The Future of Blockchain Technologies in Higher Education

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Figure 1. Blockchain. (2016), by portal gda. Retrieved from https://www.flickr.com/photos/135518748@N08/26028924154/. Made available under Creative Commons Licence.

This literature review research examines the rise of blockchain technology, its close relationship with bitcoin and other digital currencies as well as the affordances of blockchain technology. The report examines the various ways in which blockchain technology is currently being used across a range of industries as well as potential use cases for other industries. This case study concludes by showcasing the potential for blockchain technology to disrupt education both now and in the future.

This report presents the results of an empirical inquiry which investigated blockchain technology, how it is being used today and its value proposition for higher education. In particular, the study will attempt to ascertain the perceived opportunities that enhance and barriers that hinder the takeup of blockchain technology in education. The case study was designed as an intensive examination of a single case which includes a one hour Skype interview with a prominent thought leader in the form of Georgios Papageorgiou from the Master of Science in Digital Currency degree program at the University of Nicosia plus an informal face-to-face conversation with Dr Jason Potts, Associate Professor at the School of Economics at RMIT University and the use of a survey tool (see Appendix A).

A short survey was developed using SurveyMonkey and distributed via social media on LinkedIn, Twitter, this blog and also by email. The survey was extensively promoted over several weeks on Twitter using a range of popular educational hashtags such as #edchat, #edtech, #education and #edutech. Other hashtags used included #blockchain, #highered and #smartcontracts.

The survey was designed to appeal to anyone who is in any way interested in education and/or information and communication technologies. This includes teachers, educational researchers, lecturers, educational designers, learning designers and educational technologists.

The survey offers respondees the opportunity to think about how blockchain technology could be effectively deployed at their place of employment as well as how blockchain technology could be used in education in general.

Although heavily promoted on Twitter and to a lesser extent LinkedIn, for one reason or another, less than a handful of people completed the survey. Perhaps the small number of respondees may be attributed to the fact that blockchain technology is both fairly new and quite technical. As such, only a very small number of people are likely to know what blockchain technology is let alone feel comfortable trying to predict how it may be used in the future. The upshot of which was a dearth of data. Consequently, it was simply not possible to compile the data and attempt to draw conclusions of any sort about the future of blockchain technology.


What is a blockchain and what are its affordances?

Davidson, De Filippi & Potts (2016) state that a blockchain is a highly transparent, resilient and efficient distributed public ledger. In essence, a blockchain is an encrypted, distributed ledger technology through which digital transactions can be securely made and recorded without approval from a central certifying authority such as a financial institution or a clearing house. A blockchain ledger (or database) is distributed in the sense that it is cloud-based, consisting of digital data that is geographically spread across a peer-to-peer network of personal computers. Moreover, a blockchain is a global and open resource in the sense that no company or person owns the technology. Blockchain technology provides a permanent, unalterable record of every single cryptocurrency transaction that has ever been verified.

In addition, blockchain technology is the architecture that underpins the use of bitcoin and many other digital currencies. A blockchain can be either public or private. Whilst a public blockchain can be viewed by anyone with an Internet connection, with a private blockchain, participation in the network is restricted to individuals and devices within the one organisation.

The most obvious affordance of blockchain technology is that it does not rely on a trusted third party in the way that centralized systems do. Blockchain technology is a potential game-changer for many industries including banking, insurance, energy management, and education. The potential benefits of blockchain technology extend into political, humanitarian, social, and scientific domains (Swan, 2016, p. viii) and may give rise to new organisational and institutional forms of economic governance (Davidson, De Filippi, & Potts, 2016, p. 7).

In the financial services sector, blockchain technology provides the opportunity for more accurate tracking of customer repayment histories, across borders and banks, reducing the risk of defaulters. In education, blockchain technology could potentially give individuals as well as institutions the ability to store secure public records of personal achievement. In healthcare, blockchain technology could allow hospitals and other parties in the healthcare value-chain to share access to their networks without compromising data security and integrity. In energy management, blockchain technology may enable customers to transact in decentralized energy generation schemes such that people will generate, buy, and sell energy to their neighbors. These are just some of the ways in which blockchain technology has the potential to impact a wide range of industries.


What is the nature of the relationship between bitcoin and blockchain?

In order to understand the importance of blockchain technology you first need to know the history of bitcoin which necessitated the use of the first blockchain. Blockchain technology first appeared in theory in a white paper, “Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System”, written and published in 2008 by an unknown person or entity using the name Satoshi Nakamoto. In this paper, Nakamoto argued for an electronic payment system based on cryptographic proof instead of trust, allowing any two willing parties to transact directly with each other without the need for a trusted third party (Nakamoto, 2008).

Most people have only a vague understanding of bitcoin the cryptocurrency, and very few have heard of blockchain the technology. Consequently, the words bitcoin and blockchain are sometimes used interchangeably depending upon the context. In some situations the word blockchain is used to refer to crytocurrencies as a general term, the infrastructure used in bitcoin specifically or it is sometimes used to refer to smart contracts.


How does a blockchain network operate?

Blockchain technology is the architecture that underpins the use of all cryptocurrencies including bitcoin and ether and provides a permanent, unalterable record of every single cryptocurrency transaction that has ever been verified (see Appendix B). Each and every time a cryptocurrency is traded this creates a transaction which is checked for authenticity by the nodes in the network and is either accepted or rejected.

Each transaction is verified by way of a consensus whereby at least 50% of all nodes in the network must authenticate the transaction. It should be noted that nodes are not required to verify transactions created in the network however there is a financial incentive to do so in the form of a bitcoin micropayment. As noted by Flynt (2016), only nodes with the time, inclination, hardware and software are likely to verify each individual transaction.

In particular, the node which is the first to verify the authenticity of any given transaction receives payment in the form of a very small percentage of a cryptocurrency such as bitcoin or ether. This process of verifying a transaction is done by requiring a participant’s computer to perform a significant amount of computational work (‘proof of work’) in the form of a puzzle that is hard to solve (i.e., it takes a lot of work), but easy to verify (i.e., everyone else can check the answer very quickly).

The first node in the network to solve the puzzle wins the prize in the form of a micropayment. This process of solving a puzzle is widely referred to as “mining”. The payment is then credited to the winning node’s ewallet and the transaction in question is permanently assigned to a block on the blockchain.

Once the transaction has been recorded on the blockchain it cannot be amended or deleted. As such, a blockchain provides a permanent record of every single cryptocurrency transaction that has ever been verified. See Appendix A for an infographic from PwC on the actual process.


Are there any challenges associated with blockchain technology?

There are some major problems and perils that need to be overcome before blockchain technology can really start to take off. Bitcoin is the first decentralized digital currency and was introduced in 2009. Bitcoin quickly became the world’s most popular digital currency. However, as a payment system, bitcoin is merely the first step. There are many other payment systems that are currently being developed with most of them being underpinned by blockchain technology.

