Category Archives: Education

SXSWedu presentation: “Designing for Peer Learning”

Christina Tran presenting at SXSWedu

This March, I presented a “Future15” talk at SXSWedu on Designing for Peer Learning. The “Future15” format is four shorter talks within the same hour around a loose theme. My talk was grouped under the theme “Social and Mobile Learning” along with Meredith Swallow’s Participatory Action Research in the Classroom and Abhi Vijayakar’s Collaborative Learning Through Social Games.

I knew I was going to use HourSchool’s work with Green Doors as a case study for the talk, but I debated for a long time about whether to focus more on our design process or more on guiding principles for peer-learning. I wanted the info I presented to be as tangible, useful, and inspirational as possible, so I ended up focusing the talk on the lessons we had learned about peer education and tips for how to foster more peer-learning in all types of settings. I’m happy that I got to tell a lot of stories that encapsulate many of HourSchool’s core beliefs.

Audio and slides of the talk below. Hear other SXSWedu speakers here.

I’ll write more about my takeaways and experiences at the conference at a later date.


Monday Inspiration: Real Learning

These kids didn’t just learn about standard measurements, they invented the ruler. The teacher gave them a space to explore, bit her tongue, and let them discover for themselves.

[Alfie Kohn video via this article: “for the love of learning: Stop writing objectives on the board” which is worth a read]

Design + Education + Social Innovation

Okay, Universe, I know you want me to be specific about what I want. I have to put an intention out there and stop hedging my bets. I need to stop being fuzzy about my needs and the direction I want my life to go in over the next year. If I insist on staying fuzzy, you’ll just keep throwing me curveballs.

So I’m going to start saying it, and I’ll keep saying it until you hear me:
I want to work at the intersection of Design + Education + Social Innovation.

What does that mean? It means I want to use my co-design and design research and service design skills to help teachers and schools and students to re-imagine education in the 21st century. It means I want to collaborate and co-create with those teachers and students and administrators and school systems. It means I’m not afraid to start a long-term relationship with the right innovation-focused, not-afraid-to-experiment, community-building partner in the education system.

What does that look like? I’m not the first one who’s passionate about this intersection. Here are a couple examples that get me super excited about working in this space.

D3 Labs at Nightingale Middle School

The D3 Lab is a collaboration of the New Learning Institute, COMMONStudio, and Nightingale Middle School in LAUSD. D3 stands for Dream it, Design it, Do it, and the goal of the lab is to help students turn ideas into action. The space, structure, and philosophy of the D3 Lab is to engage students in project-based learning and to connect their work in the lab back to their core subjects. The side benefits are a stronger community of learners, and a way for students and teachers to actively shape their school environment and school time.

Kim Karlsrud and Danny Phillips are the Social Design Consultants* who have been working alongside NLI and Nightingale students and staff. They started with a deep ethnographic research project to understand the culture of the school, its place in the community, and the opportunity areas that could meet their common goals. They then transformed the workspace for the D3 Lab from a former computer lab. Their work continues; they are at the D3 Lab twice a week and are currently working on developing curriculum that’s project-based and design-process-driven.

Here’s a video about D3 Lab and its impact by the New Learning Institute, and here’s COMMONStudio’s write-up of their work with the D3 Lab

*Love that title. Christina Tran is now a Social Design Consultant.

NOCCA + Collective Invention

NOCCA is the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts. About seven years ago, they wanted to expand their professional arts training center, so that they could also offer high school graduates accredited diplomas. They wanted to expand their academic offerings without losing the qualities and culture that had made their existing arts training center.

NOCCA met Collective Invention when founder Erika Gregory was asked to facilitate a conversation in New York around arts education. That led to a small engagement with the school, which led to a larger ethnographic design research project to understand the community’s aspirations for the school and the qualities they wanted to preserve and extend into the new high school offerings, which has led to a strategy that includes a highly-structured iterative prototyping of the education process.

In Collective Invention’s “Detailed Plan for NOCCA’s Future” (download the PDF called ARTiculation here), they outline a design-influenced process that can be applied to the education process.

“We recognize that the language of “prototyping” is tricky when used in the context of education. To some it implies random experimentation, that children’s educations will be put at risk. This plan, however, describes a rigorous learning process that requires that multiple iterations take place before we ever enter a classroom. Our job is to ensure that as many problems have been worked out in advance of student interaction as possible. That means that each time we prototype a new program or class we’ll need to invent a mechanism for trial and error that is cost-effective, relevant to the context and able to yield the greatest insight possible by the time we begin interacting with students.”

Integral to their success is a deep respect for the lives of the students, parents, and teachers who will live with the impact of the school’s and their partners’ “experiments.” Because of their long-term engagement, the co-design collaboration between NOCCA, CI, and the community have been able to touch on everything from the design of the space and faculty-designed curriculum to funding and assessment strategies.

And they’re nowhere near done. This year, NOCCA launched their first ninth grade class, and CI continues their involvement during the implementation phase as the school expands — prototyping, reflecting, evolving all the while.

More on Collective Invention’s work in the education space.

I’m ready. Let’s do this. Have you heard of an education foundation or institute looking for designers or researchers? Do you know of a school or teacher who has big ideas and wants to collaborate in making them real? Let’s talk.

Teacher Research / Design Research

This intro to a special issue of the Teachers College Record on teacher research reminded me of design research & synthesis and how we often have to remind people that qualitative research is just as important as quantitative.

Of course they, and we, know that it’s impossible and perhaps reckless to draw sweeping conclusions from small samples (in some cases, one child). The easiest way for me to say it is this: When I read, for example, Mesler’s (2009) draft and learned about Christopher, the retained student to whom she gave the job of peer counseling, I was profoundly moved. If I were Christopher’s parent, I would thank God that he ended up in Mesler’s classroom rather than in another where he might have been viewed as “a lazy student with a bad attitude.” If I were a teacher having a bad day, I might read her account and be reminded of the impact I can have on young lives and perhaps make a little extra effort  with that kid who really annoys me. And I guess I’d like to think that if I were a policy maker reading this piece, I would be reminded in a powerful way that education has to do with more than test scores and seat time. As Erica Litke’s (2009) paper reminds us, just because the bodies are in the after-school program doesn’t mean it’s a successful program.

To learn from research, we must be willing to open ourselves up to thinking differently about problems and dilemmas. Clearly, these accounts will look different from the research that many of us, as academics, are used to reading and writing. I hope this will not deter readers from seeing the value and the wisdom in what our teacher-authors have to tell us. Research may surely tell us what to do, based on scientifically designed methodologies and empirical evidence, but it may also give us inspiration, or ways to think differently, or even hope. Our teacher authors do not purport to have the answers, but they are willing to share their thinking, anticipating that we will be moved to reexamine ours.

[p.s. Why is their logo so reminiscent of Gap’s recent redesign faux pas?]

TEDxMidAtlantic: Learning from Failure

Diana Laufenberg talks about the shift from students going to school to get the information to a world where they can get the information anytime/anywhere they want. Instead schools need to be the places that nurture and value:

  • experiential learning
  • empowering student voice
  • embracing failure

Love her passion and her talk.

It’s so so simple. It makes so much sense to me by now. How many places is this happening around the nation? Let’s celebrate. Why isn’t it happening more? Let’s push.

[via The Future of Teaching]