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Posts tagged ‘george siemens’

on wild things, being artsy, and taming + being tamed by complexity

September 22, 2016

lisa hammershaimb

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.





day 3: a meander through software, architecture, learning analytics, and being human

February 10, 2016

lisa hammershaimb

Article Title:
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.

day 1: intentions + lists + photos to assuage guilt

February 1, 2016

lisa hammershaimb

And here we are back to Monday. Apparently if I were going all quantified self, between this Monday and last there’s been shockingly little data recorded via blog. Last Monday I waxed poetic about landing planes and pounding down posts and then disappeared completely into an abyss.

This past week illustrates why defining yourself and your learning by only one output is tricky business. Though I don’t have the pixels to back me up, in reality last week was a flurry of productivity as I met my supervisor face-to-face for the first time + had some very profitable time with him, wrote an obscene number of potential research questions via analog methods (and may have fallen a tiny bit in love with them all), had a tough-love chat with a fellow design educator who is deeply enmeshed in these ideas, rethought everything, and am now back to circling with another landing strip in sight.

Last week I learned a bunch but it was definitely of a highly rambling, meandering, not-easily-quantified-nature. I have do doubt it will manifest itself sooner than later and yet for right now I very honestly have nothing to distill into words.

This week, once more, my intention is to land my research questions and continue to be uncomfortably transparent with my process and highly intentional about inviting others (who legitimately have experience/investment) into my process. Basically, if I want my dissertation to be an open dialogue there’s no better time to begin building that practice than to be less hoard-y and more open even in its conception…which is deeply scary because I’ve only just begun to feel modestly legit in an academic sphere.

Will this week land my questions for real, for real? Probably not but…I think it can be for real, for now. Maybe.

A few things I do know is that my dissertation will:
1. Focus primarily on instructors
2. Focus primarily on graphic design
3. Focus on experience exploration/baseline discovery
4. Be a connection point/dialogue builder amongst all design educators as opposed to an exotic gaze into a far off world (i.e. present online integration within the context of studio learning continuum not isolate online as a world onto itself)

And now for images of the past week to assuage my own latent guilt at being silent in one venue even as I’ve been quite active in others. And bonus: at some point when all this is over I’ll be able to smile as I remember the hyper reality that marks these days of living in the dissertation tension that is both the now and the not-yet of being a doctoral student.

CZsbwNvW0AAJ616Photo 1: Meeting the supervisor for the first time. Turns out he’s pretty cool. 

Photo 2: Artfully composed post-it notes after meeting the supervisor for the first time…because he told me in pretty definitive terms that research questions weren’t likely to come via sky writing.


Photo 3: Slightly less artfully composed questions + ideas after two days of occasional writing + iteration.


Photo 4: Even less artfully composed questions and ideas after two days of writing + iteration following a meeting where one question amongst many was “So…help me understand. Why are you choosing to ask questions that seem to fetishize online art + design learning? Do you want your dissertation to further separate online + face to face studios?” Oops. 

you are not your computer…

January 25, 2015

lisa hammershaimb

This past week my supervisor posted (and clearing expressed his disdain of) a link on twitter to an article that said something along the lines of… “if computers replaced teachers in online learning, the world would be a better place.” (Admittedly, this is a bit of simplification on the article but the overall gist was: teachers cost money, need benefits, have all sorts of emotions/personalities/quirks and generally are a major drain on institutional finances but magical computers work endlessly, need no benefits and only have the feelings one programs into them thus are an institutional win.) I responded off the cuff about how my Mac was probably going to replace him in the near future since as the article said, who needs humans if computers can teach everything? He responded back in a sage, supervisory way by saying that the focus is never teaching but rather learning and that computers can’t actually “teach” rather they aggregate. Then he continued on by saying that as I already spend way more time working on my thesis with my Mac than working on my thesis with him…maybe we are already at the point where my Mac had replaced him….As I spend about 18 hours a day with my Mac…yeah, I’d say he makes a valid point!

It was a fun short twitter exchange to begin my day and yet it did make me think a lot about this very odd distance mediated world of teaching and learning that I’m living in and that has become my own default framework.