Currently, it takes approximately 10 minutes for a bitcoin transaction to be verified. In other words, anyone transacting in bitcoin must wait up to 10 minutes for their transaction to be verified and added to the blockchain. Suffice to say, some potential users of blockchain technology may be put off by the fact that there is a time delay with all digital currency transactions. For example, whilst a bitcoin transaction is normally verified in about 10 minutes, an ether transaction is normally verified in about 12 seconds and a stellar transaction is normally verified in about a minute. Consequently, its possible that blockchain technology may take time to build momentum since some potential users of cryptocurrencies may be unwilling to accept online transactions that are not verified in real time.

This is a major impediment to blockchain technology. As humans we are hardwired to want things now. We want instant gratification. Most of what we do in the digital world is done in real time. When we login to our bank account and transfer money from one account to another it happens almost instantaneously. When we buy an ebook on Amazon we have access to our purchase almost immediately on our Kindle. When we go to the Ticketmaster website and purchase tickets to an event we receive an email almost immediately containing the tickets we have just purchased. In other words, whenever we transact online its almost always in real time.

However, with digital currencies we are required to wait anywhere from 12 seconds to 10 minutes for a transaction to be added to the blockchain. Having to wait up to 10 minutes is too long for financial transactions where timing matters to get an asset at a particular price, and where latency exposes traders to time-based arbitrage weaknesses such as market timing attacks (Tapscott & Tapscott, p. 257).

Moreover, blockchain technology lacks the transactional capacity needed to scale up should the user base increase quickly. In particular, due to the limited size of a block (1MB), the network is restricted to processing a maximum of seven transactions per second. By comparison, other transaction processing networks such as VISA verify 2,000 transactions per seconds whilst Twitter verifies 5,000 transactions per second (Swan, 2015, p. 82).

One of the biggest challenges of blockchain technology is that the proof of work (PoW) mechanism consumes a lot of energy since the computer performing the mining operation must spend a considerable amount of computational power and electricity just to provide the proof of work. Moreover, the proof of work (PoW) mechanism is not only costly to the miner who must pay for the electricity they use but is also detrimental to the environment since the mining operation will result in an increase in carbon emissions.

For this reason, in an effort to reduce their energy costs, some bitcoin mining companies have elected to move their operations to countries such as Iceland where there is an abundance of dual source energy in the form of geothermal and hydroelectric energy. Other mining companies have chosen to move to Iceland for ethical as well as business reasons. In particular, as well as reducing their energy costs, they are conscious of their large carbon footprint and want to be seen to be doing something about it.

There are other consensus mechanisms that are currently being developed. These include proof of stake (PoS), proof of activity, proof of burn, proof of capacity and proof of storage. A proof of stake blockchain allows a person to mine a digital currency based on how many coins they currently hold in that currency. In other words, the person is unable to mine the currency unless and until they can prove their “stake” in that particular currency. Proof of activity is another mechanism; it combines proof of work and proof of stake, where a random number of miners must sign off on the block using a cryptokey before the block becomes official. Other blockchains such as Ripple and Stellar, rely on social networks for consensus such that newcomers need social intelligence and reputation to participate.

It should be noted that bitcoin mining will no longer reward new coins once 21 million coins have been mined with the last bitcoin expected to be mined sometime around 2140. In other words, once the last bitcoin has been mined there will be no financial incentive for bitcoin mining to continue to be practiced. As a result, many miners are likely to abandon Bitcoin mining altogether and may move on to mining other cryptocurrencies. However, in the short term at least, this does not solve the problem of energy inefficiency in the sense that the energy which was being used to mine bitcoins will simply be transferred to some other cryptocurrency which may or may not be as energy hungry. In other words, the problem will still exist.

However, over the last year or so, there has been some debate around block size. In particular, the only plausible way to solve this issue would be to increase the block size from 1MB to 20MB. Increasing the block size would mean that a larger number of transactions could be processed per second which would no doubt help to make the blockchain network a more appealing proposition.


How is blockchain technology being used today?

Blockchain technology is nascent and in a phase of tremendous dynamism. At this stage, there’s no evidence of any significant large scale deployment of blockchain technology by any of the major global financial institutions. However, many of the world’s top companies have some sort of internal R&D effort aimed at understanding how the Blockchain will affect their business. Some of these companies have formed consortia so that they can run a proof of concept and demonstrate the feasability of a particular use case involving blockchain technology. For example, in 2016, a consortia consisting of Bank of America Merrill Lynch, HSBC and the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA) proved that Letter of Credit transactions can be executed on a blockchain. Other financial institutions that are active in this space include Deloitte and JPMorgan.

IBM is a leading voice in the world of blockchain research and development and has recently announced its intention to open a Blockchain Innovation Center in Singapore with the Center’s first project being to improve efficiency of multi-party trade finance processes and transactions.

Another leading voice in the blockchain stratosphere is R3 which is an alliance of the world’s largest insitutions, with a mission to realise the benefits of distributed ledger technology. This blockchain technology company leads a consortium of 45 financial companies in research and development of blockchain usage in the financial system. The consortia includes several Australian financial institutions namely Commonwealth Bank of Australia, National Australia Bank and Westpac Banking Corporation.

As well as the financial industry, there are opportunities for blockchain technology in many other industries including healthcare, voting, ride sharing, cloud storage, energy management and real estate.


How might blockchains be used in the future?

Davidson, De Filippi & Potts (2016) assert that blockchain technology is a disruptive new technology that could give rise to new organisational and institutional forms of economic governance. Several researchers maintain that blockchain technology is critical to the success of the Internet of Things (IoT) where we register our devices, assign them an identity, and coordinate payment among them using bitcoin. According to Tapscott & Tapscott (2016), the Internet of Things cannot function without blockchain payment networks, where bitcoin is the universal transactional language.


What are smart contracts?

A smart contract is a piece of code that executes a complex set of instructions on the blockchain. Here are some examples of smart contracts:

  • A smart contract connected to the Internet of Things (IoT) could unlock the door of a car or a house
  • A smart contract could be deployed as a pledge system and automatically release funds from the wallets of donors who have made an online funding pledge to a nominated charity if and when the fundraising goal of the charity is reached
  • A smart contract could automatically transfer the ownership of a vehicle title from the financing company to the individual owner when all the loan payments have been made.
  • A smart contract could automatically make an inheritance gift available on either the grandchild’s eighteenth birthday or the grandparent’s date of death.

Moreover, in 2015, Visa and DocuSign developed a proof-of-concept in which they demonstrated the use of smart contracts for leasing cars without the need to fill in forms.

 

How might blockchains be used in higher education?

