Here are some of my pieces directly related to education and the COVID19 crisis. I am also part of the team behind the silverliningforlearning.org project (where you will find additional video archives and blog posts):
100,000: Commemorating the 100,000 individuals, in the United States, who have had their lives cut short due to COVID19 (video)
As a part of our series of conversations with creativity scholars we recently spoke with Dr. Sandra Russ, Louis D. Beaumont University Professor, and interim dean at the College of Arts and Sciences and Professor of Psychology in the Department of Psychological Sciences at Case Western Reserve University. Dr. Russ is an expert on creativity and play and our conversation we explored her research on pretend play and creativity, the importance of nurturing play and creativity across the lifespan; as well as the role of play and creativity during crisis situations such as the COVID-19 pandemic.
Each man’s death diminishes me, For I am involved in mankind. Therefore, send not to know For whom the bell tolls, It tolls for thee.
Over the Memorial day long-weekend I just felt the need to create something to commemorate the 100,000 individuals, in the United States, who have lost their lives over the past few months to COVID19. That is a staggering number and one that is hard for us to grasp.
I have also been deeply troubled by the lack of discussion about the scale and the human dimension of the tragedy that we are living through. The New York Times front page (below) from Sunday (May 24) was an exception.
This video is the result.
It attempts to capture both the scale and the human dimension of the tragedy, the fact that this number is actually made of a hundred-thousand individuals – whose lives have been cut short by this virus. An incalculable loss.
It is rarely that I hear a talk that blows me away.
We have all seen the TED talks, and their mutant offspring. The over-hyped music and catchy taglines; the speaker in front of a rapt audience; the crafted delivery with its carefully punctuated pauses and reveals, the self-deprecatory humor and, of course, the final insight or wisdom packaged in 30 words or less.
But it is rare to hear a talk that is measured and thoughtful and, most important, thought provoking. A talk that manages to be deeply philosophical and academic and yet connect, as deeply, to questions and issues of practice. A talk that is measured and relaxed yet powerful.
In his talk Shawn touches on many things, action research and design, the relationship of research and practice, the role of design in the futures of learning, and the importance of principled innovation (all ideas dear to my heart). [For more on our work on designing Learning Futures and Principled Innovation see these this and this].
To start, here is an introduction to the conference and Shawn’s keynote written by my friend and colleague Dr. Danah Henriksen. (Thank you Danah)
Introduction the Doctoral Research Conference and Dr. Loescher’s talk
By Dr. Danah Henriksen
The EdD program in Leadership and Innovation has been a flagship program in the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College for nearly 15 years. It began as a traditional face-to-face program, helping educators and educational leaders in Arizona who had dreamed of finding a better way to improve their collective practice and engage leadership and inquiry.
In 2015, a fully online version of the program was launched to great success and interest. In order to ensure that all students, both online and face-to-face, had the same opportunity for sharing of their research in a professional conference setting, the program committee decided to transition our bi-yearly Doctoral Research Conference into a fully online format. In this new online conference format, students from different cohorts, and geographic locations, come together one a year, in a one-day professional research conference. In sharing their action research efforts here, doctoral students connect across the program and the world with other students in the same program, who are working in a range of (sometimes very similar or drastically different) research problems and settings. This day-long event is an exciting celebration of the incredible work our students are engaged in.
The highlight of the day, each year, is the Keynote speaker. As a program, we seek out a Keynote speaker who can speak both to the challenges and rigors of research, as well as the complexity and messiness of practice. We hope the speaker can bring together ideas and concepts around innovation, action research and the intersection of research and practice, all within the context of current and emerging issues in education. This year, in 2020 we were honored to invite a recent and acclaimed graduate of the program—Dr. Shawn Loescher—to deliver the Keynote.
This is how I introduced him:
Dr. Shawn T. Loescher, Ed.D., is an active practitioner with over 25 years of experience, both domestically and abroad, in educational innovation and school system redesign. He currently serves as a Chief Executive Officer of an inner-city school system in San Diego, CA. In 2019, Dr. Loescher was named one of 16 worldwide recipients of the TED-Ed Innovative Educators award. He earned his doctorate from this EdD program, right here here in the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College at ASU with a focus on leadership, innovation, theory, and policy. Dr. Loescher is an American Educational Research Association awarded scholarly practitioner in action research and sciences, where he won the AERA Action Research SIG Dissertation of the Year Award for 2020. He’s a sought-after keynote and TED talk speaker, guest lecturer, consultant, and think tank participant.
Action research as praxis: From being to becoming
Abstract: In the English language, there are two common understandings of the word Ontology, that of being and becoming. Action research is guided by understandings of the past, is grounded in the present, and is solutions orientated towards a more ideal future state. Guided by the literature and contextual knowledge, an action researcher may simultaneously be a disrupter of the status quo, an instrument of data collection, and the navigator of a political environment. This keynote address focuses on action research as a means of systemic improvement for the Friearian notion of praxis towards our first vocation, that of becoming more human. Dr. Loescher will discuss how action research is being used as a means of emancipatory practice in the service of our students and communities.
You can find the video below (and the slides here)
All of us involved in social design (and I include education in among those as well) ask ourselves, or are asked this question:
How do we measure the impact of the work we do?
This begs the question, why measure in the first place? Lord Kelvin, one of the greatest physicists of the 19th century, provided the canonical answer to this question back in 1883, saying:
…When you can measure what you are speaking about, and express it in numbers, you know something about it; but when you cannot measure it, when you cannot express it in numbers, your knowledge is of a meager and unsatisfactory kind.— William Thompson Kelvin (Popular Lectures, Vol. I, “Electrical Units of Measurement,” p. 73, 1883).
In other words, according to Lord Kelvin “to measure is to know” (which as it happens is another of his oft-quoted remarks).
This emphasis on measurement can be seen in all aspects of our lives. We measure our children’s heights, and our GDP; we measure learning gains in students, and recidivism rates of inmates released from prison; we measure the number of steps we walk and the calories we eat.
That said, we also know that there are things, important things, that we have not yet managed to measure, or do not know how to. These are often intangible, ineffable—and yet, important.
How do we measure if students are seeing beauty in mathematics? Or the economic value of public art? Or the capacity of music to move us?
These issues are of concern for all of us engaged in social design (i.e. the application of design methods to tackle complex human problems). In a recent blog post, prompted by the COVID19 crisis and global school closures, I asked the question about the value of school (in two parts, One & Two)– and argued that measures that focus on one dimension (that of learning, via standardized tests) miss all the other values that schools bring to our lives.
The issue, of course, is that if we can’t measure the impact of our work how can we know if what we are doing is working or not? The issue is not whether we should measure but rather if we are measuring what we ought to be measuring. Often, we are limited to measuring what we can easily measure rather than what we ought to measure. Alternatively:
Do we measure what we value or do we merely value what we can measure?
These are not new questions, but they are important ones, and worth revisiting.
Recently we organized a virtual convening of scholars and leaders from across ASU on this very topic. Titled: The Importance of the Ineffable: Measuring What Matters,the convening was organized by the Office of Scholarship and Innovation, the Principled Innovation Team and InnovationSpace. Participants came from a range of units within and outside of ASU, bringing their disciplinary expertise as well as their deep expertise into the conversation. (Complete list of colleges and units that participated given at the end.)
This event had initially been planned as being a face-to-face convening, till COVID19 got in the way. What this shift to an online convening meant that we had to get creative to ensure that the different approaches and perspectives could get properly and thoughtfully addressed and some synthesis reached.
To us that meant that we could not (and should not) just drop people into a zoom room and hope for good things would happen.
Jennifer Stein and Henry Borges put in some significant effort to design a genuinely powerful experience – with additional support from Clarin Collins, Ben Scragg, and Lok-Sze Wong. We moved seamlessly from whole group to smaller teams and back to whole group, toggling between Zoom and Google Slides and Google Draw, sharing ideas, collapsing them in to broad categories of questions and then digging deeper into them.
A range of topics were generated and were virtually categorized and then people self-selected to discuss each of these overarching topics further.
Overall it was an exciting and intellectually challenging event, providing us with lots to chew on and we continue to explore these ideas in actual projects in the future.
Note: Participants included people from the following units or organizations: TheSchool for the Future of Innovation in Society, School of Earth and Space Exploration, College of Public Service and Community Solutions, School of Computing, Informatics, and Decision Systems Engineering, Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences, Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, and the Kern Family Foundation.
Finally, for two slightly different, and idiosyncratic yet relevant, takes on the whole issue of measurement see these two blog posts from a few years ago:
Design facilitators play an important role in the open-ended collaborative design process. This becomes even more important as design based approaches expand to groups and teams that may not be as familiar with the process as expert designers may be. Facilitators support small group interactions to help generate ideas, structure discussions and guide the process with minimal friction.
