September 22, 2016
When I was working on my MFA in graphic design almost ten years ago, one of my first instructors began class by stating that the purpose of all design was to “tame the complexity of content.” As a dutiful student (with no formal background in graphic design thus that much more eager to learn all I didn’t even know I didn’t know) I wrote down this phrase and posted it to my workspace. The idea of the world being all sorts of out of control and designers being wild beast tamers captivated me. Whether it was through information graphics or publication design or even environmental signage—I was going to bring the wild things of complexity into submission and make the world a better place in the process.
This phrase became a mantra of my grad school years and when I began teaching students of my own, this was one of the first phrases I passed along to them in the hopes that it would inspire them as it had inspired me.
But here’s the thing…more and more I think it might be wrong.
The past three years of being a doctoral student (not to mention the past thirty-four years of being a human) have shown me that if anything…complexity is gaining the upper hand as it aligns me to its rhythms of serendipity and teaches me each day to have open hands in the midst of constant unpredictability. Rather than taming complexity, complexity may well be taming me.
Meredith Davis, a design educator from North Carolina who has been foundational in one of the first design PhD programs in the States, says that design education today is ill equipped to deal with complexity thus students today are leaving programs ill equipped to actually function as designers in society.
Design education is defaulting to simplistic, reductionist methods allowing a student to “solve” a visual problem over the cycle of an eight, ten, or sixteen-week class. Though these problems are somewhat grounded in real-world practice, they are always under the control of the teacher. In this narrative, students do not learn to navigate the complexity rather they have the illusion, as I did, of taming a creature that in fact…was never fully wild to begin with. Davis calls on educators to make pedagogical shifts so that students’ educational journeys are more about learning to be comfortable living in the complexity rather than reactively reducing or taming it.
This morning my supervisor was part of an opening keynote debate on the shortcomings of art + design education at the Designs on eLearning (DeL) Conference, an international conference on technology in art + design higher education. Though I completely wanted to attend in person because technology in art + design higher education is basically my life, a whole bunch of complex and decidedly un-tameable (hahaa) circumstances prevented me from making that a reality.
And so this morning I drank coffee in my pajamas with Ruby Joy and tried my best to hear from a seat about 700 miles west of center stage, mediated completely by Twitter. Though he’s lately been very into emotions and wellness and what it means to be human, I don’t see my supervisor as being a particularly relevant guy to the artsy crowd so I was curious just what he’d have to say about the shortcomings of art + design education.
That said, though my perspective was exceptionally limited as it was cobbled together from the experience of about three people live tweeting, it seemed as things unfolded….he and Meredith Davis are apparently besties.
According to my supervisor, design education is failing in its ability to provide students with experience navigating complex systems. It’s solutionist and reductionist and ultimately views the world as a complicated set of items to be sorted and classified as opposed to a complex set of variables with multiple points of engagement that no one person can fully grasp. Design goes for the low hanging fruit of pleasing aesthetics while ignoring the deeper issues of social justice, cultural engagement, and sustainability. In other words…design education is operating under the assumption that if we can tame the wild things—charm them into submission so they look respectable, this is enough.
I want to say that I don’t agree with him and as design educators we’re so far evolved that it’s all about systems thinking and design-for-good and equality and yet…I know what my curriculum looks like and I know my institution-mandated learning objectives and both skew way more toward surface-level taming, with as little complexity as possible.
That said I also know educators who are making a profound impact moving design from exclusive studio space to inclusive interdisciplinary domains. In many ways I think they are living in embodied solidarity with the wild things and both their students and their institutions are much better for it. I hope this is our future.
It was a fun + challenging dialogue to watch (in a highly detached manner) as it unfolded. I think it’s very good for design to have these dialogues, as I know too well from conferences I’ve been to it’s too easy as educators to geek out about visuals and type and the minutia we’re all passionate about and forget that we have actual human students in our care and nurturing them to care about the world by interfacing their skill set may well be even more important than making sure their type skills are flawless (or perhaps a very very close second)….maybe my supervisor is relevant to the artsy crowd after all.
September 9, 2016
Disclaimer: This post was written initially as a reflection piece for Athabasca University 806: Doctoral Research Seminar.