For example in my day to day job…
100% of the interactions I have with my own team of direct reports are mediated by a computer or a phone.
100% of the interactions I have with the students enrolled in my program are mediated by a computer or a phone.
100% of the assignments created, books read, lectures attended, etc. in the program I head are are mediated by a computer.

And then in my doctoral studies…
100% of the interactions I have with my cohort (who I consider to be almost family) are mediated by a computer
100% of the content of my  doctoral program is mediated by a computer

and regarding the supervisor mentioned above, thus far…
95% of all communication over the past 18 months has been mediated by not just a computer but primarily using the 140 character microblog format of Twitter

I am an educator working to teach students the skill of graphic design—something that has always been taught via close proximity studio methodology—and 100% of what I do is geographically distributed and technology mediated. I am a human, my students are humans, my staff are humans, my cohort and supervisor are humans and yet as we’ve never “seen” or even been in the same timezone…it all could actually be a gigantic sophisticated Turing test.

It feels so mundane when I live it day to day and yet to see all these facts written out…so so so crazy that the system is even allowed to exist, let alone thrive.

There is no part of me that ever thinks that my computer could replace my supervisor just as there is no part of me that ever thinks that my computer could replace any of the instructors on my team because I believe so strongly in the power of the humans behind all of this new fangled technology.

And yet, how does one get to this place of seeing the human even as it’s fully interpreted by blind code and then transported via cables and satellites and flat screen projectis? How do people become real in such a different, non-human atmosphere? For me it feels so natural because I’ve lived in this place for so long and been learning in this distanced mediated system for almost 10 years, beginning with my MFA.

I’m beginning to think I’m not the norm…I’m beginning to think I’m the anomaly in all of this and yet if I could understand myself better perhaps I could help untangle these ideas for others.

Connectivism Article PDF Version

November 21, 2014

lisa hammershaimb

Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age by George Siemens, comments by Lisa Hammershaimb

DAY 1: a dissertation…

February 10, 2014

lisa hammershaimb

What follows is some very timely wisdom from my most esteemed supervisor, Dr. Siemens, following yet another bout of dissertation ideas I sent off to him. “A dissertation is not ‘how to bake’ it is more like ‘how to use mandarin oranges in making small cupcakes for July 4th celebrations”. Best phrase ever…right up there with the idea of chipping away ice chunks to cool your drink not demolishing an entire cube. Now comes heeding this advice when all I really want to do is make an animated piece of typography out of it…or maybe eat a small cupcake. Focus Lisa. Focus.


Hi Lisa –

the biggest challenge you’ll face with your dissertation is scope. What you list in your four points is the equivalent of several dissertations :). My advice, and one that you will hear again and again, is to focus, focus, focus (oh, and focus). What ONE main idea is provocative and important enough for you to spend the next several years exploring? Once you have that clear, you can build sub questions around it. But it really does need to be precise. A dissertation is not “how to bake” it is more like “how to use mandarin oranges in making small cupcakes for July 4th celebrations”. precise. focused. You are not surveying a field – you are going deeply in an area where no one has gone before. When you are done, you will be the *world expert* in that one area.


another view of research…

February 2, 2014

lisa hammershaimb


So today I was out doing my usual fetch session with Ruby in the park across from my house. I love being outdoors because it clears my head and also gives Ruby a chance to spend some of her boundless energy. As we were playing today in snow that was definitely almost deeper than she is tall, it occurred to me (probably because I’m almost becoming borderline obsessive on the subject…yeah, not a total bad thing that I have to go back to work tomorrow and not spend 24/7 on these ideas) that playing fetch in deep snow is a lot like the research stuff I’ve been doing for the past several days. Seriously.

I’ve got my mini tennis ball, like my supervisor holds much of the “deep resources” I’m trying to untangle at the moment. When I fling it, I always can see where it is, how it’s connected to the wider world of the park, when Ruby is getting close to it, when she’s totally off base, etc. She sees the ball for a split second and then it’s gone and all she knows is a kind of vague, general direction of places to search for it. She runs as best she can then flings herself all around and about 2/3 of the time actually recovers the tennis ball. The other times, she gets distracted, goes down other paths, and then comes back to me where we recalibrate, find the tennis ball together, and give it another go. Brilliant, right? : )

I know there will come a time when I’ll be better about being self directed and eventually become way more brainy than my supervisor on my own topic but for now…yeah, not so much. So…here’s to the fetching journey of research!