Despite this increased focus on collaborative design in contexts outside of professional design, such as education, there is little research to inform facilitators in productive and thoughtful ways to navigate this process.
We build on our personal experience as facilitators in a collaborative, multi-stakeholder, educational design workshop to provide insights into the process. We identify a range of “essential tensions” that exists within multiple aspects of facilitator roles and practices—including processes, products, discussion flow, and group dynamics. More in the paper below:
Henriksen, D., Jordan, M., Foulger, T.S., Zuiker, S. & Mishra, P. (2020). Essential Tensions in Facilitating Design Thinking: Collective Reflections.Journal of Formative Design in Learning. https://doi.org/10.1007/s41686-020-00045-3
Here is the latest pdf version of the TPACK Newsletter (#43, April 2020), as curated and shared by Judi Harris and her team. (Previous issues are archived here.)
This issue includes titles, abstract and links to 76 articles, 2 chapters, and 10 dissertations that have not appeared in past issues. This brings the total numbers of publications recorded in the newsletter (over time) to a total of 1246 articles: 293 chapters in books; 28 books; and 404 —not found :-) dissertations.
Note: The banner image above may be my favorite tongue-in-cheek TPACK diagram (more here).
In the previous post we argued that schools play a varied and rich role in the economic, social, and cultural growth not just of the students but of the broader community and society. In some ways the global school closure (affecting 1.5 billion learners) has brought home this fact.
realization, however, will mean little unless we use it to change how we
evaluate schools and make them accountable.
stand now, schools are typically evaluated by looking at aggregated academic
results (usually end-of-the-year test scores) or easily countable measures
related to academic results (such as graduation rates). It is not surprising
that there is a whole industry devoted to informing parents and media on how
use these data (be it student score percentiles, AP test rates, ranking in US
News and World Reports) to evaluate schools.
There are some pernicious side effects to this emphasis on tests scores, of course —from an inordinate emphasis on test-taking skills to outright fraud!
This is not to say that evaluation and accountability are not important. What is problematic however is an emphasis on just one aspect of schooling. Characteristic of this perspective is the following quote from Violane Faubert, an economist with the European Commission and expert on school evaluation. He writes:
School evaluation serves two interlinked purposes, improvement and accountability. School improvement relates to access to education (equity) and education performance (quality and efficiency). School evaluation for improvement aims at closing achievement gaps between low-performing and high performing schools, as well as to enhance the performance of all students. (in an academic paper titled: School evaluation: Current practices in OECD countries and a literature review)
Faubert, thus, frames the entire discussion of evaluation
through a focus on education (through access, through performance, through
What is missing are all the different and complex roles that
schools play, as we described in our first post. As we argued, schools
Keep kids safe so that adults can go about their business running the economy
They provide environments for emotional, civic and social development
They are hubs for social welfare programs, often for those with the greatest need.
They bring communities together.
They address the unique and specific needs of all learners
Yet, few of these aspects are evaluated explicitly when we
speak of evaluating schools or holding them accountable. For instance, we rarely
measure how much a school impacted the community, or how many students learned
to share, or found a new life interest, or made a new friend, or received help
accessing government funding, to list just a few examples.
In some areas the evaluation can be even more single-minded.
A good example is teacher evaluation. With the No Child Left Behind Act
during the Bush administration and then later the Race to the Top era
during the Obama administration, a certain philosophy about “accountability”
began to take hold. This philosophy promoted the theory that the best way to
evaluate schools and teachers was by measuring the learning gains of students
from year to year.
Yet, none of the other factors described in part 1 have much
weight in how we evaluate and compare teachers, or schools.
There are two choices here.
One, is to decouple all these different things schools do, get other community organizations to take on some of these roles. In this case the singular focus of schools would be learning and it would be somewhat appropriate to evaluate them on these current measures. (We know there is also significant debate on how useful these current measures are, but we will sidestep that debate for now.)
A second choice is to accept and acknowledge that academic
learning is just one of many aspects of student development that schools are
responsible for. It is important, hence, that schools should be held
accountable in ways that extend beyond just short-term academic progress. A
first step would be unpacking these different systems and creating evaluation
mechanisms that are customized for each.
This thought leads to some silver linings:
Silver lining 1: A chance to increase visibility of what schools do
Such changes in accountability should bring visibility and
transparency to the ignored, yet extremely valuable roles that schools play in
society. As we noted in our previous post, school personnel do so much beyond
what they get credit for. Schools serve as the sites for so many broader social
functions than just teaching children. Rethinking how we hold schools
accountable, also makes visible other parts of school that demand recognition
Silver Lining 2: An opportunity to rethink accountability
This current crisis may allow us to shake the dust off of a
decades-long view of how to measure the value of schools. The problem
with all the talk about “accountability” for the last decades was that they
were based on business models (and actually some agricultural models) where leaders tried to
measure sales (or the yield of crops).
Schools are responsible for so much more than learning. A
good accountability program would measure the holistic impact of a school on a
community. Schools in wealthy neighborhoods who handpick students from admission
waiting lists have very different social roles than Title I schools that
emphasize community enrichment programs such as after school childcare or free
breakfast programs (To give credit, some evaluation programs do this).
Such a shift in school evaluation matters a great deal. It matters,
because how we hold schools and teachers accountable nudges their actions.
School administrators and teachers typically care deeply about their community
of students and parents. But they also care about their job security. School
ratings also drive important incentives like federal funding or enrollment
rates. When testing plays such a key role, it nudges the behavior of
administrators and teachers.
A better system design needs to carefully evaluate what a good
school should do and how to nudge schools in those directions. When teachers
eliminate interesting lessons in favor of “test practice,” then the system has
failed. When principles refuse to enroll a student with a history of behavioral
problems, the system has failed. When second year teachers with the best
intentions quit after two years of poor student test scores, the system has
Ultimately, we need to move away from valuing
what we can measure to measure things that we truly value
and that means, as a first step, recognizing all the different things that
Lastly, a note on learning
Though we have not emphasized the teaching and learning aspects of school, this was a rhetorical move to highlight the other aspects of schooling that often get ignored. In fact, we (as educators) must acknowledge that more than anything else, schools serve as places to learn and be inspired. In this we are reminded of the words of the poet Yehuda Amichai:
I stood near the school building and looked in. This is the room where we sat and learned. The windows of a classroom always open to the future, but in our innocence we thought it was only landscape we were seeing from the window.
School is a place to stoke potential, even if that potential is not yet realized in school. But if that potential is not yet realized, then it will not show up on test scores. And if the measures we use to evaluate schools do not capture the richness of what they seek to do, we will have done a disservice to the learning as well.
The accepted assumption is that schools are sites for learning and the role of educators to equip students with the knowledge and skills they need to be successful in the future. One argument is:
The fundamental outcome desired for education is that it will pass on to each child the information and skills they will use throughout their lifetime. At its core, every school is a place where children learn what adults in the community already know, a place for the transmission of knowledge
This is also
reflected in the manner in which we evaluate schools and teachers. We give the
students tests to figure out how much they have learned, against some
externally developed criteria of how much they should know by what age. And we
hold students and schools accountable for this through a variety of accumulated
But, what if this
entire assumption (that schools are sites for learning) is wrong (or
If there is a silver lining to the current COVID19 crisis it is that it has forced us to look at school differently. With over 97% of the world’s learners out of school, it has given us an opportunity to revisit the whole idea of what the value of school is in our social, cultural and economic lives. We list a few of these ideas below.
keep kids safe so that adults can go about their business running the economy.
We would argue that the first and foremost value that schools bring to our world is an economic one. And we do not mean it in an “investment in the future” sense, which is the typical argument made for investing in public education. For instance, Hanushek argues that
When students learn more in school, they remain in the educational system longer and become more-skilled and -effective participants in the state’s workforce.
To be clear, we are not arguing against the longer-term economic value of education. But we are suggesting, rather, that there is a more significant immediate economic value that schools provide, that has become apparent due to the crisis. In blunt terms: Schools allow parents to do the work of keeping the economy humming, what Jeffrey Young describes as the custodial aspect of schooling. He writes that schools:
… take children and keep them safe and keep them secure and feed them, and whether a school is quote “good” or quote “bad,” whether the test scores are high or the test scores are low, pretty much at every school in the country parents can send their child and be secure that at the end of the day they will get their child back. And I think probably every parent in America, that’s what they’re missing.