Growing up as a child of the 1980’s, I was a massive fan of The Muppets. The Muppet movies from that era (in good old VHS complete with fuzzy bits) were on repeat and I could (and actually still can) recite almost verbatim most of the dialogue. Though this personal eccentricity seems like it has no relevance to Lisa-of-2016-as-a Doctoral-Student, tonight during our bi-weekly 806 check-in, the Muppets were very much on my mind and I think might still have much to teach us about life in general and this doctoral process in particular.
As a bit of quick background, in the third movie, The Muppets Take Manhattan, the Muppet troupe endeavors to “take Manhattan”, break into Broadway and become rich and famous. They quickly realize Manhattan is a tough city and are forced to split up and go their own ways.
But (as shown in a very creative 1980s montage) each individual never quite makes it on his or her own without the wider community. When all seems lost, through a series of miraculous events, Kermit finds a way to fund the show and everyone comes from far and near to help out. Together they finally create the Broadway blockbuster they had always hoped for. The show opens with the song Together Again and each character takes their turn singing about how amazing it is to in fact be “together again,” reunited once more because, “no feeling feels like the feeling of…together again.”
Tonight as each person was checking in and sharing their summer story I realized afresh how thankful I am that I get to go on this journey with a small group of fellow misfits and how amazing it feels to indeed be “together again” in 806.
I think my supervisor’s great but…there’s just something about getting back into a routine (however loose) with others that are familiar-like-family that feels refreshing because I can let the community carry part of the load that is being a doctoral student. It feels a bit like the exhale of a breadth I’ve been holding for way too long.
During our meeting, each person shared some variation of “I wanted my summer to be about ________ but then life happened and I discovered ________. But now that I’m back I am ready to get serious again about _________.”
I get it.
I wanted my summer to be about me writing the perfect proposal (complete with my supervisor weeping) and then getting unconditionally passed by my committee. But then life happened and I discovered the world of art and design education is exponentially more complex than I realized and I will not change an entire system with 200 parsimonious pages…my research will just create a space where people can connect—where fear can be diffused and this is enough. Now that I’m back I am ready to get serious again about doing the work that is mine alone.
When I was a kid, I always wondered how the Muppets felt living in a world that was largely populated with humans. They certainly seemed to know what to do to get by and yet…I wondered how it felt to live in the tension of being just a little bit different.
In many ways I think we as students on this doctoral journey are all a bit like Muppets because we all must know what to do to survive in the day-to-day world of work and family and neighborhood and yet…under it all we also have a constant awareness that there are things that are ours to do that are decidedly unlike most of the people we meet. We’re a little bit different. I know in my life that’s been an underlying tension I’ve felt since starting the program three years ago.
While I have no doubt we could all be solo superheroes, I think there may actually be something to the power of “together” and particularly…“together again.”
And indeed…no feeling feels like the feeling of…together again (in 806).
See an abbreviated clip of the Muppets here:
July 27, 2016
Hello Digital Pedagogy 2016 Attenders!
Though I know you’re different than I am, the academic environment in VA is way different than WI, and the second time is inherently different than the first time around, I thought it might be helpful to share a couple recommendations.
So first…congratulations on making the choice to pack up your life for a week, trek to Virginia, and be open to whatever may happen! If you’re anything like me, the prospect of week-long sleep away summer camp (complete with pedagogy rockstar counselors) is ridiculously exciting and also (if you’re totally honest) a a bit terrifying. Embrace and be open to both the excitement and the terror because they’re both giving you good practice being a “normal human”…which is the best way to receive what will happen during the week. Though no doubt robots and machine learning will be hot topics during the week…digped is messy human to its core.
Along these lines, jump into things as soon as you can. For me as a super introvert, my first impulse is to watch from the sidelines, assess the situation–be aware of all exit routes. If this sounds like you too…totally cool…but for this week try to do the complete opposite. Introduce yourself, meet people, share your ideas and your background and your story and do everything in your power to make others feel comfortable so that they can do the same. These are your people…this is your team for the days ahead when you’re going to be called upon to do difficult, vulnerable work so do your part to make sure everyone is seen and heard and valued.
