Design in digital education

So, part of being a teacher, at least a good one, is a healthy bit of complaining. I don’t mean complaining about course loads or workplace politics or noisy cube neighbors. I complain about the disconnect between the online learner and the online teacher; I complain about the pervasive shift away from teachers who are creative problem-solvers towards teachers who are mere task masters, trapped and demoralized by a system that focuses much more on results than it does on an enriching learning experience for students. I’ve referred to Ken Robinson’s “Bring on the Learning Revolution” (once to my own detriment and at the expense of my “reputation”) in the conversations I have with superteachers. Although his first TED talk “Schools Kill Creativity” is definitely the more popular of his two takes on the state of education, it’s in his second talk that he brings up the idea of fast food education, a one size fits all assembly line model of educating the masses, that like one too many cheeseburgers, deteriorates and destroys the quality of the educated, while at the same time reinforcing the idea that teachers are merely there to dole out grades, to check off on work completed without criticism.

I spent several hours last night networking with a fellow superteacher, who feels shackled and constrained by his school’s insistence on checklists. He teaches art to elementary schools students and actually has to warn his students that he is going to teach differently and act differently when an administrator stops by to ensure items are checked off. He is thinking of moving on to something else. He loves education and working with kids, but feels education has been coopted by other interests and concerns.

I believe this disconnect is most prevalent in the online environment. Although this not entirely absent in the traditional classroom context, in a physical classroom, the teacher’s role is more clearly defined (even if it is just task master) and the student has a clearer sense of what the process of being educated requires (active participation, immersion in course concepts, thorough study, analysis, discussion, revision, and self-reflection). Recently, our department has been working ways to make online feedback more dynamic. We’ve begun using Jing to record audio feedback to student work. I listened in to many of my colleagues recording their feedback and I was definitely pleased by the enthusiasm and dynamism this approach engenders. I can only imagine what it would be like as a student to receive verbal feedback from a teacher, to hear a teacher’s sense of encouragement and willingness to help.

As I perused design-thinking.alltop.com for some inspiration today for another post on photography, I ran across this article from The Design Thinking Network on the place of design in digital education. Adopting design-centered approach, meaning drives each intentional decision, and each decision made is meant to creatively solve another pedagogical challenge in both the live the virtual classroom, has enabled me to tweak my class to the needs of my students as opposed to stick with a routine/pattern/structure that works best for me. Keith Hampson asserts that design is even more important in the online learning environment than it is in the physical classroom because the mediums being used but that most online learning systems fail to take design into account when creating content and software. The online experience is a design-based experience. Every day we are bombarded with both good and bad design. Consider how many pinterest boards you visit each day. How many websites you Stumble Upon, and how many blog, magazine, and news articles you read. Hampson sees this as an opportunity to use design in a design-saturated environment. Similarly, the Design Thinking for Educators organization is committed to bringing the design process into the classroom. If you haven’t checked out this amazing resource for 21st century conceptual approaches to education, you are missing out. Thanks to Alex Rister for the share!

I truly believe design-centered thinking (problem solving, ideation, troubleshooting, radical ideas) can save education. What do you think? What will help move education in the right direction?

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