The abrupt disappearance of this custodial aspect has significant economic implications. Epstein and Hammond have calculated that the cost of closing all schools and formal day-care centers in the US is approximately around .1 to .3% of GDP, which equates to more than 50 billion dollars (give or take a few billion).
The impact of these
school closures is felt most by people who are already in precarious financial situation.
The cost to society is exacerbated when we consider health-care workers
(especially in health crises like we have now) where it is estimated that up to
19% of health care workers would not be able to go to work if they had to take
care of their children.
So, if we have to put a value on school we need to take this multi-billion dollar immediate economic benefit into account.
Schools provide environments for emotional, civic and social development
As Dr. Damian Bebell’s research on school mission statements demonstrates that, “in almost every community, school means more than just curricular content and academic learning.” Though academic/cognitive development plays an important role in school mission statements it is not as dominant as emotional, civic and social development.
Teachers and educators become like second parents, or at
least role models to students, providing them nurture and support as they grow
and develop. Educators get to know students as developing individuals, helping
them grow as humans and citizens.
Schools are also intensely social spaces. Ask any kid and
they will tell you that schools provide places for friendship and company.
There is a reason why kids wait in anticipation for recess like cats ready to
pounce. During play, students learn to work with others, learn about navigating
differences (cultural, economic, and more).
Schools are the petri dishes for our democracy. They are
often the only places where students can explore alternative professional
identities (from science to art in a variety of ways, whether in the classroom
or through clubs and other social organizations). Schools allow students to
experience play and creativity in relatively low-risk ways, whether in formal
or informal contexts whether in the playground or through participation in more
formal organizations such as art and music clubs. Students also can engage in
leadership activities through sports, participation in student groups and more.
And maybe most importantly, students form their first real relationships. They make friends and cliques, and break up. They fall in love and break up. Most first relationships start at school. Ideas about love and relationships that have a huge influence on the future are often formed through conversations and experiences at school.
Schools are hubs for social welfare programs, often for those with
the greatest need.
Apart from the social
value of schools, making friends and learning to get along with others, living
in a community, developing personal qualities, schools are usually the first
line of defense against the ravages of poverty. For instance, in the United States,
schools/institutions serve free or reduced-price lunch to approximately 26
million children. For many this is the only consistent source of nutrition.
Globally, 368 million children are now missing out on school meals.
The bigger issue is that schools today function as centers for social welfare programs—free and reduced lunch being just one of many initiatives. Head Start is another such program, providing provide early access to education and health programs for young low-income students. Other programs include parent education programs, recovery coaches for substance-abusing parents, programs that offer technical courses and internships, programs that provide free books, and countless prevention education programs ranging from teen pregnancy to criminal behavior. All of these programs use schools as staging grounds.
Schools bring communities together.
Schools play an important role in bringing together the community. Consider the role school sports or arts programs play in bringing the community together. School sports often become points of pride for the community. School plays and activities populate the social calendar. Schools also play a role in introducing new ideas into the community, for example, by hosting maker-fairs, visiting speakers, or other similar gatherings.
address the unique and specific needs of all learners
Many parents rely on teachers and counselors with advanced
training to help navigate social and academic growth. This is particularly
important for students with special needs, or those navigating learning in a
second language. School counselors or teachers often have expertise assessing
particular learning disabilities. Once assessed, teachers and counselors not
only provide advice for treatment to parents, they also help parents navigate
the complex systems for receiving governmental assistance.
The silver lining
If there is a silver lining to this current crisis it is that, we can no longer ignore the fact that schools do so much more than teach. As we have argued above, schools do a lot for the communities they are in, and for the broader nation—not merely the delivery of disciplinary content. Or as Richard Culatta said in an interview:
Content, you know, that is just a really thin veneer of the overall education experience.”
Since the crisis
began and schools shut down
across the world, parents
(and other stakeholders) have begun to realize that schools play so many roles in society
besides just teaching students academic skills. Articles about school bus
routes being used to drop food off for students are part of the new narrative
about schools. This more holistic picture of the purpose of schools play in society
also suggests that we revisit the manner in which we evaluate the value of
schools, since it changes the notion of what a school should be accountable for
(and how this accountability is to be measured).
We will dig deeper
into this issue in the next blog post.
Kij Johnson, an award- winning author, editor, and Associate Professor in the University of Kansas’s MFA in Creative Writing program. In her teaching Kij brings some serious credibility as an artist, scholar, and all-around “uber-geek.” Kij has published three novels, several novellas, and dozens of short pieces to markets including Amazing Stories,Analog,Asimov’s, Clarkesworld,Duelist Magazine,Fantasy & Science Fiction, Realms of Fantasy,SciFiction.com, and Tor.com. She has recognized for her writing, having won the Theodore A. Sturgeon Memorial Award, and nominations for Hugo and Nebula awards.
She has had a multi-faceted career as an editor (for science fiction magazines, books and special editions); program manager on the Microsoft Reader; and documentation manager at Real Networks. She has also run chain and independent bookstores, worked as a radio announcer and engineer, and edited cryptic crosswords.
Our interview with Kij was an illuminating journey through her experiences, observations, and insights as a pub- lishing author and practicing academic and literary scholar. Talking with her was at turns part master class in creative writing and part demonstration of the artist at work, with liberal dashes of literary theory and pop culture thrown in for good measure. This was a fun article to write. You can find a citation and link below. Enjoy
I think Mike makes
some wonderful points in his post, in particular I loved the bulleted list of “learnings”
that he hopes we take away from this crisis.
But maybe the most important
thing in his piece is in the quote that he bases his title on. He quotes the
director of WHO as saying:
If we need to be right before we move, we will never win.
I would paraphrase that somewhat – mainly because I am not sure what “winning” means in education. What winning means, I think, is clearer, in the world of epidemiology, not necessarily so in the world of education. Zhao makes a similar argument for the question “Does it work?” when it comes to online education, and calls it the most meaningless (and even dangerous) question.
That said, there is
much talk in education about the value of evidence-based-practice (or
EBP) i.e. that decisions on educational policy and practice should be based on
sound empirical evidence.
There are few who can
argue against this point of view. But as in all matters that deal with the real
world, it’s complicated.
For instance, consider the Randomized Control Trials (or RCT’s), often considered the gold standard of research. RCT’s have had great value in medicine—to determine the efficacy of a drug or a treatment. The application to other domains, such as public policy or education, is not as straightforward.
There is a wonderful debate between Nobel laureates Abhijit Banerjee and Angus Deaton on the value (or lack thereof) of RCT’s which is truly worth watching in full, (if for nothing but to hear Angus Deaton description of playing Angry Birds as a metaphor for research).
Banerjee argues for RCT’s, saying that there is no other way of determining causality, whether a particular intervention has the effect we are looking for or not. However, as Deaton argues,
RCTs may identify a causal connection in one situation, but the cause might be specific to that trial and not a general principle. In a Rube Goldberg machine, flying a kite sharpens a pencil, but kite flying does not normally cause pencil sharpening. In other words, the context is everything.
Context is everything. And this is where the connection to education becomes key.
Education will always be shrouded in ambiguity, that we will never know everything we need to know. Education, like parenting and life, is a wicked problem. We try to get as much information as we can and move ahead, trying to do the best job we can.
One of my favorite quotes about education is from Farley who wrote:
The process of education is not a natural phenomena… It is man-made (sic), designed to serve our purposes and meet our needs. … It is not in need of research to find out how it works. It is in need of creative invention to make it work better.
That is powerful.
One thing this crisis has made clear—that education is badly in need of creative invention.
And this creative
invention will emerge not just based on what we know from empirical research
but also from understanding. The deep understanding that we educators bring to
the task at hand. The empathy that we bring to learners and their unique
contexts and propensities. It will come from a sensitivity to broader systems
and cultures within which education functions. The learnings that Mike describes
in his post.
This creative invention will also come from a taking a critical stance towards buzz-words such as “disruptive innovation” and “creative destruction.” We have lived through a decade of these phrases being bandied about and the consequences of the willy-nilly implementation of these ides. We have lived through Google’s motto of “Don’t be evil,” which was gently retired a couple of years ago. And of course, there is Facebook and its famous mantra of “Move fast and break things” And we know where that has led us.
I want to be clear
that I am not arguing for moving slowly. We are all in a situation where we
have no choice but move fast.
But at the same time, we need to focus on the historical, cultural, economic and political context of what we do. In a previous post I argued for Postman’s 5 rules for thinking about any new technology. These are questions we should ask ourselves as we move forward. This is the work we are involved in at the Office of Scholarship and Innovation at the Teachers College around Learning Futures and Principled Innovation.
It is not about moving fast and breaking things but rather about Moving intentionally and nurturing things.