Next, be intentional about making time to hang out with others outside of your track. This is one of my regrets about my DigPedLab experience. I was part of the Networks Track and we were a tight knit crew, which I completely loved. However…we became so comfortable with each other that as the week progressed I found myself seeking them out in common sessions, at meal times, even on Twitter so we could continue to conversations we began in our own dedicated meeting times. I think finding your tribe inside your team is vital but…stay curious about how other tracks are coming along and what other tribes are learning. It sounds simple, but try sitting with new people at meals and in large sessions and again ask questions and share and learn from their learning too.
Third, (and somewhat paradoxically as the undercurrent of the previous paragraphs have been “go!” “meet!” “be best friends with everyone!”) take time away from DigPedLab when you need it. DigPedLab is a marathon. Five days is a long time to live in such a high challenge, high contact, high engagement space. Sean Michael Morris and Jessie Stommel always encouraged us that if we needed to skip a session and go be in nature or go take a nap or just go mindlessly drink beer and eat brats (remember…we were in Wisconsin) do it and feel no shame because part of pedagogy is knowing how to self regulate. Needing to take some time off doesn’t mean you’re weak or not as dedicated as other participants…process at your own pace. The conversation will always be ready to welcome you when you get back.
Finally, remember to share with all of the DigPedLab attenders who may not be physically present in VA but who inevitably will make their presence known via Twitter, Virtually Connecting, etc. Donna Lanclos write a brilliant piece about Absence Presence DigPed PEI.
It’s a weird mind warp all the ways boundaries are hazy and soft when people aren’t limited by presence meaning same time zone or geographic real estate. As physical attenders, you all have the “front row seats” on the action so relish it and be fully present but also remember that there’s a whole metaphorical stadium around the world also attending with you. Share your thoughts via the hashtag (if you’re comfortable), share your reflections via a blog (again if you’re comfortable), find a Virtually Connecting hangout and get some camera time (guaranatee that won’t be comfortable but…will be worth it! : ).
The power in these ideas and experiences is ultimately in the ways they can be fluid and living–growing and evolving. The seeds from DigPedLab are wildflowers scattering on the wind, resilient and bringing beauty wherever they land. Treasure the ways your experience is fully yours…special to you alone, but scatter too and see how your experience can transform in ways you cannot even imagine.
June 7, 2016
To continue this season of firsts…tomorrow is my first foray into the world of being a remote panelist as part of the Virtual Connecting session at the T3 Conference. Two weeks ago I led my first panel in person at the UCDA Graphic Design Education Summit and had two remote panelists as part of my panel so…it’ll be an interesting experience to be on the other side and see how it feels.
As I’ve been both on vacation and pre-occupied (or perhaps obsessed) with what feels like the never-ending quest to write my dissertation proposal I had thought a bit about what I will say about Virtually Connecting, my questions for the others, etc. but I hadn’t yet visited the conference site to know the larger context for the panel. This morning I thought perhaps that would be prudent so I logged in, read a bit, and eventually found the following image:
Apparently the panel will be composed of three amazing ladies who do cool stuff like teach and write and start things and one name who is basically a blank space–an empty circle of nothingness. Though I know this lack of information has everything to do with the fact that I’d not updated my conference profile and was in no way a prophetic reflection on my own identity, in darker moments (which as a doctoral student who is, as mentioned above, on the never-ending quest to write a dissertation proposal seem to happen like clockwork) this feels exactly the right descriptor of me: blank, empty nothingness nested between people who are parsimonious and winsome—generally way more grounded than I am and probably ever will be.
Which, crazy as it sounds, is a perfect segway into why I am such a fan of Virtually Connecting.
As someone with very limited income, being part of Virtually Connecting has given me access to events that I otherwise would have no chance to attend. With this access comes pretty amazing content but even more comes invaluable exposure to the “human creator” that is behind behind every idea. This latter element is admittedly what I love the most. Three years of being a doctoral student means I am getting the hang of how you write as an academic, engage with ideas, etc. but…I’m still super curious as to how one actually lives as an academic.
One of my favorite parts of Virtually Connecting is its casual immediacy and spontaneous insight. Seeing the kind of “unplugged” version of people I’ve previously only encountered in highly polished + edited perfection is so refreshing. Perhaps it’s just me but…I think this modeling of open sharing and community amongst participants as all are willing to jump into an experience that is fully unpredictable and emergent is so inspiring because it reminds me that behind all of these ideas are humans who actually aren’t all that different than me. If they’ve done it…perhaps someday I too will find my way and be able to help others along.
