20 September 2010

Adaptive Syllabus I'm experimenting with the idea of an "adaptive syllabus" this year.

Fear not. I haven't removed the basic required course outline, but I've warned my students that things may shift and that they should be prepared to be adaptable. This isn't an experiment with their education but rather an investigation of how learning can be adapted when we embrace the unexpected (which always happens in classes but is rarely documented or monitored, from my experience).

Imagine a wall in a classroom where a student could make comments using a colored marker or post-it. Imagine weekly assignments getting shifted as needed. Imagine new ideas emerging because of real time experiences that a student or a teacher are curious to explore. If industry operates this way, shouldn't design education address it in some manner? If the design of things, ideas, products and software are meant to be agile, then shouldn't a design education promote the same model? Once you enter the daily reality of work, you find yourself getting interrupted for meetings, conference calls and site visits, which suggests another level of agility. The reality is, you have to shift. So I suppose I'm asking, "What if a course syllabus operated in the same manner?"

I don't profess to have a full grasp on this idea but I like the concept that a course outline has the potential for some interactivity and can mimic the realities of industry. I think it could be developed into a digital tool that would enable a student to interact with it before/during/after class (since I don't have a fixed space at ECU to allow for an analog interpretation, I'm hosting a one-sided test here). The image above simply highlights a framework but hardly represents the full experience of interactivity. Any interaction designers want to help me test the idea? #wink

I'm sure some instructors wouldn't enjoy this format so I'm hardly declaring it as the new way to develop a syllabus. But from watching the folks at the d.School and Hyper Island, I can see that there is definitely room for alternative methods of course development - and some that pursue interactivity at the same pace as industry.

Since this is a new concept for me, I'd love to hear your thoughts on this topic (whether you're a student, an instructor or an industry professional).

15 September 2010

I've been crafting a list of tools as I consider how I might support individuals who are new to design. Since I'm teaching undergraduates this fall, this inquiry has become even more relevant. Many students are worried that they aren't taking the right path and fear that they might make a mistake in their education/career choices. Haven't we all? In my estimation, some of this stems from the temptation to compare oneself to another and assume that in order to be a good designer, I need to be like ______________.

In light of this, I reflected back on my own journey and asked myself how I got to the place I am today. Looking back, I can't underestimate the value of knowing the often overlooked skills that don't fit into a typical "list of tools." The reason? They are unique to each individual! While I am a proponent of developing and nurturing one's craft, there is also great value in actually knowing and identifying your strengths.

In the words of Socrates: Know thyself.

Some might classify these as "soft skills" but I would suggest they are fundamental to developing your toolkit. And since design operates as a collaborative discipline, understanding strengths can help build strong and effective teams.

I went back to some notes and readings from my own search and came across a few tools that have helped me frame these "soft skills" for myself and others. They may be obvious options but in re-reading them, I was encouraged by the direction my work/life/career has taken.

1. StrengthsFinder
StrengthsFinder proposes that we should reduce the amount of time we spend worrying about what we aren't good at and instead nurture what already comes naturally. Here are my top 5 strengths discovered in this process:

a) Ideation
People who are especially talented in the Ideation theme are fascinated by ideas. They are able to find connections between seemingly disparate phenomena.

b) Connectedness
People who are especially talented in the Connectedness theme have faith in the links between all things. They believe there are few coincidences and that almost every event has a reason.

c) Strategic
People who are especially talented in the Strategic theme create alternative ways to proceed. Faced with any given scenario, they can quickly spot the relevant patterns and issues.

d) Input
People who are especially talented in the Input theme have a craving to know more. Often they like to collect and archive all kinds of information.

e) Intellection
People who are especially talented in the Intellection theme are characterized by their intellectual activity. They are introspective and appreciate intellectual discussions.

2. Myers-Briggs
We've likely all taken this test! Here's a brief breakdown of my INTJ-ness:

With Introverted Intuition dominating their personality, INTJs focus their energy on observing the world, and generating ideas and possibilities. Their mind constantly gathers information and makes associations about it. They are tremendously insightful and usually are very quick to understand new ideas. However, their primary interest is not understanding a concept, but rather applying that concept in a useful way.

In education they are most often found at the college and university level. In the professions, they may be a lawyer, a business analyst, or strategic planner. Some have a strong artistic/creative bent and may become an artist, inventor, or designer. Whatever they do, they do it with intensity.

Final Note: There are many other tools one could draw upon! These are but two that have offered me some language to articulate skills that might be missed in talking about a "toolkit" (and were actually assessed more than 10 years ago). I believe that this type inquiry serves to help a designer acquire the most important tool in these times: a unique voice that will speak to the complexities of our world through the discipline of design.