I will give Mike the last word, as he wrote in his conclusion:
When future generations and historians reflect on this moment in time, one wonders what narrative will prevail? How did we respond? Most importantly, what did we learn from this experience?
Here are some links to follow if you are interested in learning more about some of the ideas mentioned above:
The scale of the COVID19 crisis and its impact on global education is hard to comprehend. UNESCO has a website (COVID-19 Educational Disruption and Response)
providing almost real-time data on school closures. It is shocking to
imagine that in a mere 45 days we have had schools close in over 180
countries, affecting 1.5 billion learners! As Yuval Harari wrote in The world after coronavirus:
In normal times, governments, businesses and educational
boards would never agree to conduct such experiments. But these aren’t
We are living through the largest educational social experiment in history! I am part of an ongoing conversation on the silverliningforlearning website devoted to better understanding the present we are living in and the future that we will be emerging into.
Below is a short promotional video for this project with data and
animation showing school closures across the world from the UNESCO site
Is the Covid19 crisis the tipping point for online learning? As we wrote in our introduction to the Silver Lining for Learningwebinar series
…this crisis has forced schools and universities to close, pushing often unprepared institutions to move teaching and learning online.
This was not a decision, we educators, took with great deliberation—it was forced on us by the situation. And, to be fair, we will do the best we can under the circumstances.
It is also true that, one day, this storm will pass. Or maybe it will evolve into something else. What is clear, however, is that “the choices we make now could change our lives for years to come” (quoting Yuval Harari in his piece The world after coronavirus). He goes on to write:
Decisions that in normal times could take years of deliberation are passed in a matter of hours. Immature and even dangerous technologies are pressed into service, because the risks of doing nothing are bigger. Entire countries serve as guinea-pigs in large-scale social experiments. What happens when everybody works from home and communicates only at a distance? What happens when entire schools and universities go online? In normal times, governments, businesses and educational boards would never agree to conduct such experiments. But these aren’t normal times. (Harari, 2020)
I have been in the educational technology field for almost
three decades now. And I would not be in the field if I didn’t believe that
technology has a great potential to transform education.
That said, over the past few years I have become increasingly concerned and skeptical about how this potential actually plays out: which aspects of technological potential are emphasized and which get ignored; how certain views get essentialized and normalized and which do not; who gets to control the discourse and who does not, and most importantly, on whom does the burden of it fall. (For one take on my evolving thinking on this thinking, pre-Coronavirus, see this presentation titled, Educational technology: A provocation).
It is clear to me that we need to approach the decisions we
make today with caution and humility. And, we the technologists, need to step
out of our boxes and be willing to learn. We need to talk to historians,
philosophers, artists and humanists; people who have thought deeply about these
issues, not necessarily from a techno-centric perspective.
We need to speak to, and more importantly listen to, contrarians, people whose ideas upset us, because that is the only way we can get better at what we do.
One of the people who I have always regarded as a thoughtful and insightful thinker about technology and society is Neil Postman. Back in 1998 (eons ago in terms of technological change) he delivered a talk in Denver titled Five things we need to know about technological change. What he said that day, almost 22 years ago to the day (the date on the PDF is March 28, 1998), is as relevant today as it was then (maybe even more so). He brings to the conversation over three decades of studying the history of technological change. He adds, however, that he does not consider, these ideas as being…
… academic or esoteric ideas. They are to the sort of things everyone who is concerned with cultural stability and balance should know and I offer them to you in the hope that you will find them useful in thinking about the effects of technology
Postman’s article is, obviously, worth reading in full, but for now I will stick to the brief summary he offers at the end of the piece. (Note: The five points below have been lightly edited from Postman’s original prose). The five things we need to know, about technological change, are as follows:
First, that we always pay a price for technology. All technological change is a trade-off, a Faustian bargain. Technology giveth and technology taketh away.
Second, the advantages and disadvantages of new technologies are never distributed evenly among the population. There are always winners and losers, and the winners always try to persuade the losers that they are really winners.
Third, embedded in every technology there are one or more powerful ideas—and biases. These ideas are often hidden and abstract – but they influence how people use their minds, in what it makes us do with our bodies, in how it codifies the world, in which of our senses it amplifies, in which of our emotional and intellectual tendencies it disregards. As McLuhan said, “The medium is the message.”
Fourth, technological change is not additive; it is ecological, which means, it changes everything. The consequences of technological change are always vast, often unpredictable and largely irreversible and is, therefore, too important to be left entirely in the hands of [any one person or group].
Fifth, technologies are often perceived as part of the natural order of things and therefore tends to control more of our lives than is good for us. Technologies are fictions, created by humans in specific political and historical contexts.
I do believe that these five things are important for us to contemplate and consider as we embark on this new journey. I hope to dig into each of these in greater depth in a follow-up post.
I hope that we, as educators, as a nation, and a
civilization, have the courage, grace, wisdom and humility to make decisions
(whether about online learning or anything else) with thoughtful compassion. As
When choosing between alternatives, we should ask ourselves not only how to overcome the immediate threat, but also what kind of world we will inhabit once the storm passes. Yes, the storm will pass, humankind will survive, most of us will still be alive — but we will inhabit a different world.
For now, let’s give Postman the last word:
… we have been willing to shape our lives to fit the requirements of technology, not the requirements of culture. This is a form of stupidity, especially in an age of vast technological change. We need to proceed with our eyes wide open so that we many use technology rather than be used by it.
Note #1:The connection between this post, the current situation, and our ongoing work, here in the Teachers College, around Learning Futures & Principled Innovation is quite clear. So though we could not have predicted the Coronavirus, in some ways were were preparing for this uncertain future. For more on this see Designing Learning Futures through reflective practice: Parts I and II
What would happen to our global and local educational systems, if the Corona virus outbreak lasted for a year?
We met a week ago (via zoom, what else) to discuss this and that has led to a a website and a live broadcast under the broad heading: Silver Lining for Learning. The show will be broadcast live on YouTube Live from 5:30 to 6:30pm US EDT on Saturdays and archived on the website silverliningforlearning.org. As we describe it on the website:
The “dark cloud” of the coronavirus crisis continues to cause havoc worldwide and seems a generation-defining event. In education, this crisis has forced schools and universities to close, pushing often unprepared institutions to move teaching and learning online. The already stressed educational ecosystem now faces unprecedented difficulties that will fall disproportionately on students of low socioeconomic status and marginalized groups. This situation continues to worsen and is expected to persist for months or even years before normalcy occurs.
This disruption, however, provides us with an opportunity to reimagine learning and teaching so as to create an equitable and humanistic learning ecosystem for all. Barriers and structures that have resisted much needed change are now in disarray, offering the chance for transformative improvements.
We seek to begin this reimagining through a series of interactive conversations of emerging trends, disruptive policies, programs, initiatives, and often controversial, murky, and unspoken topics.
The first episode is now done and dusted. We had great participation from people who logged on via YouTube, who were running a parallel discussion on that channel, as well as on Twitter. Scott somehow managed to participate in all three—while I stuck to two: the Zoom discussion and the YouTube chat. Anyway, the video is now available (minus some truncated introductory bits at the beginning).
Watch out for the next edition, coming up on Saturday 5:30 ET.
This is the second of two posts on the topic of bringing principled innovation practices to designing learning futures. In this post (by Cristy Guleserian & Punya Mishra) we dive deeper into how these practices of PI connect with our model of design. In particular we seek to answer these reflective questions in the context of our design model.
As we had written in a previous post the questions we raise are not easy to answer but it is essential that we do so, intentionally and deliberately.
Are we considering values that may differ from our own?
In our design model we seek to identify and acknowledge the fundamental values of the community we are working with, by distinguishing the values that are important to both the individual community members and the design team. This allows our actions to ensure the solutions honor, appreciate, and reflect the values of the community.
In the design process, we start with connecting to the context with a specific focus on history and experiences, language and culture, and knowledge and beliefs. We constantly return to the context as we design. This is symbolized by context being placed at the very center of the model—specifying its central role in the process. Moreover, our model also emphasizes that the problem/solution spaces are not fixed; they can change through the design process, allowing for reframing the problem to better reflect the values and concerns.
Are we questioning our own biases and how they affect the decisions we make?
We utilize moral and ethical decision-making through engaging empathy and taking a human-centered stance. We seek to view the challenge through the eyes of the humans in the communities we serve. Through the use of a values-informed reflective process we are able to assess possibilities, navigate dilemmas, and make the best possible choice to serve those whose lives and learning will be affected by the decisions we make and the actions we take.
Our design model emphasizes ongoing reflection on not only the context, but also our own beliefs,feelings, and actions. By remaining mindful of our own thoughts and feelings, we can be more aware of how we affect those we work with.