And so tomorrow as I am a panelist amongst three amazing ladies who do cool stuff like teach and write and start things, may I model open sharing, be willing to jump in to an experience that is fully unpredictable and emergent and remember how amazing it is to share being human as…we all find our way together.
March 28, 2016
“All these borders and boundaries are porous but we all pretend they’re not porous.”
Just finished the first installment of my efforts to weekend binge watch DigPed Lab Cairo. I was part of the first DigPed Lab in the States. As someone new-ish to the world of academia/pedagogy, it was hands down the highlight of my year and the ideas and engagement from that week have become foundational in how I view pedagogy and my own responsibility as an educator in the world. Cairo, Egypt is admittedly a completely different culture than Madison, Wisconsin so I am curious to learn more about what happened there – see how the ideas translated and even more see if any participants, like me, experienced a fundamental shift in how they view pedagogy and their own responsibility as educators in the world (spoiler alert: found a total DigPed kindred spirit in @NadinneAbo and so excited to learn more from her!)
I’m hopelessly behind making it through all the things over the weekend…apparently being talented at binge watching Project Runway doesn’t correlate to conference watching. That said, I’m dazzled enough by these ideas so I’m fine with a meander rather than a binge—more reading a novel than cramming for an exam.
So for the first chapter, what follows is a very brief reflection on the first super sized Virtual Connect hangout video with a room full of on-site and online participants who were discussing a piece by Lanclos on the the death of the digital native , a further elaboration on the Resident + Visitor idea for digital engagement. All quotes in this post are pulled from the video.
“I migrated to Google Plus from Moodle…During the revolution…I had to keep in touch with my students all over the place when everyone got evacuated.”
-DigPed participant whose name I didn’t catch but is at 20:46 in video
My big takeaway so far is that right now everyone is navigating the messy, imperfect, awkward growing pangs of what it means to integrate open or even online practices into pedagogy. The continuum seems to be less about who is operating in open versus closed systems and tool affordances but rather what responsibility do we have toward our students to model behavior and share practice? How do we creatively navigate and share—welcome others in and also allow others to welcome us into new spaces and ideas? How do we assess our options and be true to an ethos even as we remain nimble in the use of tools/practices/methods? It seems if one pushed these questions enough…ultimately the questions cycle into the realm of what does it mean to be human and experience connection and care within these networked spaces?
“We have a duty of care to provide our students with opportunities to practice…”
As a graphic design educator who knows I’m doing trailblazing work, I’ve tended to think I’m the only one struggling with these questions and everyone else has it all together…all the other disciplines have found the perfect balance and are constantly sharing thoughtful creative blog posts with the world while the design educators are hoarding their work and teaching yet another generation that ideas are scarce and good work is guarded work.
Turns out…these struggles aren’t the exclusive domain of art and design disciplines. It sounds a bit perverse but this universal struggle gives me hope. Hearing people who are brave enough to talk about these things and brave enough to conduct their lives in ways that aren’t easy but are so necessary gives me the courage to enter the dialogue too. At this point perhaps just being open to being open is the most important thing. Or…maybe installment two of the conference will reveal the magic answer. : )
March 10, 2016
March 4, 2016
Getting a doctorate is an oceanic crossing…and I am in the murky space, somewhere between one third and one half across. The timelines keep getting redrawn not because I am lazy but rather because the landscape is so vast. I know the place I will eventually land but the process is largely non-linear, meandering. I want my supervisor to be the cool, calm, GPS navigation to my journey…and instead of explicit mandates, we bounce around the Cynefin framework–simple to chaos, complex to complicated, complicated to simple. Winds are unpredictable in the crossing. Even as I’m enjoying a sea-like-glass, I have learned to be ever-watchful, eager for the perfect wind to carry me yet also bracing for potential gale force gusts.
And so every day mostly finds me engaged in the repetition of decidedly unsexy routine tasks: Read. Write. Think. Share. Repeat.
The crossing is teaching me to find insight through process rather than only seek out flashes of brilliance. And increasingly, the crossing is teaching me to be patient and to be part of the complexity rather than try to be master of it. The only way I will eventually land is if I trust the water and the wind–work with them in harmony.
