increasingly important to college education. My students at Pitt and USC are diverse groups coming from different parts of the world, representing different traditions, ethnicities, belief systems, and social and economic backgrounds. In response, I have designed my courses to respect and reflect such diversity, covering materials and topics representatives of diverse cultures and highlighting interactions of these cultures in a global dimension.

I like to tell my students that the same piece of art would often manifest more profound meanings and even universal values when examined in a cross-cultural perspective, whereas such significance is easily neglected if we confine it to a narrower, more particular context. Teaching Asian art, for example, has provided me and my students an excellent opportunity to explore how Buddhist art and architecture shared certain common iconography and motifs despite its stylistic and technological variations found in India, Afghanistan, Tibet, China, Korea, Japan, and Indonesia. Buddhist statues enshrined in domed stone structures might have even received, to some extent, influences from the sculptural and vault-building traditions from the West via the Silk Road. While such commonalities are one of the most exciting and thought-provoking issues that I lead students to explore, the distinctiveness of each artistic tradition—together with its intellectual foundations (Hinduism, Jainism, Confucianism, Daoism, Shinto, Zen Buddhism, etc.)—also becomes more revealing.

Digital Literacy

The third ability that I believe is essential and demands urgent cultivation is digital literacy. The three courses I teach at Pitt are designed with corresponding digital components. Students attend two workshops over the semester to learn rudimentary digital skills which they would find beneficial for both academic endeavor and professional development. They practice how to create and publish, using a series of free online applications and tools, 3D photogrammetric models and interactive timelines and maps. Such exercises not only help them to better digest course materials, but more importantly encourage them to work and think digitally in their college education and in their future careers, so as to enjoy a greater exposure to and presence in the digital age.


A good teacher informs, while a great teacher inspires and motivates. I aspire to be a great teacher who shows her students not one way, but multiple possible ways to become a virtuous, intelligent, and successful person. The best moments I had during teaching were not when I stood on the stage receiving a teaching award hearing the applause from the crowd, but instead those moments when students sent words telling me how they appreciated the unique learning experience they had with me.

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