What is the cultural wealth of the people in the community?
We strive to understand culture and context through the use of evidence-based resources, empathy, reflective questioning, and appreciative inquiry. The use of multiple approaches allows us to truly understand the cultural wealth of the community with which we are working. The model is anchored in context, including history and experiences, language and culture, and knowledge and beliefs. We immerse ourselves in the lived and current experiences of the individuals within the community so we can design solutions that are right for their specific needs and learning environments. We also emphasize communication with all stakeholders as a way to engage cultural assets.
Are we soliciting viewpoints different from our own?
The key to supporting a human centered design model is understanding a range of users and their needs. Thus engaging multiple and diverse perspectives is crucial. We seek and champion equitable and inclusive involvement and contribution to the design process by including many different voices who have a variety of lived experiences, beliefs, and backgrounds. We listen to understand, and remain open-minded as we consider how to move forward at any given point of the process.
While designing, we seek input from stakeholders through connecting, inquiring, and communicating. In connecting, we build relationships and strive to understand the perspectives of those in the context. While inquiring, we gather diverse perspectives through methods such as surveying and interviewing. We continually communicate with stakeholders in order to engage multiple perspectives throughout the design process.
What data, resources, and learning are supporting our decisions?
Before and during the design process we continually ask ourselves if we are seeing the entire mosaic while we are designing for one individual piece of the puzzle. We strive to develop habits of an informed systems thinker, ensuring we are gathering evidence-based resources and data to inform how we are thinking about the problem, and appreciate the emerging insights that stem from multiple perspectives. We also step back and look at the larger picture. This allows us to recognize how the individual parts are influenced by their environment and interact to form a complex whole.
In design, we use inquiry to access and integrate data and resources related to the problem/solution space. This can include searching existing literature or conducting original research in regards to the problem/solution space.
Are we taking time to reflect and make adjustments based on our reflections?
It is important that during the design process we continually look at our work through a critical lens, while being kind to ourselves and to others when something isn’t working and we recognize the need to shift directions. By reflecting critically and compassionately, we are able to engage a growth mindset to make meaning of our experiences through contemplation and consideration of our thoughts, feelings and actions. As we develop practical wisdom through our experiences and use it to inform our decisions and actions, both the individuals and the learning environments for which we are designing begin to flourish.
Our design model promotes reflection throughout the design process. Reflection happens in tandem with other actions (such as when we connect, inquire, imagine, iterate, and communicate). Finally, we are sensitive to incoming information and for that reason we continually revisit the problem/solution space refining it throughout the process.
What kinds of unanticipated issues are emerging and how are we responding to them?
Throughout this process there will be trials and tribulations. We’ll need to navigate uncertainty and mitigate consequences. Through observation and reflective questioning we can imagine possible outcomes, or spectacular failures, and respond in a way that changes our course of action before it happens. We navigate the consequences of our actions in a way that fails forward and allows us the space to iterate in a meaningful way, increasing the chance for humane results that reduce the risk of harm to individuals and communities.
The design process emphasizes imagination to anticipate consequences of our work. Designers imagine what might result from proposed actions in order to minimize negative consequences. However, not all outcomes can be anticipated. This is why we create prototypes and test them. In this model, the design is never complete. Designers continually inquire into what is happening in the context and iterate to address problems as they occur. Ongoing communication also aids timely response and adaptations.
Will the solution we are offering better meet the needs of those we aim to serve?
Are we being informed learners and listeners, working collaboratively, and intentionally with and for the community? Are we taking time to pause and reflect on our decisions and actions as we imagine new concepts, catalyze ideas, and form new solutions? If the answer is yes, then we can rest assured we are practicing principled innovation as wedesign creative solutions that will allow both educators and learners to contribute to the future of education and a thriving civil society.
What is unique about this design model is that it is centered on and driven by an understanding of context. It emphasizes the importance of anchoring the design process in the particular needs of the stakeholders. The process cannot occur separate from the context—each act, whether to connect, inquire, imagine, iterate, and communicate happens in reference to the context, resulting in a solution that meets the needs of the community.
This is the first of two posts on the topic of bringing principled innovation practices to designing learning futures. The first post (co-authored by Punya Mishra & Cristy Guleserian) focuses on the need for designing learning futures, and how the PI practices connect with our model of design. We end with a preliminary series of reflective questions that could guide our work.
A child born today will be shaped by accelerating change in technology, demography and our physical and social environments. The speed and convergence of change across so many dimensions of human experience will shape this child’s life in ways that are as profound as they are unpredictable.
Education needs to grapple with the fact that we live in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) world where the impact of our decisions will not just be faced in the possible but also in the adjacent possible, namely situations and effects we have not even imagined yet.
It is not at all clear that the education systems we have today are doing enough to prepare our children to thrive as individuals or as local/global citizens in this emergent future.
In this video below, we explore some of these ideas, and their implications for how we design the futures of learning. Specifically the video speaks to the importance of educational leadership guided by deeper principles and values.
We are privileged to work in a large innovative public university which is defined not by whom we exclude but whom we include. Thus we are responsible to design solutions that contribute to the well-being of all.
This emphasis on positive change means that we cannot merely innovate for the sake of innovation. What we need are not just design strategies for addressing the uncertain futures of learning but also an ethical framework that guides the design and decision making process. Enter, Principled Innovation—a core value that drives what we do at the college. And that includes designing learning futures.
That said, principled innovation has to go beyond being merely a definition or words on a website. If principled innovation is to be meaningful and have impact, it must connect to practice, it must connect to design.
In brief, it is the foundation of principled innovation plus our contextualized model of design that allows us to imagine and design the futures of learning.
In our work we have identified eight practices and we see them as providing a reflective map to guide us through the design process. By helping us recognize the uniqueness of the contexts in which we operate, as well as the needs of the various stakeholders we serve, these practices help us anticipate and navigate intended and unintended consequences of the decisions we make. The image below maps out the eight practices (as mapped onto 4 character assets).
Intentionally keeping these practices in mind ensures that we keep humans and values at the center of the design process. These practices also allow design teams to develop questions for purposeful self-reflection.
There are, clearly, unlimited questions we can ask ourselves as we engage in PI. We list a few below (as a starting point).
Are we considering values that may differ from our own?
Are we questioning our own biases and how they affect the decisions we make?
What is the cultural wealth of the people in the community?
Are we soliciting viewpoints different from our own?
What data, resources, and learning are supporting our decisions?
Are we taking time to reflect and make adjustments based on our reflections?
What kinds of unanticipated issues are emerging and how are we responding to them?
Will the solution we are offering better meet the needs of those we aim to serve?
As is clear these are not easy questions to answer. But it is only through engaging with them intentionally and deliberately that we can ensure that the kinds of design processes we implement and the solutions we come up with are respectful of the people we are working with and that the solutions that emerge have the best chance of creating positive change.
The futures of learning are too important to be left to chance. We need to engage with these challenges by design. This means engaging in an open-ended collaborative process that values humility and reflection, guided by the practices of principled innovation.
As to how these specific practices play out in the design process—that is the subject of a followup post by Cristy Guleserian & Punya Mishra.
Our college has embraced the idea of Principled Innovation as being a core value that informs everything we do. (More on this in this post by Cristy Guleserian and in the PI framework document).
At the heart of the Principled Innovation work we are involved in at the college is the question: We can, but should we? This is of particular importance when we think about the work we do around the five spaces for design in education and designing the futures of learning.
We believe that educational design in each of these spaces needs to be driven by an explicit commitment to a deeper set of values and ethical principles. We believe that educational design infused with the principles of PI become a way of acting and being, and thus a part of our everyday educational practice. How would the three guiding principles be instantiated in a model for educational design? The principles are:
Principle 1: We value individuals and account for the uniqueness of social and educational contexts.
Principle 2: We collaboratively care for and are considerate of the well-being of individuals, communities, and society.
Principle 3: We create positive change by designing creative solutions to pressing educational problems.
As we started this work, we realized that there are many models of design out there in the world, offered by different groups and organizations (see image below). These are usually somewhat generic, sequential models in that they usually define a series of steps to follow irrespective of the design challenge at hand.
Our model, in contrast, focuses specifically on the role of design in education (infused by principled innovation) and seeks to capture the complexity and richness of the design process. Our model seeks to be versatile and flexible (given the different spaces within which design functions).
Clearly a static image, such as the one above, does not capture the versatility and flexibility of the model. To address this issue we have created two videos explaining our Principled Innovation infused model for educational design.
Video 1: The big picture
The first video introduces the model and thus offers a relatively abstract view of how PI and educational design work.
