learning and education


The following are examples of how I design opportunities for learning, that is, for developing skill in reflective practice. In general, I seek (1) To position students to engage abstractly with theoretical ideas; (2) To practice and develop skills through concrete, carefully bounded activities; and (3) To draw links between the two, striving for an integration of theory and practice.

  1. Models of design situations. I create models of design situations that enable students to experience and reflect on theory and practice.
    1. Four Squares: Tame or Wicked? An introductory exercise in graphic design that illustrates the essentials of design.
    2. History Places. Setting pedagogical constraints for problem finding and framing while learning tech skills in structured and unstructured data systems.
    3. Designing Tech Policy. Four instructional case studies for technologists and policymakers.
  2. Careful reading, focussed discussion. There are many different kinds of reading. I tend to privilege careful, focussed reading.
    1. Writing prompts. Students write one page responses to prompts. To succeed, students need to read a little very carefully.
    2. Silent reading. Student spend 15 minutes reading and scrutinizing a two-page spread of Tufte’s book, Beautiful Evidence. Then, we discuss.
  3. Roles and modes of inquiry. I expose students to different ways for experiencing the world. I sometimes give students “permission” to go slow.
    1. Roles. Artist. Judge. Explorer. Warrior.
    2. Slow observation. An activity in listening and slowing down.
    3. Participation statements. How to participate and contribute to class.
  4. Syllabi. I connect learning objectives to activities and assessments.
    1. Design Methods for Information Science. An advanced seminar on design theory and method. For doctoral students.
    2. New Tech for Youth Sessions. A curriculum for homeless youth, focussed on life skills for finding work.
    3. Value Sensitive Design. An advanced undergraduate class.

The paradox of learning a really new competence is this: that a student cannot at first understand what he needs to learn, can learn it only by educating himself, and can educate himself only by beginning to do what he does not yet understand.

Donald A. Schön, 1990, Educating the Reflective Practitioner, p. 93

Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity

My strategy has been to continuously focus on small actions, done well, reasoning that if I act on three or four things related to diversity, equity, and inclusion in each class I teach, then in a couple of years they will coalesce, leading to strong integrated practice. Some examples:

  • Land dedication. I include a dedication to Native, First Nations, and Indigenous Peoples of the Salish Sea in my syllabi. I read the dedication at our first and last class meeting.
  • Gender-neutral names. In all class materials I consider the use of names that are gender-neutral.
  • Flexible and fair assignment and grading policies. To accommodate students’ life circumstances, I give students a good deal of flexibility for submitting late work, for having work re-graded, and for pursuing individual projects instead of group projects.
  • Diversity of readings. I seek to bring under-represented thinkers and doers into my classes. For example, in a 2019 design methods class, I used writings from Fred Wilson, the Black American conceptual artist, who has profoundly influenced the entire field of museology. In a different vein, for INFO-201: Technical Foundations of Informatics, believing that ethical know-how and technical skill go hand-in-hand, I asked students to read O’Neil (2016) and submit a set of short reflective statements on the differential impacts of data systems on people and institutions.
  • Role models and identity. In various ways, I highlight extraordinary people in our field, seeking to present students with models and identities. In my assignments and class presentations, I sometimes incorporate obituaries from the New York Times Overlooked project (list), including: Karen Sparck Jones, Ada Lovelace, and Alan Turning. When students, for example, read of Alan Turning: “His ideas led to early versions of modern computing and helped win World War II. Yet he died as a criminal for his homosexuality” (link), I think I’m able to convey an important point for all of us.
  • Managing classroom discussions. I try to ensure that all students have equal opportunities to speak and listen. In Informatics, an ongoing challenge is the overt, and sometimes subversive, impact of “young male energy”— tone, words, ideas, and stories. In studio work and classroom discussions, I try to manage its harmful effects and, where possible, also draw out its benefits.

It’s the action, not the fruit of the action, that’s important. You have to do the right thing. It may not be in your power, may not be in your time, that there’ll be any fruit. But that doesn’t mean you stop doing the right thing. You may never know what results come from your action. But if you do nothing, there will be no result – Mahatma Ghandi


Benjamin, R. (2019). Race After Technology: Abolitionist Tools for the New Jim Code. Cambridge, MA: Polity Press.

Costanza-Chock, S. (2020). Design Justice: Community-led Practices to Build the Worlds We Need. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Kimmer, R. W. (2003). Braiding Sweetgrass. Minneapolis, MN: Milkweed Press.

Macy, J. & Johnstone, C. (2012). Active Hope. Novato, CA: New World Library.

O’Neil, C. (2016). Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy. New York: Broadway Books.

Suzuki, D., & Knudtson, P. (1992). Wisdom of the Elders: Sacred Native Stories of Nature. New York: Bantam Books.