So…back to work for another day: check the maps, adjust the sails, broadcast my own position, check the horizon…and even as I long to arrive, be dazzled that I get to be part of this story, part of this crossing.
February 10, 2016
The software design studio: An exploration
by Sarah Kuhn
In the late 1990’s, software design and development was rising to greater prominence. Educational institutions were looking for ways to teach software development in a more holistic, agile manner and–inspired by the discipline of architecture–tried out studio pedagogy as a potential new methodology. The overall feel was that studio pedagogy, with it’s strong focus on real-world application, iterations, and feedback cycle, would benefit software design students because it would help them become more aware of their user needs and more agile in their design process.
Why It is Interesting to Me:
Before reading this article, I never considered the correlation between architectural spaces and designed interfaces. The more I pushed against the metaphor, the more I liked its feel because I do think that architecture and interface design share many of the same end goals (user comfort, ease, intuition, etc.) though one uses physical materials to achieve these ends and the other uses lines of code.
This article laid next to a video I watched last week by Alan Stearns calling on web designers to basically be more mindful of their end user and process and web users themselves to assert their voice and rights as co-creators of the internet made for some interesting learning sparks. Stearns called for a sort of co-habitation within web designed spaces that seems very akin to co-habitation within a physical space.
Early in this article the architect Christopher Alexander was referenced. Though I had no prior knowledge, I found a great short documentary all about his life and architectural philosophy which to me seemed to be basically: make intentional design choices so that every element in a space or building is considered, purposeful, balanced and brings a sense of “wholeness in every moment” to the end user experience as they travel through your space. Alexander is the antithesis of streamlined modern architecture and is hyper aware of space and connection. Though Alexander’s words were about buildings and physical spaces, I think his ethos could just as easily be applied to interface design, LMS design, etc.
Added to the delightful rambling that was assimilating ideas from this article into my brain, this afternoon I attended a lunchtime webinar from Athabasca (called a CIDER session) where George Siemens presented about using learning analytics to improve learning (or improve learning about how learning happens.) George outlined the history of learning analytics, how the process is taking off, and the potential successes and pitfalls that he sees in the future. For me his main takeaway was that as educators we must be proactive in engaging in conversations about learner data because there are many many companies looking to privatize and monetize data that in all actuality belongs to students first and foremost. It’s easy for learning analytics to be used to further dehumanize students as data points become numbers or dot points or warning lights but…learning analytics should first and foremost be to aid in learners learning and thus must remain human-focused first and foremost.
Though they’re in different disciplines and spoke in different places/centuries (though ironically were both mediated by my computer screen…perhaps that really is the great equalizer!) I think Alexander and Siemens have a lot in common when it comes to space design in a broad sense as they both are staunch advocates of the human in the midst of all the materials/construction/structures/outcomes, etc.
Circling back to where I originally began with studio pedagogy and the article I set out to read…I wonder if because studio pedagogy is so client/end user focused it tends to form more human attuned professionals? Are people who are the product of disciplines that have a heavy studio focus better at navigating the fuzzy-gray spaces of life because they have not been schooled in a system of right answers and wrong but instead have been taught to explore where a myriad of “right” exists? I’d love to say yes but…I know from very personal experience studios are just as gamed as any other structures and studio practitioners are just as full of themselves as any other “expert” might be.
That said, it’s interesting to think about and I do think that as we tend to inhabit interfaces and Internet spaces with the same consistency we once only inhabited physical buildings…there may well be something to the idea that even as we’re so keen to teach code we would be well served to teach space design, physical awareness, and an attention to creating spaces that serve all of what it means to be human.
Kuhn, S. (1998). The software design studio: An exploration. Software, IEEE, 15(2), 65-71.
February 9, 2016
Digital Spaces for Learning and Assessment in Art and Design
by: Ian Pirie, Stewart Cordiner and Jenny Triggs
Identifying a need for greater communication and transparency in the art + design critique process, in 2010 Edinburgh College of Art (ECA) created an online digital space to aid feedback and help support engagement in the critique process. They still continue to meet face to face in studio spaces but critique is largely conducted in an online interface.