For the vast majority of learners today their academic transcripts are managed and controlled by various educational institutions. The learner gets a piece of paper but if anybody wants to verify that credential they have to go back to the educational institution that issued the piece of paper in the first instance. Some researchers see the potential of the blockchain as a way of reaffirming the learner’s ownership of their own record. As a result, most of the research currently being undertaken is around credentialing and open badges. The table below provides a brief overview of some of this research:

Teachur is an open-source platform for building educational objectives, assessments, lessons, courses and degrees tied to the blockchain.
Sony is exploring blockchain based applications for learning by using the technology to send academic records between two parties.
In October 2015, the Holberton School of software engineering announced plans to share academic certificates on blockchain from 2017.
As part of its Master of Science degree in Digital Currency, The University of Nicosia offers a free introductory MOOC titled DFIN-511 Introduction to Digital Currencies. Students who successfully complete the course are issued with an academic certificate the authenticity of which can be verified through the bitcoin blockchain. Moreover, the University also accepts bitcoin for payment of tuition and other fees.
OpenLearn has been trialling a private blockchain for storing educational records. In particular, students register for courses and receive badges which can be viewed in a student Learning Passport with all transactions being timestamped and cryptographically signed on the blockchain. Moreover, OpenLearn have also experimented with using the blockchain to certify the authenticity and validity of student work contained in ePortfolios
In 2015 MIT Media Lab developed a system to issue digital certificates on the bitcoin blockchain. The system makes it possible to verify who a certificate was issued to, by whom, and validate the content of the certificate itself.
BadgeChain is an open repository of posts, news, and notes from Team BadgeChain. The Team consists of experienced badge enthusiasts who are exploring the intersection of blockchain technologies, learning recognition, and digital credentialing.


Appendix A

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Appendix B

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References

Allison, I. (2016, July 12). IBM to open blockchain innovation center in Singapore. Retrieved from http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/ibm-open-blockchain-innovation-center-singapore-1570117

Allison, I. (2016, August 10). HSBC and Bank of America Merrill Lynch use hyperledger project for blockchain-based trade finance. Retrieved from http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/hsbc-bank-america-merrill-lynch-use-hyperledger-project-blockchain-based-trade-finance-1575269

Belshaw, D. (2015, March 30). Peering deep into future of educational credentialing [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://dmlcentral.net/peering-deep-into-future-of-educational-credentialing/

Bheemaiah, K. (2015, January). Block chain 2.0: The renaissance of money. Retrieved from https://www.wired.com/insights/2015/01/block-chain-2-0/

Bitcoin (BTC). (n.d.). Retrieved from https://cryptojunction.com/cryptocurrency/bitcoin/

Blair, B. (2016, June 24). Using blockchain to re-imagine learning. Retrieved from Medium website: https://medium.com/@KnowledgeWorks/using-blockchain-to-re-imagine-learning-fb3bf2717b09#.qxcbq7wgu

Blockchain (database). (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved September 30, 2016, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blockchain_(database)

Buterin, V. (2015, April 13). Visions, part 1: The value of blockchain technology. Retrieved from https://blog.ethereum.org/2015/04/13/visions-part-1-the-value-of-blockchain-technology/

CB Insights. (2016, July 25). Banking is only the start: 20 big industries where blockchain could be used [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://www.cbinsights.com/blog/industries-disrupted-blockchain/

Cuthbertson, A. (2014, October 7). Geothermal gold: Why bitcoin mines are moving to Iceland. Retrieved from http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/geothermal-gold-why-bitcoin-mines-are-moving-iceland-1468295

Davidson, S., De Filippi, P., & Potts, J. (2016, March 8). Economics of blockchain. http://ssrn.com/abstract=2744751 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2744751

Eckert, J. (2015, October 21). Holberton school to authenticate its academic certificates with the bitcoin blockchain. Retrieved from http://www.marketwired.com/press-release/holberton-school-authenticate-its-academic-certificates-with-bitcoin-blockchain-2065768.htm

Ethereum (ETH). (n.d.). Retrieved from https://cryptojunction.com/cryptocurrency/ethereum/

Flynt, O. (2016). Blockchain: The ultimate guide to understanding the hidden economy. [Kindle DX version]. Retrieved from http://www.amazon.com

Institute for the Future. (2016, March 8). Learning is earning 2026. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DcP78cLPGtE

Internet of things. (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved October 2, 2016, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet_of_things

Institute for the Future. (2016, April 18). Understand the blockchain in two minutes. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r43LhSUUGTQ

KnowledgeWorks (2016, May 24). Why we need to consider blockchain’s future potential in the education sector. Retrieved from Medium website: https://medium.com/@KnowledgeWorks/why-we-need-to-consider-blockchains-future-potential-in-the-education-sector-1a50671b4671#

King, K., Prince, K., & Swanson, J. (2016). Learning on the block: Could smart transactional models help power personalized learning? Retrieved from KnowledgeWorks website: http://knowledgeworks.org/learning-block-smart-transactional-models

Lemoie, K. (2016, May 12). What blockchain means for higher education. Retrieved from https://www.edsurge.com/news/2016-05-12-what-blockchain-means-for-higher-education

Levin, D. (2016, March 10). 10 things to know about the future of blockchain in education. Retrieved from http://www.edtechstrategies.com/blog/future-blockchain-education/

Light, J. (2014, March 11). Experiments in cryptocurrency sustainability. Retrieved from https://letstalkbitcoin.com/experiments-in-cryptocurrency-sustainability

London Futurists. (2015, June 7). The radical potential of blockchain technology. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JMT0xwmFKIY

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MIT Media Lab. (2016, June 3). What we learned from designing an academic certificates system on the blockchain. Retrieved from Medium website: https://medium.com/mit-media-lab/what-we-learned-from-designing-an-academic-certificates-system-on-the-blockchain-34ba5874f196#.10wvdbkjv

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O’Byrne, W. I. (2016, February 18). Digital portfolios + open badges + blockchain = personal learning ledger. Retrieved from Medium website: https://medium.com/badge-chain/digital-portfolios-open-badges-blockchain-personal-learning-ledger-4d55efc72bd3#.rsf6xomo2

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Raths, D. (2016, May 16). How blockchain will disrupt the higher education transcript. Retrieved from https://campustechnology.com/articles/2016/05/16/how-blockchain-will-disrupt-the-higher-education-transcript.aspx

Schmidt, P. (2015, October 27). Certificates, reputation, and the blockchain. Retrieved from Medium website: https://medium.com/mit-media-lab/certificates-reputation-and-the-blockchain-aee03622426f#.qkunz6iy3

Sharples, M., & Domingue, J. (2016). The blockchain and kudos: A distributed system for educational record, reputation and reward. In: Verbert, K.; Sharples, M. and Klobuˇcar, T. eds. Adaptive and Adaptable Learning: Proceedings of 11th European Conference on Technology Enhanced Learning (EC-TEL 2015), Lyon, France, 13 – 16 September 2016. Lecture Notes in Computer Science. Switzerland: Springer, pp. 490–496, http://dx.doi.org/DOI: 10.1007/978-3-319-45153-4_48

Short, T. (2016). Blockchain: The comprehensive guide to mastering the hidden economy. [Kindle DX version]. Retrieved from http://www.amazon.com