DAY 4: Clarity (for right now)

January 15, 2014

lisa hammershaimb

So, I had that interview I was all prepped for yesterday and it was well…interesting. (No worries…I mean “interesting” in a totally academic-related sense and I won’t be going all dear-diary in this posting and get overly emotionally reflective and in touch with my inner twelve year offense to those who are twelve….)

This morning in my usual coffee/quiet time/blog+twitter catch up time I came across a posting that George Siemens, my doctoral supervisor, had recently written in reference to a meeting that he’d had with two other of my cohort members whom he also supervises. In the posting he referenced a meeting that recently happened and the things that struck him particularly in regards to epistemology, ontology, vulnerability in learning, and the social, identity, and emotional factors that influence learners while they are “in progress.” (It was a bit crazy reading his article because previous to reading his blog I’d just spent a lot of time trying to figure out what epistemology really means and even put a definition on this blog to sort of codify it for myself…I’d say we’re tracking.)

Actually, you should really just go read the blog here because it’s short and fabulous…it’ll open in a new window and it is worth your time. But come back, okay?

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DAY 1: my academic life, in 500 words

January 12, 2014

lisa hammershaimb

The second class of my doctoral-student career begins this Tuesday. It is 802: Advanced Research in Education and I feel pretty equal parts thrilled and terrified. Last year at this time being accepted into the program felt right about as probable as speaking at a conference or running an ultra marathon or performing piano in front of many many people. Oh wait…I did all those things too last year! Indeed a lot can happen in a year’s time and this past year has once more proven that…but back to the present. 802 begins the “serious stuff” of the EdD program–study turns from program orientation to the nuts and bolts of research, framework, paradigms, and methods and by early summer the hope is that we will no longer be wayward researchers, searching for our Nirvana but will have dissertation Mecca set in our sights and begin mapping out the course we will take to arrive. (Sorry…terrible religious cross pollination. In trying to make metaphors I think I may have only succeeded in being a bit offensive. Oops.)

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back to school…the MOOC way

October 20, 2013

lisa hammershaimb

Today I attended my first official MOOC, World Wide Ed. (Let me clarify…I’ve been registered for the past three days and did pop into the actual classroom space to put my virtual pin on the virtual map, but otherwise I’ve been one of those students who just silently lurks and doesn’t really do any real work.) But, today was the official first synchronous video session and the instructor in me said if I did nothing else in this experience, I needed to “support” in the live session even if it just meant my name being a traceable line on the “attendees” column.

So, what is a MOOC? Standing for Massive Open Online Course, MOOCs are a somewhat recent phenomena in the DE world and basically are, depending on who you ask, the savior or villain of education. Coincidentally one of the main people cited as being part of the early birth of MOOCs are none other than Stephen Downes and George Siemens, Athabasca University professor extraodinaire (who you may remember from such places as my Connectivism post of about a month or so ago and who has been tasked with the enviable role of being my dissertation adviser.) Way back when Siemens and Downes first created the prototype of a MOOC, it was a bit different than the corporate 10,000+ student enrollment monster that it’s become today. D+S’s MOOC was based on the idea that with a good digital framework, it would be possible for a community to teach itself and, like the theory of connectivism, for connections between people in diverse settings to become the catalyst for new knowledge exploration…more than any one sage-on-stage could possibly hope to teach their own class. MOOCs are free, open to anyone who’d like to join and learn, and often more about continuing education than earning a degree. That said, there are often provisions made for badges or even credit to be earned if a participant pays a nominal feel or works with a traditional bricks and mortar school. Since their somewhat benign start, a Pandora’s box of who has and should define learning and what arena it can occur has been opened and MOOCs are to education like the proposals to legalize marijuana are to elections in the States…endlessly controversial and filled with very very passionate people both pro and con.

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