Friday, October 2, 2009

Build to think

Over at Musings from an Amateur, Bryce Bunting wonders why students love to learn but don't like school. He tells the story of coming to like writing not from taking writing classes but from blogging. His explanation of why he learns this way? What Prof. of New Media Clay Shirkey refers to as the "architecture of participation."

Shirley suggests that old media had only one model--comsumption. Experts produced, the public consumed. New media, on the other hand is built around a three-part model: consumption, production, and sharing. In Shirkey's view production and sharing are ever more important, because people are willing now to spend a bit of their "cognitive surplus" on exactly those things. We don't only watch (consume) TV. We also make it.

The analogies to education are pretty clear here. The old model of education was consumption based--experts produced knowledge, students consumed it. When they had consumed it well enough, they demonstrated it by producing something of their own.

I hope we are moving towards a "new media" model of education, where consuption, producing, and sharing all take up major proportions of student and faculty time. (After all, one of the main complaints of faculty is that they don't get time to consume (i.e. read, do research, take a sabbatical) because they are always producing stuff.)

But how to do it? Tim Brown suggests that "design thinking" can make it possible. His ideas are far bigger than I can describe here, but one phrase in his talk stood out to me--that designers shouldn't "think about what to build" they should "build in order to think." (This turn reminds me of William Carlos Williams' line "no ideas but in things.")

If education is based on the idea that we build to think, it has several implications:
  1. No need to start with giving the background--start with doing. Write a paper to discover what you know and don't know; learn to play an instrument by playing it.
  2. Do the same thing several times in order to get better.
  3. Build trust, because when it isn't possible to know the outcome in advance, the project depends on trust (or community) not a promise of success down the road.
  4. Trust grows when work focuses on real human need.
  5. The realm of real human need is huge. Working on needs isn't, then, just about hunger and poverty. Instead it is about being honest in public about one's own weakness and showing patience with those of others.
  6. Work in public, revise in public, fail in public.


Bryce said...


Do you think that design thinking could ever be part of a general education program? Or, would formalizing it in that way just bastardize the whole process?

I've talked to Andy Gibbons in BYU's IP&T department a couple of times about this, but I still have doubts that making it part of a formal curriculum would lead to meaningful gains in design thinking among students.

gary said...

IDEO has figured out how to do it in a global design/community development business so you would think it could happen on a campus. I think the trick is to get it built in the right way--experimental seminars instead of freshman seminars; group projects instead of learning communities; senior design projects rather than theses. At a course level it would take some thinking, but I can see how a history class, for example, could grow out of questions and problems rather than topics and research.

I'd love to explore it, because I think it could be a key to responding to the cost/quality challenges schools like Westminster face.

Why are you skeptical? Is it largely because of the way that an approach becomes a "solution" and so loses flexibility?