Monday, February 2, 2009

Education as Design

At the suggestion of a wise faculty member I have been reading a fair amount about the process of design over the last few months.  I've read things focused in areas from architecture to shopping carts to surveys and started to think about education through the lenses of design.  This has been very enlightening for me because typically my approach to learning has been very narrow minded and I haven't considered all of the many facets of the learning experience that need to be attended to.  

Most recently I read a book that really impacted my thinking--The Ten Faces of Innovation, by Tom Kelley.  Kelley is the General Manger at IDEO, a design consulting firm that works with a wide range of organizations to improve their products and services.  There were far too many new ideas to cover here, but a few that stood out were the importance of collaboration, physical space, and stories.  Kelley also described "experience architects" who design experiences for users or clients.  This idea seems to have particular relevance in education where we are providing a set of learning experiences for students.  Too often we think of education as writing tests, finding readings, and leading discussions--very disconnected, fragmented, and isolated events.  Kelley's ideas about designing experience suggest that we would be more effective in thinking about our courses as integrated experiences (even stories) of sorts where we design mini experiences or interactions for students to take part in.  Those interactions might be with each other, with the instructor, with a reading, etc., but they are all weaved together in a well-connected tapestry.  The challenge in this is realizing that no matter how "well-designed" the experience might be, students will be impacted by it in different ways and may learn a variety of different things.  Deterministic, behaviorist thoughts will have to be discarded.  

Critical in this design are the "sets" (Ch. 8 of Kelley's book) where our experiences play out and the stories that are told (or that learners are invited to tell themselves.  Classrooms will probably always be a part of these sets, but too often we limit our designs to the traditional room filled with desks.  What kinds of other experiences might be provided?  Also, what stories are we building into the learning experiences of our students?  Good stories not only clarify concepts and provide context, they can produce powerful emotional responses and help learners connect with each other and with the content.  For a really interesting examination of the power of stories see Ch. 10 of Ten Faces as well as Tell Me a Story, Roger Schank.

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