Monthly Archives: February 2013

Are we really all designers?

This TEDx Talk had been making the rounds recently, and even though I’ve had it open in a tab for weeks, I just got around to watching it now. I’ve always sort of scratched my head at statements like “we’re all designers,” but this is a great example of how we – and our students – can design the future that we want to see.

YouTube Preview Image

Why is education so vulnerable?

Clay Christensen, in this month’s Wired:

The availability of online learning. It will take root in its simplest applications, then just get better and better. You know, Harvard Business School doesn’t teach accounting anymore, because there’s a guy out of BYU whose online accounting course is so good. He is extraordinary, and our accounting faculty, on average, is average.

Mindset over specifics

Screen Shot 2013-02-17 at 9.16.20 AM

I recently had to migrate my blog from Posterous to WordPress because the former is closing down shortly. It wasn’t the end of the world because I’ve done this before and I know what I’m doing, but I’m sure this is going to be a real pain for a lot of people who aren’t into blog backends and importers and plugins. These people stand to lose all the content and discussions that they have created on their blogs unless they can find an easy way to move on.

But this sort of stuff happens all the time. A year or two ago, I thought we had finally found a way to give all our students free and easy access to a powerful set of creative tools with Aviary‘s suite of web-based applications. I even remember a meeting that my department had at Aviary’s NYC headquarters that sold us on widespread use of their stuff. And then, with a simple change of corporate focus, those tools were gone. We worked around it, but it was a real disappointment from a group that we personally wanted to trust and continue working with.

Screen Shot 2013-02-23 at 6.21.53 PM

 

A lot of educators who put in conference proposals have the “thing” that they focus on for the current season of conferences, and this year mine was that technology isn’t about the stuff that we use but what we make of it. In short, it’s about creating flexible mindsets in the teachers and students that we work with so that they are never hung up on a specific tool that may or may not be available the next time they go to use it.

By focusing on what we want to make instead of how we’re going to make it, we allow for experimentation, curiosity, and serendipity. We let someone find a way to make something happen instead of giving them a recipe to follow. Ultimately, that process is more important than any “finished” product, especially if we allow for revisiting, revision, and continual improvement.

This isn’t just about blogging platforms and computer programs. I’d imagine that we can all try to do things in different ways. The next time you think you how you’re going to get something done, try something different. You might just find a better way to do it.

(Over)design Thinking

Design Assignments 2010 Higher Grade Product Design * Rasheeda

I spent two days in the last week or so in Design Thinking workshops, as I’m doing a lot of research (and tinkering) while developing a curriculum for a two-year course on Design Thinking for some of next year’s eleventh graders. I’m also in the middle of a unit with my tenth grade students that has them investigating a part of New York City and re-imagining it, redesigning it, and  building (a model of) it. While I’m excited to see what they come up with, I’m hoping that their solutions are more practical than anything else.

In a workshop I was at on Tuesday on IDEO’s Design Thinking for Educators methodology, I heard a couple of product ideas that ended up bothering me more than anything else. Working in pairs, participants described a typical day to a partner, who then had to create a solution to solve the most salient problem of that day. The great thing about Design Thinking workshops is that you’re always encouraged to be creative as you’re surrounded by colorful sticky notes, Sharpie markers, silly straws, and other happy things. But I think there is sometimes a lack of seriousness that comes with such whimsical materials. In response to a lack of time in someone’s day, the proposed product was a clock face with thirteen hours, with one more hour to get something done during the day. In response to a general business on the part of faculty members, another participant designed a faculty lounge with treadmills that had laptop stands and a shelf for books. While it’s fun to talk about these things in a group, they’re not at all practical. I’d rather spend my time creating things that might actually be used.

I hope that as the discipline of Design Thinking gets translated from educator workshops to student projects, we look for more useful creations from the students we teach. The examples are all around us – see public projects like the High Line, the Low LineCity Arch River for direct examples of innovative thinking that have the potential to transform the way we live – and there is no reason our students shouldn’t be a part of that, coming up with authentic solutions to real-world situations. A twenty-six hour day would be great, but it’s never going to happen. Let’s make better use of the twenty-four hours that we have every day.

(CC-licensed photo by Jordanhill School D&T Dept)