I’ve quoted D’Arcy Norman’s MSc thesis here before. However, newly immersed in the introductory strides of Design Thinking, courtesy of UVic and #TieGrad’s EDCI 335 course, I think the following bears on our emerging discussions:
…educational technology can be prone to cycles of hype and fetishism, where new tools and applications are rapidly adopted by individuals who are seen as innovators in the field, with little time for thorough or rigorous investigation of the pedagogical strategies that may be enabled by the affordances of these new tools.
Not explicitly a “technology,” per say, a quick Google search reveals Design Thinking as a possible blank-filler in the educational Mad Lib of How ___________ will revolutionize education! Within this wider family network are pedagogical approaches: project-based, inquiry or experiential learning; tools: Twitter, Blogs, Skype in the Classroom; or the more nebulous -ifications: Gamification, MOOCification, Learnification…
An Emerson quote I find myself falling back on in such moments of cynicism goes something like, “At the periphery there is infinite complexity, yet at the center, simplicity of cause.” In other words: might each of these various revolutionary manifestations be riffs on the same basic principles?
And might these principles be part of larger intellectual traditions that will provide us a better understanding of learning, society and education than venture-backed entrepreneurs?
As Bill Storage points out in a particularly scathing historical critique of the design movement,
“The term [design thinking] has been redefined to the point of absurdity. And its overworked referent has drifted from an attitude and guiding principle to yet another hackneyed process in a long line of bankrupt business improvement initiatives, passionately embraced by amnesic devotees for a few months until the next one comes along.”
In my final presentation in our last course, Social Media & Personalized Learning, I attempted to frame my views of learning and the potential of new media to continue to inspire the original tenants of the Project of Enlightenment. The basic underlying principles – which in turn created the elements of design in my courses and informal learning spaces – concerned themselves with the generations-old philosophical traditions of the enlightenment movement. These principles of pedagogy addressed concerns that were:
- As well as Social-Political
Epistemologically speaking, my “design thinking” is rooted in an emergent view of knowledge whereby “knowledge is neither a representation of something more ‘real’ than itself, nor an ‘object’ that can be transferred from one place to the next.” This is supplemented by the metaphysical premise that we know ourselves by knowing others, and that new ways of knowing others create new ways of knowing ourselves, which in turn becomes a question of human aesthetics as the search for new and evolving selves continues.
Each of these ideas culminates in the crowning achievement of the Enlightenment revolutions in Europe: the creation of the democratic public sphere:
…an area in social life where individuals can come together to freely discuss and identify societal problems, and through that discussion influence political action.
Douglas Kellner talks about how the advent of the bourgeois public sphere brought about the possibility of,
[f]or the first time in history, individuals and groups [shaping] public opinion, giving direct expression to their needs and interests while influencing political practice. The bourgeois public sphere made it possible to form a realm of public opinion that opposed state power and the powerful interests that were coming to shape bourgeois society.
Many of the different pieces we’ve been supplied as part of our reading on Design Thinking poises it as a revelatory challenge to the project of democracy and enlightenment birthed in the 1700s. Bruce Nussbaum wrote in 2009 about how
“… it is the evolution of design into Design (with or without the “Thinking” term) to redesign large-scale social systems in business and civic society that has folks moving to embrace it. In this era of melting models and flaming careers, of economic uncertainty and social volatility, Design has a set of tools and methods that can guide people to new solutions.”
(Nussbaum has since called “Design Thinking” a “failed experiment.”)
Harvard’s Peter Rowe, who first introduced the concept of Design Thinking in 1987, characterized the phenomenon thus:
“Quite often references are made to objects already within the domain of architecture. On other occasions, however, an analogy is made with objects and organizational concepts that are farther afield and outside of architecture. Sometimes these analogies serve a designer’s purpose for more than a single project and thus become incorporated as a central part of that individual’s design thinking.”
If this sounds familiar, Don Norman is quick to point out that “radical breakthrough ideas and creative thinking somehow managed to shape history before the advent of Design Thinking.” He continues by saying that, “‘Design Thinking’ is what creative people in all disciplines have always done.”
This raises a few questions for me:
First, what are these dispositions then, I wonder, that compose Design Thinking / Creativity / Interdisciplinary Learning / Project-Based? Aren’t collaboration, creativity, social responsibility, cultural understanding, communications, innovation, and critical thinking (all taken from the BC Ministry of Education’s Guide to 21st Century Learning) at the heart of John Dewey’s vision of learning? Immanuel Kant’s? Socrates’?
And secondly, from whence does the compulsion to endlessly repackage, repurpose and re-sell these ideas emerge? In this vein I wonder why we are so reluctant to acknowledge the longer traditions that these intellectual pursuits have enjoyed?
The question begged by these others, I think, is that of who benefits from presenting the nature of learning with such a historical myopia?
Featured image courtesy of David Kernohan.