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CEP 917 Angie JohnsonFinal ReflectionThis final reflective piece synthesizes my attempt to internalize in a logical way thetheories, constructs, and concepts I have encountered in CEP 917. As a “big picture” person,I am always inclined to draw independent thoughts into larger, more meaningful patterns.So, in composing this piece, I have selected the most personally compelling ideas from myreflections and logically reordered them in an attempt to present a personal argument forthe relevance of design theory to education. This is intended to be a logical progression ofideas moving from preliminary to concomitant, from general to specific, and fromtheoretical to applied. Each begins with a statement, followed by discussion of the conceptand its relation to the previous assertion.The essential difference between ourselves and other species is that we can directour thoughts and attention.I begin here because, as an educator and as a person, I am best motivated by essentialtruths. This essential truth, that intentional thought is what makes us human, is one of themost compelling assumptions on which I base my work as an educator. Educationhappensthrough the practice of intentional thinking. Csikszentmihalyi described this direction ofpsychic energy as flow, which requires not just the reception of sensory information, butreflection on it as well. We must “perceive” rather than simply “recognize.” The better weapply our human capacity to govern our minds, the more able we are to cultivate meaningand ground ourselves in transactions that mediate the personal, social, and cosmic worlds.This is why I view my primary role in education as “teaching kids how to be human.”If directing our thoughts and actions with intention is what makes us human, then itis through mindful action that we develop ourselves as persons in the world.As Heidegger observed, I am because I act. ThichNhatHhan made a similar observation:“My actions are my only true belongings.” Csikszentmihalyiasserts that freedom ismeaningless unless applied for a purpose, and I agree. It is important to be free, but equallyessential is that we act freely. Action requires choice; it requires we consider what we wishto accomplish and why, and if we assume some goals, requires we consider how to actproductively and efficiently. The operative word here is “intention.” It is throughintentional action that we cultivate the self. And, interestingly, the cultivation of self is tiedto the cultivation of freedom, in a kind of reciprocal feedback loop. Csikszentmihalyipositsthat “To be free means to be free for some purpose. . . if we are free for some purpose, thenthere is also a sense in which we are bound to that purpose . . . Pursued with all one’spsychic energy, the process of cultivation would eventually compel the self to become free.”Here is the idea of freedom combined with psychic energy, focused on cultivation of the selfin the context of individual, social, and cosmic experience. In short, if we are to be fullyhuman, we must seek, practice, and apply the freedom that is uniquely ours--we must act inand on the world in purposeful ways.
CEP 917 Angie JohnsonTo act on the world is to change it, and since design is the applied art of changingthings in the world, it is a way of being--through action--human.In the design process we thoughtfully examine the world and our transactions with it,determine ways our experience might be better, and attend to the work of making it so.Simon articulated this quite clearly: “Everyone designs who devises courses of actionaimed at changing existing situations into preferred ones.” In short, to design is to changewhat is into what should be. In essence, design is an applied art, existing in the interfacebetween the material world and the desires of humans who live in it. It is about lubricatingthe interface between the constraints of our environment and our goals for navigatingsuccessfully and productively through it. We want to do things. Or go places. Or makethings. Or move things. And there’s always something in our way--the space betweenwhere we are and where we want to go, the time and transformation required betweenraw materials and finished product, the difference between the current order (or lack of it)and the order we envision. Design is the applied art and science of minimizing thoseroadblocks, or at least negotiating a compromise between them. In this way, good designchanges things. If our work is to act purposefully in the world, then design is a way to dothis. Finally, because education is by definition an attempt to change minds, design isparticularly relevant in the education setting. As a teacher my goal is always to transformthe minds of students, and any act of transformation is an act of changing what is into whatmight be. So teaching is also an act of design.The act of design has some important elements:Design requires putting oneself, in the words of Dr. Punya Mishra, “in the way ofideas.”Good design seems to require this. In one sense, it’s a part of the idea-gathering process,the early design stage of collecting perspectives and possibilities for the changes we seek tomake. There is an openness required here, a willingness to go outside one’s natural spaceto view it as an outsider, a willingness to perceive possibilities rather than simply recognizerealities. By “finding ourselves in the margins” of perception we can “glimpse the obvious”and “reframe the ordinary.” In