Photo credit: Martin Whitmore

06 September 2010

Diagram of the Bauhaus curriculum, published 1923

As I continue to prepare for my teaching roles this fall, I'm drawn back to my own experiences of learning design. I recall focusing one investigation on the Bauhaus as I was drawn to its obvious articulation of curriculum and pedagogy (the diagram above provides a visualized overview of this).

When you consider all that you've learned, what do you think young designers should know in order to be equipped for these times? If we look at the model of the Bauhaus, what should a one year "basic course" entail in 2010? If you could go back to school this fall, what would you focus on or improve?

Update: I just finished reviewing Johannes Itten's book and came across this detail that is worth mentioning if we are to consider what could be adapted for a basic course in this day and age. Since he was tasked with setting up the Basic Course, his three aims are valuable insights into this dialogue:

1. To free the creative powers and thereby the art talents of the students. Their own experiences and perceptions were to lead to genuine work. The students were to free themselves gradually from dead conventions and to take courage for work of their own.

2. To make the students' choice of career easier. Here the exercises with materials and textures proved a valuable aid. In a short time each student found out which materials appealed most to him; whether wood, metal, glass stone, clay or yarn best stimulated him to creative activity. Unfortunately, at that time we lacked a workshop for the Basic Course in which all fundamental skills, such as planing, filing, sawing, bending, glueing, and soldering, could be practiced.

3. To convey to the students the fundamental principles of design for their future careers. The laws of form and color opened the objective world to the students. In the course of the work the objective and subjective problems of form and color were integrated in so many ways.

Notably, he also started each class by including exercises to prepare the students physically and mentally (relaxing, breathing and concentrating): "The training of the body as an instrument of the mind is of the greatest importance for the creative man."

02 September 2010

In the spirit of working through a list of questions before we design, I thought this inquiry might also prove beneficial. If we want to design for people outside of our context and culture, should we be asking these types of questions? What would a design outcome look like if we investigated even one of these differences in our design process?

66 Ways We Differ:
1. How we define "proper" behavior
2. How and when we greet each other
3. What's considered common courtesy
4. What's polite or impolite
5. How closely we stand to each other
6. The holidays we celebrate and how we celebrate them
7. How we show respect and disrespect
8. How and why we use money, credit and bartering
9. The range in which we negotiate
10. What is modest or risqué
11. What is embarrassing or shameful
12. What makes us feel good, and what depresses us
13. What makes us proud and what shames us
14. What, when and how we eat and drink
15. What we wear, and when and where we wear it
16. How we see and behave toward sickness and health
17. How and when we seek and use health services
18. What we find funny or sad
19. How and when we use means of transportation
20. What we buy and sell, and when, how and with whom we do it
21. When, where and how we sit and stand
22. If, how and when we touch each other
23. What we believe
24. What we value
25. What makes "common sense"
26. What are worthwhile goals in life
27. What is beautiful or ugly
28. The nature of God and other religious beliefs
29. What we believe we need and don't need
30. Whether privacy is desirable or undesirable
31. Who makes decisions and in what circumstances
32. Whether a person is in control of his or her own life and whether fate determines it
33. What should be communicated directly or indirectly
34. What or who is clean or dirty
35. What language, dialect and tone of voice we use
36. To whom we speak and to whom we do not speak
37. The role of the individual
38. The roles of men and women and how they should each behave
39. The roles of parents and children and how they should each behave
40. The importance of harmony in a group
41. The importance of competition between individuals
42. Social class
43. Educational levels
44. Hierarchy in business relationships
45. How time is understood
46. Whether schedules are important or unimportant
47. The importance of tradition and rituals
48. How often we smile, who we smile at and what it means when we smile
49. How strangers interact
50. How we interact with a person in authority
51. How we interact with a person serving (e.g. in a restaurant)
52. Relationships and obligations between friends
53. Relationships and obligations toward extended family and relatives
54. Facial expressions and other nonverbal behavior and gestures and when they are used
55. Crowd or audience behaviors
56. The importance of preparing for the future
57. How we see old age and how we value elders
58. Whether conversation should be formal or informal
59. What should be said and what should be left unsaid
60. Whether, when, how and with whom we make "small talk"
61. How we perceive what is friendly or unfriendly
62. How open or guarded we are with information
63. What behavior is ethical and what behavior is not ethical
64. How, whom and how much we entertain
65. How or whether we take turns, stand in line, etc.
66. How often we change jobs or move house and where and why

Source: Global Competence: 50 Training Activities for Succeeding in International Business, Jonamay Lambert, Selma Myers and George Simons, Editors, Amherst, Mass: HRD Press, 2000.