Sony Global Education. (2016, February 22). Sony Global Education develops technology using blockchain for open sharing of academic proficiency and progress records. Retrieved from http://www.sony.net/SonyInfo/News/Press/201602/16-0222E/
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Swan, M. (2015). Blockchain: Blueprint for a new economy [Kindle DX version]. Retrieved from http://www.amazon.com

Swanson, J. (2016, August 8). How I learned to stop worrying and trust a trustless system. Retrieved from KnowledgeWorks website http://knowledgeworks.org/worldoflearning/2016/08/stop-worrying-trust-trustless-system/

Tapscott, D., & Tapscott, A. (2016, July 27). Thriving after brexit: Scotland should reboot on the blockchain. Retrieved from http://scotvote.info/scotland-should-reboot-on-the-blockchain/

Tapscott, D., & Tapscott, A. (2016). Blockchain revolution: How the technology behind Bitcoin is changing money, business, and the world. [Kindle DX version]. Retrieved from http://www.amazon.com

University of Nicosia (n.d.). Academic certificates on the blockchain. Retrieved from http://digitalcurrency.unic.ac.cy/free-introductory-mooc/academic-certificates-on-the-blockchain/

Vian, K. (2016, March 16). Own your own achievements: Blockchain tech is disrupting education [blog post]. Retrieved from https://blockchainfutureslab.wordpress.com/
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Watters, A. (2016, April 7). The blockchain for education: An introduction. Retrieved from http://hackeducation.com/2016/04/07/blockchain-education-guide

That’s all Folks! aka My Final Reflection

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Looking back at my blog posts over the course of the last three years I’m struck by the extent to which technology imbues my life and my work. A cursory look at my blog’s tag cloud is enough to give the game away. I made a point of tagging key words and phrases in my blog posts and now when I look at my blog’s tag cloud (see below) I can see the names of lots of different technologies, some of which are educational and some of which are not. These include BitTorrent Sync, Flipboard, Minecraft, Internet of Things and my new favourite, blockchain. In my defense, not all of the words and phrases in my tag cloud are centred around technology. Indeed, I am heartened to see that the phrase ‘design thinking’ is the most prominent tag in my tag cloud followed closely by ‘Personal Learning Network’, ‘PLN’ and ‘Game based learning’.

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The fact that ‘design thinking’ is larger than all the other tags correlates rather nicely with how my views, knowledge and understanding have changed and developed as a direct result of this program. In particular, when I started this course I had never even heard of ‘design thinking’. Fast forward three years and design thinking is a cognitive activity that informs my work as an educational designer such that I make a concerted effort to keep an open mind and leave room for serendipity.

One of the things I talked about in one of my assessments was this idea that we’re all responsible for inadvertently creating our own filter bubble thanks to the technology we use on a daily basis. This course has exposed me to a wide range of ideas and technologies that I would probably not have encountered for quite some time if at all.

Here are some of the highlights in no particular order:

I’m also much more ‘edumacated’ than I was at the start and have added some awesome words and phrases to my vocabulary including:

The colloquia were a fabulous opportunity to engage with one another whilst sharing personal insights. I particularly enjoyed Simon Welsh’s fascinating colloquium on learning analytics. What was really interesting for me was that I was a student discussion moderator for that particular colloquium along with Jerry Leeson and Nadine Bailey.

As a moderator, it was really great to see and hear participants share their personal experiences both synchronously and asynchronously. In particular, Simon’s colloquium provoked some interesting conversations in the virtual classroom and later in the discussion forums. From my point of view, it was great to be able to work collaboratively with others, and to share my view with learners from across the world.

All in all, it has been a wonderful experience but not one I want to repeat anytime soon. Maybe in another 10 years or so. Over the course of this program I have learnt much about myself both as an individual and as an educator plus I have learnt much about technology and the way in way it interfaces with learning and teaching.

 

References

Brown, T. (2009). Change by design: How design thinking transforms organizations and inspires innovation [Kindle DX version]. Retrieved from http://www.amazon.com.

Clark, G. (2014). Personalization, privacy and the filter bubble. Retrieved from http://tracks.roojoom.com/r/9413.

McGonigal, J. (2011). Reality is broken: Why games make us better and how they can change the world [Kindle DX version]. Retrieved from http://www.amazon.com.

Pariser, E. (2011). The filter bubble: What the internet is hiding from you [Kindle DX version]. Retrieved from http://www.amazon.com.

To what extent has learning about design thinking changed me as a person?

This subject has had a significant impact on my knowledge and understanding of the work of an education professional in digital environments. Design thinking in particular, has had a profound impact on the way in which I go about my work. In the past, whilst operating in a digital learning space, I wouldn’t have thought twice about what I was doing whereas now I am acutely aware of the effect my actions may have on the user experience. I see this as a good thing in that I now know that a minor change to the design of any learning space can have a profound effect on student outcomes.

It would be fair to say that design thinking has become an important part of my life. I try to apply design thinking not just to my work but to my life in general. In saying that I have discovered that my world view already contained aspects of design thinking even before I started to learn about design thinking whilst studying this subject. In effect, as a professional educator, I have been practicing ethnography for years. In particular, I do a lot of collaborative work in digital learning spaces where I work extensively with key stakeholders who are often geographically dispersed. I try to involve the stakeholders as much as possible so that I can learn from them and not make assumptions about what their needs may or may not be.

Learning about design thinking has allowed me to question some of my long held assumptions. I now appreciate the value of serendipity in helping to create the pre-conditions necessary for innovation to occur. Moreover, to encourage serendipity which may or may not lead to innovation we need to ensure that the design of a physical learning space is flexible and can be easily re-configured. With a digital learning space, we need to encourage serendipity in other ways.

Without a doubt the highlight for me was the design thinking morning tea that I had the pleasure of co-hosting with Simon Keily. This event made me look beyond the confines of my immediate Personal Learning Network with the result being that I was exposed to a range of individuals who are designing with intent in the sense that they are attempting to incorporate some form of design thinking into what they do. Design thinking is by its very nature both nebulous and multi-faceted. It means different things to different people. I believe our design thinking morning tea was a good start but we only really succeeded in scratching the surface of design thinking.

I really enjoyed the observation blog task and the design brief blog task because both tasks gave me an opportunity to actually put design thinking into practice in the hope of solving a real-world problem. As well as that, I got to read books on design thinking by some of the key thinkers in this field including Tim Brown’s Change by Design and Roger Martin’s The Design of Business.

References

Brown, T. (2009). Change by design: How design thinking transforms organizations and inspires innovation. HarperCollins e-books.

Brown, T. (2014). The power of engineered serendipity. Retrieved from http://www.linkedin.com/today/post/article/20140430125746-10842349-why-you-should-plan-for-serendipity.

Martin, R. (2009). The design of business: Why design thinking is the next competitive advantage. Harvard Business Press.