other words...Design requires we view the worldalternatively.Hofstadter described creativity as a capacity to perceive and turn knobs to reorder knownelements in original ways. So, for example, we reexamine a situation that appears difficult,and view it from a different perspective so as to maximize its affordances and minimize itsconstraints. These knobs, which might be thought of as functions or uses or applications,are perceived by most people in rather limited ways. But a creative designer adept atperceiving alternatives may see and manipulate knobs that others do not, thereby solving aproblem in an original way. He may be adept at moving from one perspective to another toleverage what is usually viewed as a constraint by reframing or repurposing it as anaffordance. He may perceive how an existing frame can be reapplied to a novel situation,thereby utilizing the “slippage” from one discipline to another to his advantage. Each of
CEP 917 Angie Johnsonthese requires the creator to see new ways, new patterns, new combinations. It alsorequires the designer be able to see the world from the perspective of others. Therefore…Design requires specific attention to the needs and intentions of the user.Good design requires empathy for the user, in other words, designing with the user inmind. The ability to view the world from a user’s point of view is essential. In my owneducational setting this means that I design for the benefit of my students, not for thedesires of administrators. I perceive where they are and design instruction to meet themthere. I have learned to teach with flexibility. I have a carefully considered instructionalplan, but I will turn on a dime for the very best instruction every single day. Doing so is anoutcome of the interaction between myself, my students, the space in which we work, thecontent I teach, and a myriad of other environmental factors influencing our success at anygiven moment. In other words…Design is a conversation.As I noted above, design happens in the space between user, product, materials, andenvironment. It is a conversation among these elements. There is an exchange of energy, atransaction between the elements. In practice the designer works in the space between allof these, where the constraints and affordances of each meet up and are somehownegotiated into a final product. One method of design that follows this precept is the designmethod known as bricolage. The bricoleur tinkers or experiments with elements of a designand reacts to success or failure along the way by adjusting and readjusting for a desiredoutcome. In bricolage, design emerges from the process.Design, then, is an active transaction between the desired outcome, the environment, thematerials, and the users. I must not only act, but I must react to the situational backtalk ofmy classroom. Every class period is a new artistic creation, not just my own, but a collectiveone that my students and I perform together. The content goals may to some extent bedetermined at the outset, but the actualized content emerges organically from the process.There is constant backtalk, or feedback. Always the backtalk is in part social, but it is alsodependent on the materials and tools with which we’re working. So, when we’re workingwith technology, backtalk or feedback is technological, as Cossentino notes, a dialoguebetween the student and the technology. When we’re conducting a Socratic Seminar, thebacktalk is verbal and sociocultural. And in any situation the backtalk is emotional as well;as our emotional maps demonstrated, the user will be strongly influenced by her emotionalexperience--and adolescents because of their developmental state, are more influenced bytheir emotions than adults. The goal of the teacher, then, is to be a very good listener, acareful observer, a true participant in the psychic exchange so as to enable the mostdesirable change possible in this space.Not only is design relevant to the work of teachers as they design instruction, but it isalso relevant to the work of students as they learn.Because design is the “process of making sense” of a situation and constructing meaningfulsolutions to the problems of human experience, it is a way of teaching and a way oflearning. So I am a teacher/designer, but I can teach students to “be human” by providing a
CEP 917 Angie Johnsonsetting in which my students become student/designers themselves. Kafai reminds us ofSchon’s assertion that an "uncertain situation comes to be understood by the attempt tochange it." So, just as the teacher comes to understand how to best teach through thedesign process, so might the student come to understand content through the process ofdesign.Kafai emphasizes constructionism as a subset of constructivism, noting that itemphasizes creation of a concrete product; in other words, students "engage inconstructive activities that are meaningful to them," are in constant "dialogue with ideas"as they design. In my own classroom this course inspired me to go a step farther than Imight normally have gone in transforming my classroom into a design studio. Having neverassigned a radio story, taught audio editing, or even used Audacity myself, I went aheadand had my students do a radio story project and, in the process, witnessed their dialogueamong ideas, the medium, the technology, and each other. They were motivated not only bythe creative freedom granted them, but by the concrete product they envisioned as a resultof their efforts, a product they could