learning and education

Reflective practice

I approach my research, teaching, and administrative work through reflective practice. In all of this work, I try to keep in mind a small web of values: human dignity, human well-being, professional integrity, truth, democracy, and Earth and personhood. I use this web to shape my decision-making and to help me recognize the purpose of my work.

Some old news: The tech industry, libraries, and non-profits seek professionals who know how to learn new things. These and similar institutions seek people who can find and frame problems in conditions of uncertainty. And, they seek people who work effectively in teams, who can envision, communicate, and persuade.

Accordingly, graduates of the Information School need to be superb makers and builders, who know specific skills, methods, and technologies, but they also need to be reasoned intellectuals, critical thinkers, who can envision new futures while also robustly appraising the promises and perils of proposed solutions.

Homo Faber, man the maker; Homo Sapiens, man the thinker: How can these two archetypes, of practice and of theory, be placed into dialog? This ancient question can also be formulated as a contemporary proposition: While know how is necessary, it is not sufficient; therefore, society calls for professionals who blend skills for building and critical thinking — know how plus know what (1).

This view — question and proposition — shapes all of my teaching, every class, every activity and graded assignment, every opportunity to advise or teach. Indeed, it stimulates my thinking about education and teaching and propels me to move forward and do better.

I think the best way to position students to learn to be builders and critical thinkers is through design, not a narrow conceptualization, such as “design thinking,” but a broad and ever-developing one (2).

… the designer [is] one who converts indeterminate situations to determinate ones. Beginning with situations that are at least in part uncertain, ill defined, complex, and incoherent …, designers construct and impose a coherence of their own.

Donald A. Schön, 1990, Educating the Reflective Practitioner, p. 42

I believe that excellent work, whether practice-oriented or academic, requires disciplined engagement with theory – framing commitments, process steps, evaluative criteria, and so forth. At the same time, excellent work cannot be planned out fully, in detail. Great work unfolds, in steps, with each new step being responsive to the prior ones. Designers are in conversation with all of the steps (the big picture) and with each step (the details).

How, therefore, do theory and practice go hand-in-hand? Donald Donald Schön answers this question by developing an epistemology of practice (3). In all of my scholarly work, I seek to draw on his ideas of reflective practice, and develop my skills.

In two decades of teaching, in many regards I have succeeded, even if I frequently fall short. That’s how it goes. Each step forward leads to new opportunities.


Looking ahead. As I move forward, my central focus is to continue to develop excellent learner experiences with reflective practice. My goal is to engage and develop answers to the following questions:

  1. Skillful practice and value sensitive design. What is skillful practice, especially when working on value sensitive design projects? Working answer: Skillful practice is reflective practice.
  2. Diversity, inclusion, and equity. How do I best incorporate diversity, inclusion, and equity into my teaching? I will continue to bring a more diverse range of materials and activities into my teaching.
  3. Instructional practices and the Earth. How do I align my teaching with the Earth? I would like to explore radical instructional methods for engaging students in environmental sustainability and related topics.

Acknowledgements. My views on learning and education have been shaped by sustained conversations with brilliant and caring colleagues over many years, including Bob Bokio, Allyson Carlyle, Megan Finn, Mike Freeman, Batya Friedman, Rowena Harper, Shaun Kane, Mike Katell, David Levy, Nick Logler, and Jill Woelfer, and more recently Andrey Butenko, Ishita Chordia, and Beck Tench. Hundreds of students have given appreciations and critiques to my regular post-class question: How was that? To all, I’m more than grateful.

(1) The distinction between know how and know what was made by Weiner (1950) and seems to be as important today as it was at the dawn of the nuclear age.

(2) My own work with Batya Friedman explicates a broad and every-developing view of design (Friedman & Hendry, 2019). Works on design that have been particularly influential, and remain alive, include: Schön, 1990; Simon, 1996; Rosner, 2018; Nelson and Stolterman, 2012; Dunne, 1993; Winograd and Flores, 1986; Papanek, 1984; Jantsch, 1974; Wiener, 1950; Pangaro, n.d.

(3) Donald A. Schön (1990).

Dunne, J. (1993). Back to the Rough Ground: Practical Judgment and the Lure of Technique. Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press.

Friedman, F. and Hendry, D. G. (2019). Value Sensitive Design: Shaping Technology with Moral Imagination. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Jantsch, E. (1975). Design for Evolution: Self-Organization and Planning in the Life of Human Systems. New York: George Braziller.

Pangaro, P. (n.d.). Notes on the Role of Leadership and Language in Regenerating Organizations.

Papanek, V. (1984). Design for the Real World: Human Ecology and Social Change. Chicago, IL: Academy Chicago Publishers.

Rosner, D. (2018). Critical Fabulations: Reworking the Methods and Margins of Design. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press [ISBN-13: 978-0262037891]

Schön, D. A. (1990). Educating the Reflective Practitioner: Toward a New Design for Teaching and Learning in the Professions. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Publishers. [ISBN-13: 978-1555422202]

Simon, H. (1996). Sciences of the Artificial (3rd ed.). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. [ISBN-13: 978-0262691918]

Wiener, N. (1950). Human Use of Human Beings. New York: A Da Capo Paperbook.

Wingrad, T. and Flores, F. (1986). Understanding Computers and Cognition: A New Foundation for Design. Norwood, NJ: Ablex Publishing.