Coffee? Check. Chalkboard cookies? Check. Creative people? Check. OK then. Let’s get this party started.

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On Sunday 14 September 2014, Simon Keily and I pooled resources and hosted a creative coffee morning at The Huddle which is located at the North Melbourne Football Club in North Melbourne, Australia. In the days leading up to this event we spent a lot of time on social media trying to get the message out. In fact, I don’t think our creative coffee morning would have been the success that it was if not for the fact that we both have a fairly extensive Personal Learning Network. Anyhow, during the week we attempted to engage with as many people as possible in the hope that people would sit up and take notice.

For three or four days we were on social media morning, noon and night. We were on a bit of a posting frenzy on Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+. We would get up in the morning and tweet about our creative coffee morning before we had even left for work. We did the same in the evening after we had had dinner. I even managed to do a bit of multitasking and sneak in a couple of posts during the day whilst I was hard at work. We were particularly active on Twitter where we tweeted at regular intervals about our upcoming creative coffee morning. As well as that in Twitter we sent direct messages to people we knew who we thought might be interested in joining us.

Where possible, we got people who were interested in coming along to fill out a ‘Creative Coffee Morning’ Google sheet so that we could get a bit of an idea as to the potential mix of backgrounds plus our good friend, Froggy from What Froggy Bakes was doing the catering and we needed to let him know the numbers. Slowly but surely names started to appear on our sheet. By Saturday night we had a really interesting mix of people including a writer, an educational designer and an architect. Suffice to say we were stoked. As Tim Brown would have it, we were “planning for serendipity” and it was looking very promising indeed.

The following morning we headed over to The Huddle to set up. I still wasn’t convinced that the people who’d put their names down would actually show up. I don’t know the exact number but I believe we had about 12 people who put in an appearance that morning including Charles Sturt University royalty in the form of one Judy O’Connell. By all accounts our creative coffee morning was a great success with some lively conversations over coffee around design, design thinking, makerspaces, learning spaces and Froggy’s delicious chalkboard cookies.

Although I was initially quite nervous (Isn’t that right Simon?) I ended up having a great time. I got to eaves drop and speak to some really interesting people some of whom have already expressed an interest in attending another creative coffee morning. So don’t be surprised if and when Simon and I decide to facilitate another creative coffee morning sooner rather than later…

My Literature Critique on Design Thinking

This literature critique examines the concept of design thinking as evidenced by the six pieces of literature listed below. My critique will highlight some of the key contradictions, tensions or discord in the pieces I have chosen. Furthermore, I will compare and contrast these highlights with real world design thinking.

Here are the pieces of literature I have chosen to examine:

  1. Brown, T. (2009). Change by design: How design thinking transforms organizations and inspires innovation. HarperCollins e-books.
  2. Buchanan, R. (1992). Wicked problems in design thinking. Design Issues, 8(2), 5–21.
  3. Kimbell, L. (2011). Rethinking design thinking: Part I. Design and Culture, 3(3), 285-306.
  4. Kumar, V. (2012). 101 design methods: A structured approach for driving innovation in your organization. John Wiley & Sons.
  5. Razzouk, R., & Shute, V. (2012). What is design thinking and why is it important? Review of Educational Research, September, 82 (3), 330–348.
  6. Seidel, V., & Fixson, S. (2013). Adopting design thinking in novice multidisciplinary teams: The application and limits of design methods and reflexive practices. Journal of Product Innovation Management, 30, 19–33.

Design thinking is a classic example of semantic discord in the sense that while there are plenty of people talking about the concept of design thinking there’s no real consensus around what it actually means. Moreover, just as there are many different types of design there are many different flavours of design thinking with each design studio defining design thinking according to their own terms and executing initiatives that are appropriate to their own internal cultures.

Design thinking has evolved into a fragmented discipline without a common meaning, a common vocabulary and a common language. Since there’s no commonality when it comes to the concept of design thinking many design thinking practitioners have simply had to go it alone. They have taken the somewhat nebulous concept of design thinking, interpreted the concept in their own way, developed their own vision of what design thinking might look like, then implemented their own vision thereof.

Although there have been a number of people who have made a significant contribution to the concept of design thinking two people in particular deserve a special mention, namely Tim Brown and Roger Martin. For Brown, design thinking has gone beyond being a theory; it has become a way of life. Where once design thinking would have been characterised as a designer sitting alone in a studio and meditating upon the relation between form and function now design thinking has left the studio and is starting to permeate every part of our lives. Brown is the ultimate optimist when it comes to the potential benefits of design thinking. In his view design thinking has a role to play in addressing the big challenges we face today from pediatric obesity to crime prevention to climate change (Brown, 2009, p. 7).

For Martin (2009a, p. 5) design thinking is a dynamic interplay between analytical mastery and intuitive originality. He states that most companies have an obsessive reliance on efficiency and predictability and as such implicitly favour exploitation over exploration. Furthermore, “A person or organization instilled with the discipline of design thinking is constantly seeking a fruitful balance between reliability and validity, between art and science, between intuition and analytics, and between exploration and exploitation” (Martin, 2009a, pp. 61-62).

Although Brown and Martin have quite different approaches to design thinking one of the things they share is their belief in the power of integrative thinking. Brown (2009, p. 85) states that “design thinking is neither art nor science nor religion. It is the capacity, ultimately, for integrative thinking”. Brown (2009, p. 85) posits that integrative thinkers “… resist the “either/or” in favor of the “both/and” and see nonlinear and multidirectional relationships as a source of inspiration, not contradiction”. Furthermore, Brown (2009, p. 229) writes that “Because design thinking balances the perspectives of users, technology and business, it is by its nature integrative”.

Martin (2009a, pp. 164-165) suggests that design thinking and integrative thinking have much in common. Integrative thinking as the metaskill of being able to face two (or more) opposing ideas or models and instead of choosing one versus the other, to generate a creative resolution of the tension in the form of a better model, which contains elements of each model but is superior to each (or all). Similarly, for Martin (2009a, p. 165), “Design thinking is the application of integrative thinking to the task of resolving the conflict between reliability and validity, between exploitation and exploration, and between analytical and intuitive thinking”.

Kimbell (2011, p. 133) reviews the origins of the term design thinking before going on to examine some of the claims made for design thinking. He emphasises the established dualisms that are inherent in design thinking including “… dualisms between subject/object, nature/culture and body/mind”.

On the other hand, some commentators are much less effusive about design thinking. Walters (2011) maintains that design thinking is nothing more than a tool that may be used to “… illuminate an answer but it is not the answer in and of itself”. Nussbaum (2011) describes design thinking as a failed experiment. In his view, the construction and framing of design thinking itself has become a key issue. He states that “Companies were comfortable and welcoming to Design Thinking because it was packaged as a process” (Nussbaum, 2011). However, the corporate world “… absorbed the process of design thinking all too well, turning it into a linear, gated, by-the-book methodology that delivered, at best, incremental change and innovation” (Nussbaum, 2011).