share with others. I am reminded that design involvesinteraction with things, returning us to Csikszentmihalyi’s transaction and things asessential components of meaningful human interaction with the world. So, we teachersconduct our work through design methods, but our students do the work of learning bydesigning their own change in the world, acting as cultivated human beings.Because educational research is, similarly, a process of problem-solving, it alsobenefits from a design-based method.Traditional research follows more positivist theories that reinforce a gap between theoryand practice in the messy real world. Design based research presents a solution to thisdilemma by studying and responding to real world challenges in authentic settings. Theresearcher begins with an authentic problem, designs a solution to it, then applies andstudies that solution in situ. In keeping with the concept of design defined in the precedingdiscussions, design based research is in part a conversation between the design solutionand all influencing factors in situ, thereby making it difficult if not impossible to reliablyisolate specific elements for evaluation. However, the degree of success in achievingoverarching goals can be measured just as any design is measured—for its effectivenessand utility.Successful design research in education may benefit from translational developers tobridge the worlds of theory and practice.Here the translational developer is one who can acquire the skills needed on both sides ofthe theory-practice gap and communicate effectively between the sides involved. Normanarticulates this role:Translational developers are needed who can mine the insights of researchers and hone theminto practical, reliable and useful results. Similarly translational developers must helptranslate the problems and concerns of practice into the clear, need-based statements thatcan drive researchers to develop new insights.Here is where this theory applies to my experience as both a teacher and doctoral student.
CEP 917 Angie JohnsonHaving taught for 23 years and completed a doctoral degree I will be familiar with thediscourse and perspectives of both sides. I imagine that my research will at some point leantoward this design-based method, as challenging as it may be. My dissertation research willtake place in my own classroom with real students in the context of a genuine class, so inthis regard I hope to play the role of translational developer successfully.Some General Thoughts, A.K.A. “A Blinding Glimpse of the Bloody Obvious”I have not often been assigned a richer, more densely interwoven set of readings than weread in this course. The ideas have literally enveloped my practice over the past severalmonths. And this past week I traveled to the Literacy Research Association conference forthe first time. I was struck by how wholly and completely that experience put me “in theway of ideas,” and having marinated in design theory since September, I felt a shift in myperception of that experience as well.Participating in the discourse of this academic community reminded methat there is stillsomething very powerful about face-to-face interactions on shared topics of interest in ashared physical space. Its Socratic dialogue again, the very method I teach so passionatelyto my own students and that was the subject of my design project. It occurred to me thenthat one reason I may be enjoying my classroom experience so well this year is that myprimary mission is to teach my students how to practice the exact habits of mind that I ammyself honing as a doctoral student. This academic community of intellectuals, their criticalresponse to one anothers work, their way of being in the world of knowledge, is preciselywhat we want our students to do. Inquire. Research. Theorize. Reflect. Consider opposingviewpoints. Turn knobs. Utilize slippages. Express opinions. Listen for backtalk. Seekevidence. Practice sound logic. Share willingly. See with a wide-angle lens. See with a zoomlens. Take constructive criticism. Give it graciously and respectfully. Participate in thediscourse of the community. Contribute, even in a small way, to something outside oneself,to the social evolutionary effort, to designing small but meaningful improvements in theworld.
CEP 917 Angie JohnsonReferencesCossentino, J. and Shaffer, DW (1999). The math studio: harnessing the power of the arts toteach across disciplines. Journal of Aesthetic Education 33(1).Csikszentmihalyi, M., &Rochbert-Halton, E. (1981). The meaning of things: Domesticsymbols and the self. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press.Csikszentmihalyi, M., & Robinson, R. E. (1990). The art of seeing: An interpretation of theaesthetic encounter. Los Angeles, CA: J. Paul Getty Museum and Getty Education Institutionfor the Arts.Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1996). Creativity: Flow and the psychology of discovery andinvention. New York: Harper Collins.Design-Based Research: An Emerging Paradigm for Educational Inquiry. The Design-BasedResearch CollectiveKafai Y. B. (1995). Minds in play: Computer game design as a context for children’s learning.Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.Norman, D. (2010). The Research-Practice Gap.Interactions Magazine. xvii(4).Schön, D. A. (1983). The reflective practitioner: How professionals think in action. NewYork: Basic Books.Simon, H. A. (1996). The sciences of the artificial. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.