What they did:
ECA created their own custom LMS where students upload their work in progress and completed work. Along with their image files, students complete a series of reflective questions describing their process journey and rating themselves on a series of skills acquired. Instructors also complete critique using a series of reflective questions and comments and rate the students on skills shown. When both parties have completed their responses, they are shared and an online dialogue begins about the work.
Why it is interesting to me:
A fully face-to-face, traditional design program identifies what I think is a key positive to online art + design learning: the ability to move critique from the often nerve-wracking dog and pony show within a studio to a space where people can reflect and receive comments and feedback and engage in a dialogue on a more personal basis.
When analyzed, data showed that students identified value in feedback that was mutually constructed and dialogical which the online interface easily supported. Instructors too found value in seeing projects progress through various stages and reading the students’ backstory in creating them. That said like any time feedback is given…it varies based on writing ability and overall engagement with the process. Some students were frustrated with lack of communication from the instructor and vice versa.
Overall, it’s an interesting look at how the internet is bleeding into a fully face-to-face art and design program and I’m curious how the program has progressed these past six years.
Pirie, I., Cordiner, S., & Triggs, J. (2011). Digital Spaces for Learning and Assessment in Art and Design. future learning spaces, p. 43-67. Retrieved from: http://www2.uef.fi/documents/976466/1020676/Future+Learning+Spaces.pdf/1d6c8b89-1bf0-4512-b646-85f656006c34#page=44
February 8, 2016
Three days ago news broke of a potential change in Twitter, moving from a sequential to an algorithmically curated timeline.
Coincidentally, I heard this news after just listening to a HybridPod episode where Bonnie Stewart and Chris Friend discussed Bonnie’s dissertation research into networks/academic Twitter. In the interview, Bonnie mentioned that whilst engaged in research she witnessed firsthand a watershed moment within academic twitter regarding hashtag activism where prominent voices began to use their influence to weigh in on public issues that often impacted negatively those with less influence.
Watching the speculative algorithm ripples begin to take over my timeline I wonder if we are again at a watershed moments where things are (or soon will be) shifting in big ways?
Though I am not an expert in algorithms, it seems that the proposed changes will be a bit like Facebook, where the information presented is curated for each user. Voices that aren’t as algorithmically engaging will slide away while those most popular will be further amplified. In theory, it sounds like an efficient move but, because I see Twitter more as bookstore browse than Amazon direct buy…the change feels threatening.
In addition, as someone who has a relatively tiny pool of followers and tends to Tweet almost exclusively about somewhat mass-market obscure things, I know I am not very algorithmically sexy. I have a feeling that my voice is one that will begin to slide to the margins and there’s a good chance mine will most likely be the Tweets that go missing.
Though it’s convenient to give into dystopian techno determinism, get bitter, and never share again because clearly I’m not going to be trending anytime soon…I think there’s a better mindset to adopt…and it’s called being a creative human who remembers that these things are tools created by companies. Just tools. Only tools.
Though algorithms may change the volume on this particular tool, the only way I’ll be truly silenced is if I stop sharing and being open…if I stop reaching out through a variety of computer mediated/face to face interactions and if I stop being intentional about authentically engaging with others.
In the same way, the voices all around me will never be silenced (no matter how quiet) if I am intentional about listening and being present to others and letting them know they matter. Though I’ve been guilty of fan-girling people like Jesse Stommel and Bonnie Stewart and George Siemens and Catherine Cronin because I love their ideas, I think what I love even more is that they actively use their highly visible positions not to garner fans but to amplify voices of those who are less known and remind people on the margins they are seen. They remind us how rich and diverse the world is, and this reminding is good work that we can all do.
As I tell my design students…the tools we use as artists are powerful and our skills matter. That said, as humans we may not be smarter than our tools but we are infinitely more creative. Our ability to combine and create something new far surpasses anything a pre-made tool could cobble together.
In painting we never use pre-made black…we mix your own and the work comes alive with personal touch. I think that holds true here too. Though I am not downplaying issues of structure, voice, agency, and power as mediated through tools…I think we must remember that our most valuable asset is that we are creative and if we take steps to be authentic, we have the ability to connect with those around us no matter the circumstances. Tools used are a means of distribution, but we should not confuse a tool with a connection and even more we should not become so reliant on a single tool that we lose the ability to mix our own paint, imprint our own personal touch, and learn from others as they do the same.