Video 2: 3 examples of application
The next video shows the application of the model in three different contexts, pointing to the versatility of the model. These applications are presented in increasing order of scale and complexity and include: a new teacher seeking to teach about fractions; a school seeking to improve parent-school relationships; and finally a teachers’ college seeking to redesign an entire teacher preparation program.
• • •
A Deeper Dive
The sections below explain the connections
between the three guiding principles of PI and the design model in greater
We define Principled Innovation as a core value that drives us to imagine new concepts, catalyze ideas, and form new solutions, guided by principles that create positive change for humanity. There are three key principles we follow. Taking each of these principles in turn we map them onto our design model to demonstrate how these integrate together.
Principle 1: We value individuals and account for the uniqueness of social and educational contexts.
It is no surprise, therefore that our
design model centers on understanding and respecting the context within which
the design work happens. This means emphasizing factors such as history, experiences,
language, culture, knowledge and beliefs.
Understanding the context allows us to better grasp the problem space that we will work within and, most importantly, allows us to build a frame around this problem that is sensitive to what we have learned.
Principle 2: We collaboratively care for and are considerate of the well-being of individuals, communities, and society.
Caring for and being considerate of
others requires that we think carefully about our actions and how they
influence others. We support this stance by emphasizing the importance of
reflection throughout the design process. As we design, we reflect on: our own
positions, emotions, and identity; What others’ experiences might be
like; The intended and unintended consequences of our actions; and on
design process itself.
Principle 3: We create positive change by designing creative solutions to pressing educational problems.
Principle 3 encapsulates the rest
of the design model, specifically focusing on some actions that designers have
found effective when tackling complex problems. These include to: connect,
inquire, imagine, iterate, and communicate.
Connecting is human-centered,
focusing our work on people, not things. It is based on empathy, leads to the
building of relationships and through that effective collaboration.
Inquiry is about learning more about the context and problem space. This may mean some combination of empirical research and learning about what others have done in similar situations. This part can be data-driven by collecting data through interviews and observations or data collected by others in similar contexts. Most importantly, inquiry focuses on better understanding the system in which the context is embedded.
Imagining is about thinking broadly,
generatively and empathetically while searching for solutions that are unique
to the context. It is also about imagining the consequences both intended and
unintended–of our possible actions.
Iteration is when imagining touches
reality. It is about doing and doing again, usually through devising and
implementing relatively simple prototypes, evaluating the results, and then
refining the design. Iteration is essential to both learning through action and
mitigating unintended consequences.
Communication needs to be directed both
internally and externally. Effective internal communication supports creative,
purpose-driven action while being considerate of others. External communication
helps us expand our impact as well as make us aware of possible blind spots.
Finally, it is important to reiterate the complexity of the process – and that it rarely follows the same sequence as described either in the videos or above.
• • •
This work has been years in the making—building out of the work done by the design initiatives team; and in parallel with the co-creation of the PI framework. More specifically the development of the model was led by Melissa Warr, who worked with Jennifer Stein and myself to conceptualize and prototype. Claire Gilbert, our in-house multimedia specialist, then created the final versions of the videos. Finally, some of the prose in this post builds on a document created by Melissa Warr.
Theory is of incredible importance to scholars and researchers. Theories allow us to understand, explain and predict phenomena in the world. That said it is often difficult to say just where theories come from. The standard model—that data lead to laws, that in turn lead to theories—has been undermined by philosophers of science for a while now. They argue, and I would suggest rightly, that theories are often under-determined by data, i.e. there is never enough data that will, inevitably, lead us to a particular theory. This situation is particularly problematic given the important role theories play in scholarly lives.
In a recently published paper (citation given below), Melissa Warr, Ben Scragg and I take on a different question—how do we, as researchers and scientists, particularly those in the field of learning, design and technology, develop theories?
In this article, we suggest that it may be useful to see the development of theory as being akin to a process of design—that of creating an artifact (albeit a conceptual one) that has “a structure adapted to a purpose” and demonstrates “goodness of fit. We argue that, viewing theory development as an act of design might lead to a stronger theoretical and practical scholarship and can help us address some key challenges in the field.
We contextualize our argument with three case studies: the development of Lave and Wenger’s Community of Practice theory; the somewhat round-about process of developing the TPACK framework; and finally, from a work in progress, namely the Five spaces for design in education framework. All this and more is in the article below:
Warr, M., Mishra, P., & Scragg, B., (2020). Designing Theory.Educational Technology Research and Development. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11423-020-09746-9
I have seen the power of the market… But when it becomes the only language, when it becomes the only way of thinking about the right thing to do, it leaves us with a very impoverished sense of how to live together — Giriharadas, 2018
Over the past few years I have struggled with some of the consequences of disruptive innovation and have come to distrust the jargon of creative destruction and disruption that has become the mantra of our time. I have spoken about it elsewhere in greater depth (for instance see this video (Technology & education: A provocation).
More specifically, within the context of my job within the Office of Scholarship & Innovation, this has meant asking the question: We can but should we? And grounding what we do within a broader context of what we call principled innovation. We define principled innovation as the “ability to imagine new concepts, catalyze ideas, and form new solutions, guided by principles that create positive change for humanity.” (For applications of principled innovation to our work see (a) principled innovation meets design; and (b) Principled innovation in hiring.)
This focus on principled innovation has meant fighting back against the idea of “Moving fast and breaking things” (a phrase popularized by Mark Zuckerberg as being the underlying working philosophy for Facebook), and in contrast to emphasize the importance of moving intentionally and nurturing things.
As a part of this focus on principled innovation and values is a chapter that Danah Henriksen and I recently wrote for a book titled: Innovation and the Arts: The Value of Humanities Studies for Business. Specifically, Danah and I argue for the infusion of more “human-centred learning from the arts and humanities into business.” Complete reference, abstract and keywords given below:
Henriksen, D. and Mishra, P. (2020), “Move Slow and Nurture Things: Wise Creativity and Human-Centred Values in a World that Idolizes Disruption”, Formica, P. and Edmondson, J. (Ed.) Innovation and the Arts: The Value of Humanities Studies for Business, Emerald Publishing Limited, pp. 143-161. https://doi.org/10.1108/978-1-78973-885-820201006
Creativity is a critical skill across disciplines and contexts, and it is an im- portant trait for humans to survive and thrive, personally and collectively. The fast-paced culture of business innovation has sought to promote and reward creativity as a coveted thinking skill. Creativity in and of itself, how- ever, is a value-neutral construct, because novel and effective ideas may also have negative consequences. This darker aspect of creativity has come to the forefront in many recent cases, particularly in contexts involving digital and networking technologies, where the rapid pace of technological change does not encourage the kind of deliberative thinking necessary for nuanced and ethical business decisions. The authors consider why education is essential for expanding the ethical capacity of creative agency in business, describing the need to bring creativity and ethics together in educational opportunities and cultural values. The authors explore the idea of ‘wise creativity’ and the need to infuse more human-centred learning from the arts and humanities into business fields. Further, the authors suggest better practices for creative business education, such as: infusing real-world ethics learning into business education and professional development; infusing the liberal arts curriculum in business; offering opportunities for arts-based approaches in business learning; and instilling genuine mindfulness training in business education environments. The authors’ focus is on a shift away from a culture that values creativity purely as an instrumental approach for greater profit- ability, and towards one that values wise and humanizing creativity for good business practices that consider societal and individual wellbeing.
Keywords: Creativity and technology; business education; dark side of
creativity; business values and ethics; wise creativity; arts and humanities
EduSummIT is a global community of policy-makers, researchers, and educators working together to move education into the digital age.
EDUsummIT has been convening every two years since 2009. In each case the participants focus on some significant theme relevant to education and technology. I have been lucky to be part of all but one of these meetings, both as a team-leader as well as a participant.
This past year, the EDUsummIT meeting was held in Quebec, Canada. I was a member of Thematic Working Group 3 (TWG3) on Creativity for Teachers and Teaching led by Michael Henderson and Danah Henriksen. You can see the entire team below — though it may be difficult to identify who is who due to the goofy masks :-)
A few days ago, EDUsummIT leadership team released the report from the 2019 meeting. Edited by Petra Fisser and Michael Phillips the report titled Learners and Learning Contexts: New Alignments for the Digital Age consists of 13 chapters by prominent scholars, policy makers and researchers on a range of topics, one of which is a chapter by the team I was part of.
You can download the entire book here or just the chapter by the TWG3 team here.
For the record, here is a photo of all the participants of EDUsummIT 2019. I think I am there somewhere!