There are a range of key contradictions, tensions and discords resulting from a design thinking approach. According to Brown (2009, p. 176) one of the issues with design thinking is that of balancing “… management’s legitimate requirement for stability, efficiency, and predictability with the design thinker’s need for spontaneity, serendipity, and experimentation”. Similarly, Pariser (2011, loc. 462) argues that “the search for perfect relevance and the kind of serendipity that promotes creativity push in opposite directions”.

For innovation to occur we need to successfully integrate the two approaches so that they are held in perpetual tension. This tension between management and the designer is at the heart of the concept of conceiving spaces for learning. If either approach gains the upper hand then any learning space created will most likely be sterile, devoid of creativity and lacking in innovation. Siemens (2005) states that we need to design spaces for learning (or learning ecologies) that foster rich interaction between disparate fields of information, allowing growth and adaptation of ideas and concepts.

How might we create the right conditions for design thinking to occur? One of the ways we can do this is to provide the designer with “a well-constructed brief [that] will allow for serendipity, unpredictability, and the capricious whims of fate” (Brown, 2009, pp. 22-23). A design brief must be engineered for serendipity in the sense that it has just the right level of constraint so that the design thinker creating the learning space will hopefully come up with something that is truly innovative rather than something that is less than mediocre. In outlining his doctrine of placements, Buchanan (1992, p.13) states that designers will often describe “… the intuitive or serendipitous quality of their work”.

In design thinking there’s an inherent tension between reliability and validity. Martin (2009a, p. 4) outlines his concept of the knowledge funnel as being the “… route followed by successful business innovators in every domain”. He then states that “The challenge is how to balance the irresolvable tension between operating within the current knowledge stage and moving through the knowledge funnel” (2009a, p. 37). Another key contradiction in the literature is that some of the authors we have looked at have emphasised the value of multidisciplinary teamwork in the field of experience-focused innovation while others have been somewhat more guarded about the perceived value of such teamwork.

After analyzing some of the most innovative companies in the world, and studying hundreds of successful innovations, Kumar (2012) takes a structured approach to design thinking. He states (2012, Loc 422) that “Successful innovation can and should be planned and managed like any other organizational function”. He goes on to say that “Design-driven innovations start by understanding people, developing concepts, and then conceiving business around those concepts. Knowing when and where all these processes touch and interact is key to successful collaboration in organizations” (2012, Loc 422).

Kumar (2012, Loc 4726) states that “when multidisciplinary teams brainstorm, the outcome can be strongly influenced by the biases and preferences held by the different disciplines”. Similarly, Baldwin (2007, p. 27) states that “The most common challenges of collaborating revolve around cultural differences, finding common interests and goals, time, geographic constraints, and power differences present in the group”.

In a study of design thinking in novice multidisciplinary teams Seidel & Fixson (2013) employed a case-based research approach to gather data about group task reflexivity across the two main phases of concept development, namely concept generation and concept evaluation. When they looked at the data they discovered that “… increased group task reflexivity … was associated with more successful outcomes during concept generation but during concept selection the opposite was true” (Seidel & Fixson, 2013, p. 20).

After looking at the data, Seidel & Fixson (2013, p. 29) formulate two proposals. Firstly, they propose that successful novice teams combine methods, such that it is not the quantity of brainstorming sessions, but their linkage to other methods that matter. Secondly, they propose that brainstorming can serve the purpose of socializing new members, especially within teams in which new members are added midway through concept development. Seidel & Fixson conclude by suggesting further directions for research into design thinking. In particular, they suggest that other research “… could focus on team composition among novice teams and how the use of one or more experts alters the application of methods and practices” (Seidel & Fixson, 2013, p. 31).

Razzouk & Shute (2012) examine the nature of design thinking which they describe as an iterative and interactive process. They also summarize the differences between novice and expert design thinkers. After reviewing the literature and creating a design thinking competency model the authors come to the conclusion that expert designers are solution focussed rather than problem focussed. Razzouk & Shute (2012, p. 343) posit that “… schools continue to focus on increasing students’ proficiency in traditional subjects … which leaves many students disengaged”. They go on to argue that “We can and should move beyond that limited focus and consider new educationally valuable skills (e.g., including design thinking, multitasking and digital literacy) to value, assess and support” (pp. 343-344).

Buchanan (1992, p. 6) explores the differences between the old and new liberal arts with the former being concerned with the facts of a subject matter whilst the latter are centred around the use of new disciplines of integrative thinking. He posits that design thinking is a new liberal art: one that has been “a significant factor in shaping human experience” (Buchanan, 1992, p. 8). He argues however that there have been problems “… between designers and members of the scientific community …” over “… the broader nature of design and its relation to the arts and sciences, industry and manufacturing, marketing and distribution …” (Buchanan, 1992, p. 8).

Buchanan (1992, p. 14) states that we need “… to reach a clearer understanding of design as an integrative discipline”. He argues that design thinkers “… are not drawn together because they share a common definition of design, a common methodology, a common philosophy, or even a common set of objects to which everyone agrees that the term “design” should be applied. They are drawn together because they share a mutual interest in a common theme: the conception and planning of the artificial”.

Kimbell (2011, p. 141) identifies three strands of design thinking with the first strand being design thinking as a cognitive style, the second strand being design thinking as a general theory of design and the third strand being design thinking as a resource for organisations. She argues that there has been too much of an emphasis on individual designers and their cognitive styles. She goes on to advocate for the need to “… shift the conversation away from questions of individual cognition or organizational innovation” (Kimbell, 2011, p. 20).

In particular, according to Kimbell (2011, p. 17), “… it remains important to explore how political, socio-cultural and economic developments have shaped design practice over time”. She states “… that accounts of design thinking often rest on a dualism that makes a distinction between “thinking” and “doing’ and between designers and the worlds they do design in, rather than acknowledging the situated, embodied work of design thinking in practice” (Kimbell, 2011, p. 6).

In 2011 and 2012 I was fortunate to be involved in several collaborative design projects. One of these projects involved teaming up with others who were geographically dispersed in order to work on redesigning the TAFESA’s “21C Tools for Educators and Trainers” course which was starting to look a bit dated. At the outset it all sounded so easy but it wasn’t long before some challenges arose.

Our team consisted of four professional educators who barely knew each other. We had two people in Melbourne including myself, another two in Adelaide (including a representative of the client) and our team leader in regional Victoria. Obviously, we were not going to be able to meet face-to-face because of the tyranny of distance. However, we needed to find some way of managing the project so that we were all included and could get the work done in a timely manner.

We had our first meeting online via Skype. Since this was our first meeting we didn’t really achieve much. We simply got to know each other a bit and discussed the learning technologies we would be using over the next couple of months in order to complete this project. In particular, as a group it was decided that we would use Moodle, Popplet, Dropbox and Smartsheet.

