learning and education

Examples and stories

The following are examples of how I design opportunities for learning, developing skill in reflective practice. In general, I seek to position students to engage abstractly with theoretical ideas, to practice and develop skills through very concrete activities, and to draw links between the two, striving for an integration of theory and practice.

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

In my classes and in my student advising, I try to focus on small things that I think will make a difference. My hope – and it is just a hope – is that small things come together into an integral whole. Examples:

  • I include a dedication to Native, First Nations, and Indigenous Peoples of the Salish Sea in my syllabi, and I read the dedication at our first and last class meeting.
  • In various ways, I highlight extraordinary people in our field, seeking to present students with models. 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.
  • I seek to bring under-represented thinkers and doers into my classes. For example, in 2019, I used the writings from Fred Wilson, the black American artist, who has influenced the entire field of museology with his conceptual art. I need to do more.
  • In classroom discussions, I try to ensure that men and women have equal opportunities to speak. I do this, first, by tending to call on a woman first and, second, by keeping a mental tally of the number of women and men speakers. I try, in addition, as best as possible, to positively engage (and sometimes suppress) the effects of “young, male energy.” It can, unfortunately, often overwhelm a classroom. But, I should also acknowledge that while I think “young, male energy” can also be good, I sometimes fail to recognize its negative impacts. I keep trying to improve my awarenesses for it.

I believe that seeking an integration of theory and practice can be adapted for many different kinds of learning objectives. The following are some examples.

  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.
  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 relatively same amount 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. Here are some example syllabi. I connect learning objectives to activities and assessments.
    1. Design Methods for Information Science. Graduate 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.