We are a busy group here up on the 4th floor of the Farmer Educational Building—the space where the teams from the Office of Scholarship & Innovation and Principled Innovation hang out.
To be fair, we do more than just hang out. There is quite a bit of work involved as well (along with laughter and general silliness). We document the work we do in a couple of ways. First, is through our website, specifically the What’s New section (which is an ongoing documentation of our work). The second is through our annual report.
The process of constructing the annual report is important, in and of itself, because it is often easy, in the rush of things, to forget all that we have done in the past 12 months. Constructing the report gives us a chance to look back and reflect, on successes and failures, on what we have achieved and what we have learned through the process.
You can download the 2019 report here or by clicking on the cover below. Last year’s version can be found here.
The report also contains a series of infographics capturing the work done by the various sub-team. These are given below (click on the images for higher resolution versions).
• • •
As always, none of this would be possible without the energy, passion and hard work put in by the entire team (and that they do all this with joy and infectious laughter is such a bonus). I cannot thank this crazy bunch of people enough.
Design is core to my identity, to who I am. Education is the space within which I function but I try to approach everything I do as a designer.
This was not always the case.
Back in 1984, I had just graduated with an undergraduate degree in engineering, and if there was one thing I knew, it was that I did not see myself as being an engineer. My somewhat idiosyncratic interests (in literature and science; in art and mathematics; in cinema and psychology) just did not gel with engineering (at least the way it was taught and practiced in India at that time). That said, it was not clear to me, what the path forward was, or if there was one.
Even as I was struggling with these deeply personal, existential issues, I stumbled upon across a poster for a Master of Design program in Visual Communications at Industrial Design Center in IIT Mumbai (or Bombay as it was known back then). To cut a long story short, I joined IDC in the fall of 1988—and spent three wonderful years there (two as a student and one as a faculty member).
To say that these years transformed me is an understatement.
Suddenly all my seemingly disparate interests came together. I found a creative space, a welcoming community and, most importantly, an intellectual history and tradition within which I could place myself.
I became a designer—a label I wear proudly even today.
This January, IDC celebrated its Golden Jubilee and I was thrilled to be invited to speak at the event.
The title of my talk was Designing pencils, universities & everything in between. It was an opportunity for me to look back over my journey through design and education, and to thank an institution and individuals who influenced and shaped who I am today. You can watch the video of my keynote below (approximately 23 minutes long).
Note: The audio used here is a lightly edited version of what I said (with minor digressions removed). I have also added a bunch of new slides to make the talk flow better.
Chitra Chandrasekhar a recent gradate of IDC, and a talented designer, visual storyteller and educator (who runs her own design company called Mographies) created animated sketch-notes on the fly from the presentations. A screenshot from her video, that focused on my talk is given below.
One of the high points of the event was celebrating the faculty members who have made IDC what it is today. Though not all of them could make it to the event, it was wonderful see and felicitate those who could. The two I missed most are R. K. Joshi (about whom I have written here) and Kirti Trivedi (who first introduced me to the role fractals play in design).
Dr. Barbara Kerr is Distinguished Professor of Counseling Psychology, and is co-director of the Center for Creativity and Entrepreneurship in Education at the University of Kansas. She utilizes innovative counseling and therapy approaches to better understand the relationship of creativity to gender, privilege, and talent development. She has authored the book, Smart Girls: A New Psychology of Girls, Women, and Giftedness as well as over one hundred articles, chapters, books and papers in the area of giftedness, talent, and creativity. She is an American Psychological Association Fellow and currently directs the Counseling Laboratory for the Exploration of Optimal States (CLEOS) a research-through-service program that identifies and guides creative adolescents.
Dr. Kerr’s work has explored creativity and giftedness through a diverse array of perspectives trajectory. In this interview, she discussed how she studies creativity in ways that offer a view of creative personalities and development, as well as the relationship between gender and creativity. Complete reference and link to article given below.
I just came across a quote from Alan Kay while browsing the web. Alan Kay is a programmer, educator, jazz musician and one of the key inventors of computing as we know it today. He received the A. M. Turning award (informally known as the Nobel Prize of Computing) and his citation read:
For pioneering many of the ideas at the root of contemporary object-oriented programming languages, leading the team that developed Smalltalk, and for fundamental contributions to personal computing.
Here is the quote that captured my attention. (Here is the original video from where this quote is taken.)
Before I dig into what this quote means to me, let me add that, as it happens, one of my favorite quotes of all time is from Alan Kay as well.
As with most media from which things are built, whether the thing is a cathedral, a bacterium, a sonnet, a figure or a word processor, architecture dominates material. To understand clay is not to understand the pot. What a pot is all about can be appreciated better by understanding the creators and users of the pot and their need both to inform the material with their meaning and to abstract meaning from the form ~ Alan Kay
Below is a design I created a year (or more) ago, with this quote, as part of my LanguageArt series.
But this new quote spoke to me in a different way—something relevant to our discussions of the spaces for design in education.
As I have said elsewhere, everything
in education is designed (one can argue whether this is intentional or not or
whether the outcomes are the ones we want/like) but the broader point is that
there is nothing “natural” about the systems of education we have around us.
They are constructed by us, by humans. Whether the idea of the curriculum or
seat-time, learning metrics or the idea of problem-based learning, or the idea
of school, these are all human creations, structures adapted for some purpose
(to quote Perkins and his definition of design).
That said, there is something fundamentally different about designing a textbook v.s. a chair; or designing a school v.s. designing an instructional plan. The differences have as much to do with the scale and the complexity of the tasks as it has to do with human psychology i.e. people’s desires and needs. That is not all. Everything we do in education works within broader organizational, policy and information structures that constrain and guide what we can do, and the complex feedback loops that can emerge from the inherent complexity (wickedness) of the enterprise.
What this means is that designers have to function differently depending on the “space” they are working within. We have argued that (broadly) it may be productive to think of five spaces for the design in education: artifacts, processes, experiences, systems and culture. Moreover, working within these spaces requires different tools, elements, practices, knowledge and judgement that we as designers need to bring to the task.
And this is what the quote by Alan Kay captures in a nice crisp manner.
You can fix a clock but you have to negotiate with the system ~ Alan Kay
If an artifact is broken you can fix it. But even though we know that teenagers are not getting enough sleep, moving the school start-time back is not as easy. Talking of it as “fixing” misses the point. There are too many factors (bus and sports schedules, parents work timings etc. etc.) that the only way forward is negotiation.
This is the classic “wicked problem”
dilemma—one that design can work on but it is not one that design can “fix.”
And what Kay’s quote captures is this difference.
In brief, it is easier to fix an artifact but it is harder to fix a system. You have to negotiate with it and that requires a whole new set of the tools, elements, practices, knowledge and judgement we have to bring to the task, what we have called the “disciplinary aspects of design.”
We have been creating short videos to welcome the new year since 2008. This year was no exception. These videos, created on a shoe-string budget, are usually typographical in nature with some kind of an optical illusion or AHA! moment built in. Check out our latest creation to welcome 2020 titled Writing with Light, (created with a budget of zero dollars!).
Light painting, painting with light, light drawing, or light art performance photography are terms that describe photographic techniques of moving a light source while taking a long exposure photograph,
The key here is long exposure, i.e. keeping the camera shutter open for a relatively long time (in this case two shots of 6 seconds each – one for 2019 and the other for 2020) to let moving light create an image. (For instance the banner image above was created by somebody writing in the air with a sparkler.)
This video takes the idea of light painting or writing to another level. It is light painting with an animation! What is interesting is that even though you can see the animation and the entire process, it is difficult to predict what the final image that shows up on the still camera (the one taking the long exposure photo) will look like.
So lets break it down.
The video starts with an abstract animation which is in two parts. (That is what you see at the beginning of the video). This animation, created using Keynote on the Mac, is at the heart of the entire trick. I have extracted them as two animated gifs below. Look carefully, what do you see?
This animation is nothing but the numbers “2019” and “2020” moving across the screen as seen through a slit. Essentially the numbers are in the background, moving behind two black boxes with a gap between them. The two animated gifs below will make it clearer – since I have reduced the transparency of the black rectangles so that you can see what is really going on. All you see in the gifs above are the white portions of the numbers as they pass below the gap between two black blocks.)
The direction of the movement also matters. Note that 2019 is moving from left to right while 2020 moves from right to left. This is important because it tells us how the laptop is to move with respect to the still camera.
When the laptop moves with respect to a still camera, with its shutter open, the light of the animation “paints” the complete image on the camera—which in this case happen to be 2019 (when the laptop moves left to right) and 2020 (when going in the reverse direction)!