To facilitate team collaboration it was decided that we would have weekly online team meetings via Skype since we were all familiar with Skype. We briefly discussed possibly holding our meetings in a Google Hangout but in the end we decided to go with Skype simply because its just so easy to use.

Once we’d come up with a solution to the problem of communication we then discussed what technologies we might use to manage the project. Our team leader had worked on many similar projects and suggested we should look at using Smartsheet. At the time, I’d never even heard of it however after taking a look at the Smartsheet website I was pretty confident I’d be able to get my head around it in no time at all.

Our team leader already had a paid account with Smartsheet but she was adamant that we would be able to use it for this project. In particular, she told us that she would create a project and invite each team member to work with her on the project as a collaborators. In other words, being collaborators would allow us to view and edit the project for free. As well as that we would get automatically generated email updates and reminders.

Martin (2009a, pp. 119-120) states that “Rather than waiting until the outcome is just right, the client is exposed to a succession of prototypes that grow more right and more elegant with every iteration”. This has been my experience over the period of time during which I have done course design work. Getting back to the example of the collaborative project this is exactly what we did. We started to redesign the course in Moodle and invited the representative from the College to take a look as we reached various milestones. The College person would have an online meeting with our team leader who would then give that feedback to the team at our next team meeting.

In outlining his “Seven Modes of the Design Innovation Process” Kumar (2012, loc. 540) states that the team members build on each other’s concepts while carefully postponing critical evaluation. With regards to the College project outlined earlier this is exactly what happened. At the start, we had a couple of structured brainstorming sessions around the concept of bringing the course up to date both in terms of the content as well as the look and feel. Lots of ideas were put forward which were incorporated into a shared Google doc.

Guided by the judgement of the team leader, the team then made a decision as to which ideas were worth pursuing. We each went away and whoever was charged with implementing any new idea/s would do so before inviting the rest of the team to provide critical feedback. In discussing task conflict and relationship conflict Seidel & Fixson (2013, p. 22) state that “ … not only do teams face various kinds of conflict in first establishing a concept and the process to follow, there can also be debate about later changes”. In terms of the group dynamics of the team when I worked on the College project, we were very much a novice multidisciplinary team. At all times, I had to be mindful of the fact that I was working closely with several people I had never even met. In doing so, I had to learn to be flexible about the design process. I had to learn to not take it personally.

 

References

 

Baldwin, R. G. (2007). Collaborating to learn, learning to collaborate. Peer Review, 9(4), 27-30.

Brown, T. (2009). Change by design: How design thinking transforms organizations and inspires innovation. HarperCollins e-books.

Brown, T. (2014). The power of engineered serendipity. Retrieved from http://www.linkedin.com/today/post/article/20140430125746-10842349-why-you-should-plan-for-serendipity.

Buchanan, R. (1992). Wicked problems in design thinking. Design Issues, 8(2), 5–21. http://www.jstor.org/stable/1511637.

Clark, G. (2014). Personalization, privacy and the filter bubble. Retrieved from http://tracks.roojoom.com/r/9413.

Ford, S. (2012, January 27). Reports of design thinking’s death were an exaggeration [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://www.fastcompany.com/1811688/reports-design-thinkings-death-were-exaggeration.

Hailes, M. (2012). Breaking barriers: Assessing the value of multidisciplinary teamwork for sustainable creative business. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Northumbria.

Kimbell, L. (2011). Rethinking design thinking: Part I. Design and Culture, 3(3), 285-306.

Kimbell, L. (2012). Rethinking design thinking: Part II. Design and Culture, 4(2), 129-148.

Kumar, V. (2012). 101 design methods: A structured approach for driving innovation in your organization. John Wiley & Sons.

Lee, A. (2014, May 23). The benefits of “healthy tension” [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://www.design-concepts.com/blog/the-benefits-of-healthy-tension

McCracken, G. (2011, November 7). Is design thinking dead? Hell no [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://www.fastcodesign.com/1665384/is-design-thinking-dead-hell-no

Martin, R. (2009a). The design of business: Why design thinking is the next competitive advantage. Harvard Business Press.

Martin, R. (2009b). The opposable mind: Winning through integrative thinking. Harvard Business Press.

Nussbaum, B. (2011, April 5). Design thinking is a failed experiment. So what’s next? [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://www.fastcodesign.com/1663558/design-thinking-is-a-failed-experiment-so-whats-next

Pariser, E. (2011). The filter bubble: What the internet is hiding from you. London: Penguin Books.

Razzouk, R., & Shute, V. (2012). What is design thinking and why is it important? Review of Educational Research, September, 82 (3), 330–348.

Seidel, V., & Fixson, S. (2013). Adopting design thinking in novice multidisciplinary teams: The application and limits of design methods and reflexive practices. Journal of Product Innovation Management, 30, 19–33.

Siemens, G. (2005, September 2). Designing ecosystems versus designing learning. Retrieved from http://www.connectivism.ca/?p=31

Tang, H. H., & Hsiao, E. (n.d.). The advantages and disadvantages of multidisciplinary collaboration in design education. National Taiwan University of Science and Technology

Walters, H. (2011, March 24). “Design thinking” isn’t a miracle cure, but here’s how it helps [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://www.fastcodesign.com/1663480/design-thinking-isnt-a-miracle-cure-but-heres-how-it-helps

Wilson, V., & Pirrie, A. (2000). Multidisciplinary teamworking: Beyond the barriers? A review of the issues. Edinburgh: SCRE.

INF536 • Design Brief • Blog Task 3

Background

The Student Services Reception area in the college where I work is not exactly fit for purpose. If you take a look at the photos in my previous post you will see that this space is utilitarian in the sense that it functions as it should (most of the time) but its not a thing of beauty. Suffice to say it could do with a makeover.

 

Knowns (What we know)

  • This space can get very crowded
  • This space can get cold due to cold air entering when one or other of the glass doors is opened
  • No disabled access
  • Students need to go through this space to get to their classes
  • We are renting the building such that we can only make minor changes to the floorplan
  • Similarly, we cannot change the access and egress

 

Unknowns (What we don’t know)

  • Are there specific building regulations which we must comply with before, during and after the remodelling?
  • How many students need to see someone from Student Services on any given week day?
  • What do students and staff think of the current configuration?
  • To what extent will key stakeholders including students and staff be inconvenienced by having the floor remodelled?
  • Will these stakeholders be prepared to put up with this inconvenience?
  • Do we have the budget to do this? If we do have the budget, how much will it cost and how long will it take?
  • To what extent will other stakeholders cooperate (or otherwise) during the refurbishment?

 

Considerations

  • The campus is growing so we may need to move to another campus within the next few years
  • We are renting an old warehouse and cannot make any major changes to the design of the building without first consulting the owner of the property as well as local government

 

How might we redesign the Student Services Reception area so that…

  • it looks more inviting?
  • students are not held up when trying to get to class?
  • students with a physical disability are able to gain access?
  • the temperature is more moderate?
  • it functions more effectively?