For the shoot, the laptop was placed on a skateboard that could be moved (by someone hiding behind the table) from right to left for 2019 and from left to right for 2020, the opposite direction of the actual animation). The setup is sketched out below.
Once the things have been set up, the video camera is switched on and stays on the entire time. The DSLR is switched on twice, once for the 2019 and the next time for 2020, giving us these two images – created by nothing but light. How cool is that!
I love to talk about design and education. I like to hang out with people who care about design and education. This brings us to TalkingAboutDesign.com, a website/blog created by a group of graduate students (and faculty) at the Teachers College that seeks to explore “design in all its richness.”
the heart of the website is a framework for thinking about design and its role
in education which needs a bit of an introduction (which sort of justifies the
length of this post).
Simon, in his book, The Sciences of the Artificial, famously
Everyone designs who devises courses of action aimed at changing existing situations into preferred ones. The intellectual activity that produces material artifacts is no different fundamentally from the one that prescribes remedies for a sick patient or the one that devises a new sales plan for a company or a social welfare policy for a state.
one fell swoop, Simon situated design as playing a role across a range of
human-centered professions, whether it be graphic design, architecture,
medicine, or social policy.
most relevant to us: Education.
aren’t the only ones to see education as a design domain (far from it!). For
example, in 1992, Donald Schön highlighted how teachers are designers of
instruction. Others talk about the
design of school buildings, systems, curriculum, and more.
The application of design to education (specifically in its newest avatar: design thinking) has been receiving some significant attention recently. I have written elsewhere about some concerns I have with this trend – but that does not detract in any shape or form the value the I place in bringing a designer’s perspective to education and educational change.
The role of design is complex. Design happens across a range of contexts: from designing textbooks to designing policy; from designing learning experiences to designing admission procedures; from designing professional development programs to designing institutional culture. Thus, design can play out deferentially in different “spaces.” These spaces are connected: they impact one another, and effective design in one space requires an awareness of the other spaces.
Over the past couple of years, we (Melissa Warr, Ben Scragg, others in the Office of Scholarship and Innovation, and a group of doctoral students who call themselves the Talking About Design team) have been working on figuring out the nature of these spaces and applying them directly to education. Preliminary versions of this idea have been presented at conferences (see here and here) but this is an evolving idea, and this blog post is the most current version.
we see five interactive spaces where design plays out:
This work builds on and is inspired by previous work by Richard Buchanan and his four-fold classification of orders of design–symbols, things, actions and thoughts or, when seen in terms of the evolution of industries, moving from graphic design to industrial, interaction, and systems design. In each case, the orders are places of invention that allow designers to reimagine problems and solutions. We are also inspired by Golsby-Smith’s work wherein he offered a structure similar to Buchanan, but framed it in terms of the changes in value that designers bring to the process of change. Specifically, as we move from image to strategies and culture, the designer moves from creator to facilitator. This means that designers need a new set of interpersonal skills with an emphasis on communication, facilitation, and systems thinking.
Whereas Buchanan and Golsby-Smith labeled domains of design as “orders,” we avoid the term as it implies a kind of hierarchy between them. As we envision it, each space offers new possibilities for designing, places to create something new or change something that isn’t working. Although the spaces overlap and interact with one another, we distinguish them by where the intended outcome of the design process is focused, whether this is in artifacts, processes, experiences, systems, or culture. In reality, the spaces aren’t as distinct as we are making them out to be; each affects the other in fluid ways. This is where the real power in the framework comes in: we can purposefully move the intention of our design to different spaces in order to create new outcomes—to take new perspectives and find new problems and solutions that can create real change.
is common across the spaces is design itself. Perkins defines design as “structure
adapted to a purpose” and each space then represents an area where we can
intentionally create change. Furthermore, there are certain attributes we can
point to as being important for designers to possess, regardless of the flavor
of design they practice. These are attitudes and mindsets, ways in which
designers approach problems, think, and act. These include attributes such as
openness, empathy, creative confidence, optimism, a willingness to learn from
failure, and a willingness to iterate.
also requires working with specific elements and tools, and designers develop
knowledge, practices, and judgment that allow them to be effective. These are
particular to both the design space and discipline. For instance, within the
space of artifact, the kinds of knowledge, tools, practices and judgement
required for designing an app are very different from designing school
furniture. Similarly, designing a process such as a lesson plan is different in
many ways from designing a bell schedule, and so on. Design disciplines have
developed a deep reservoir of disciplinary knowledge and practices that give
them the unique ability to have a strong impact within their design space.
We have identified five categories common across the five spaces for design that frame the assets each discipline brings to design. In each context, the designer (either individually or in a design team) brings contextual knowledge, practices, and judgment to bear on specific elements and tools. For example, in the case of designing the culture of a university, the elements may be having the right people in the right positions, while the tools may be the development of policy documents, as well as procedures for hiring the right people.
As we design in education, it is important to remain
mindful of the rich disciplinary traditions of designers across the five spaces
of design. We can draw upon these traditions, including collaborating with
expert designers, as we design change in education. At the same time, the
five spaces of design framework becomes a conceptual tool to think with—a
way to shift perspective and reframe problems and solutions, enabling new ways
to approach complex problems. It encourages systemic approaches to innovation
There is a lot more to unpack and build on. One place where this is occurring is the website/blog Talking About Design. This website is the collective effort of a group of doctoral students, faculty and staff at the Teachers College. They are (in alphabetical order by last name): Daniel Brasic, Kevin Close, Luis Perez Cortes, Amanda Riske, Ben Scragg, Melissa Warr, and Steven Weiner. You can find out more by going to talkingaboutdesign.com and we hope you can also engage and participate. We are soliciting questions and answers or just comments. Feel free to jump in.
(!) One Word It starts Slow but sure Expanding out numerically, adding more Marching forward, doing the math, not asking why Knowing the ratio of words, in this line and previous, will equal Phi! A number, elegant, emergent, magical; found in sunflowers, shells and patterns musical; stark and alien in its perfection; meaning(ful)less patterns accreting Unrelenting, an unending stream (One point six one eight zero three three nine eight eight seven four nine eight nine four eight four eight two zero four five six); An irrational dream, never repeating!
Note: A poem on the Fibonacci sequence where the number of words in a line are based on the sequence.
A cosmologist worries (about infinity) December 2019
They cannot scare me with their empty spaces Between stars–on stars where no human race is. I have it in me so much nearer home To scare myself with my own desert places. ~ Robert Frost, Desert Places
A cosmologist, surprisingly, Is worried about infinity.
It is on his mind, Clearly, since He comes back to it Often, all evening.
Bollywood music and winter Are in the air, As we hang out, Drinks in hand, Rows of satay on the grill.
Sizzling In his mind.
It is not the empty spaces Or vastness, of it all That bother him. But rather, It is the too-muchness Of the idea. Where every pattern and its variant Can co-exist.
What if, he asks, we live Not in a finite world, bounded and complete But one that goes on Forever Just more and more And unimaginably more Unending multiples Of love and self And regrets and pain Repeated ad infinitum
(I, to appear smart, mention Borges and his fear of mirrors and their power to multiply.)
He comes back to this topic A steady refrain Again and Yes, once again.
There are no themes He worries In this plenitude Just variations And it is this idea I figure, That destroys his mood.
The world is too big Anyway I try to say Flipping the satay Too much to grasp What’s an infinity or more To keep us up at night.
As the chicken sizzles And sudden laughter, From others by the fire, Crowds into our talk, I imagine Worlds beyond worlds The same as ours, Yet Not the same.
One where, this poem Ends, maybe With some deep insight.
Note: Inspired by a conversation with Tanmay Vachaspati. New version posted December 10, 2019
Dr. Vlad Glaveanu, is Head of the Department of Psychology and Counseling at Webster University, Geneva; Associate Professor at Bergen University, and Director of the Webster Center for Creativity and Innovation. He co-edits the book series Palgrave Studies in Creativity and Culture and is editor of Europe’s Journal of Psychology. In 2018, he received the Berlyne Award from the American Psychological Association for outstanding early career contributions to the field of aesthetics, creativity, and the arts.
In this article, we share how he (Dr. Dlaveanu) understands creativity beyond individual creative actors, the importance of wondering as part of the creative process, the possibility of creativity and social transformation in online spaces, and how we can better scaffold students’ use of technology to enable openness. We bridge between Dr. Glaveanu’s established and written scholarship as well as direct quotes drawn from conversation with him, to provide readers with a broad sense of his work and thinking around creativity.
This is the 40th article in the series on Technology, Creativity and Learning in the 21st Century that we have been writing for the journal TechTrends. You can read the entire article by following the link below, or access all the articles in the series here, or just the interviews here.