 

Next steps (Ideation)

  • Observe flow of students in an effort to better understand patterns of use
  • Survey key stakeholders including students and staff in order to better understand their needs
  • Develop a structured competition (or design challenge) where rival teams are tasked with figuring out this problem

 

Ideas for redesign/implementation

  • Move the Student Services Reception area away from the stairs
  • Install a lift and suggestion box
  • Install a self service multimedia display so that students can get the information they need without having to speak to someone
  • Improve signage ie. display contact details including opening and closing hours as well as telephone number and email address
  • Play soothing music to help people to stay calm

 

References

Brown, T. (2009). Change by design: How design thinking transforms organizations and inspires innovation. Harper Business

D.school, Stanford University, How might we?… Method Card: http://dschool.stanford.edu/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/HMW-METHODCARD.pdf Accessed August 17, 2014

The Design Council (2013). Design for public good. Retrieved from: http://www.designcouncil.org.uk/sites/default/files/asset/document/Design%20for%20Public%20Good.pdf

INF536 • Observation • Blog Task 2

20140814_162747

The view from the counter at Student Services Reception towards the glass doors

For my observation task I’ve decided to take a critical look at the Student Services Reception area in the college where I work. I visit this space a number of times over the course of each week day as I have to go through Reception to get to my workstation.

The student lifecycle is such that this space can sometimes be totally empty or overflowing with students. Early in the trimester there’s usually a lot going on and Reception is a hive of activity. Once the trimester is underway things quieten down a bit and Reception becomes much more manageable. Towards the end of the trimester after students have sat their exams Reception starts to get busy again with students coming in to talk to their lecturer about their results and/or view their exams. Anyhow, the problem is that Reception can and does get congested very quickly. Students come to Reception and wait their turn. However, other people need to go through Reception to get to some of the classrooms.

20140814_162734

The view from the counter at Student Services Reception towards the Student Lounge

Students come up or down the stairs then walk through the glass doors. As soon as they walk through the doors they are the Reception area. The layout is such that students have to go through Reception to get to their class. In other words, sometimes you’ll have students who are on their way somewhere else but who have to go through Reception to get there. At the same time you’ll have other students are standing in line waiting to see someone from Student Services. As well as that, sometimes you’ll have groups of students standing in or near Reception just chatting.

The end result of all of this is that the Reception area can sometimes be a bit of a bottleneck with students who are trying to go through getting a little frustrated. I don’t know if this situation is intentional or not on the part of the college but it seems to me that it detracts from the user experience in the sense that students who are simply trying to get to class are being inconvenienced due to the location of Student Services Reception.

20140814_162722

The view from just inside the glass doors to the counter at Student Services Reception

Across from Reception is the Student Lounge where students are encouraged to take the weight of their feet and relax between classes. From what I have seen this area is considerably underutilised by students. This space consists of a large wooden table and a number of chairs which are arranged around the table and along the wall. There are also a series of posters on the wall containing information about the modalities on offer including Nutritional Medicine, Naturopathy and Western Herbal Medicine.

The Reception area is little more than a large window in the wall with a computer just inside the window. Staff members from Student Services are rostered to sit in Reception and field queries from students when required. On either side of the window are stands that contain multiple copies of forms that students sometimes need to complete in order to vary their studies.

Having these forms on either side of the window is not necessarily a good idea since what invariably happens is that a student will come along and look through the stand not because they’re actually looking for something in particular but just because they’re there. In other words, the forms are a bit of a distraction since students see them then they come over to investigate.

Using Design Thinking to Turn an Underutilized Alcove in a Second Bedroom into a Home Learning Space

Late last year my partner and I moved into a brand new apartment. Even before we moved in we knew that at some point we would probably need to give some thought to how we might make the best use of space in our apartment. In particular, we were both going to be working fulltime whilst studying part-time and we would need to come up with a system so that we could both study effectively without getting in each others way.

When we first moved in we weren’t studying so there was no issue. However, once March came around and we started our first subject we quickly realised we had a problem. In a nutshell, we simply didn’t have enough space for both of us to study at home at the same time. At that stage, we had hardly any furniture. This meant that on the weekends one of us would study at home on the bed whilst the other would go to the State Library. This went on for two or three months before we both got sick of it and decided we needed to come up with a better system.

Our Home Learning Space

Our Home Learning Space.

Anyhow, not long after we moved in it occurred to me that we could probably make good use of space by turning a small alcove in the second bedroom into a study space. This space was immediately in front of window and was a mere 1400mm wide by 1800mm long. Initially we had simply filled up this area with boxes that we had yet to unpack. However, after we’d finished unpacking we soon realised that with some design thinking we could quickly and easily turn this small space into a cosy learning space where one of us could study while the other could study at the kitchen table.

I tried to visualize how the learning space might look. I decided we would need a desk and in my mind’s eye I tried the desk up against one wall and then another. As well as a desk we would need a chair to sit on and a desk lamp. I also wanted to find a home for all of the technology we have charging at any given time including an iMac, a MacBook Air (x2), an iPad (x2) and a Galaxy S4 phone (x2).

How many gadgets do you see?

How many gadgets do you see?

In an effort to convert this alcove into a learning space I grabbed a measuring tape and took some measurements. I then had a look at the IKEA website to see if they had anything suitable. In particular, I wanted a desk with drawers so that I could hide stuff. In particular, I wanted to be able to hide the technology when we’re not using it. I also wanted a shelf on the wall above the desk so that we could put other bits and pieces away including spare charging chords, adapters, extensions, powerboards, etc, etc.

Luckily for me, IKEA had a desk that was just about the right size. Over the course of the next few weeks we purchased a desk and shelving system from IKEA, a chair from Officeworks, a black desklamp from a local home furnishings shop and a USB powerboard from Dick Smith. Our learning space is really starting to take shape. About the only thing left to do now is to organise for someone from the Grey Army to come over and put the shelves up.

Notice the clever use of a bulldog clip.

Notice the clever use of a bulldog clip.

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Latte Art at Vincent the Dog

 

Vincent The DogLocated in the heart of Carlton at 348 Drummond Street, Vincent the Dog is my coffee shop of choice during the week when I’m on my way to work and need a caffeine fix. I go there every week day morning except for Tuesdays when they’re closed. The staff at Vincent the Dog are so welcoming and go out of their way to provide a great service. Not only that but I love their coffee.

The coffee shop itself is really quite small but the owners appear to have gone to a lot of trouble to get it right. The entrance isn’t all that exciting but once you enter the interior is light and airy. The fixtures consist of polished wood and include a delightful painting of a dog which takes pride of place on the wall.

Once inside there are 2 large, rectangular tables in the middle of the room. These tables have been placed back to back and are surrounded by a total of 9 small, wooden stools. These stools are a perfect complement to the bulk of the table. In the middle of the table is a large vase which invariably contains a tall, floral display. As well as that, there are usually 6 or so bottles of water plus lots of glasses so that you can help yourself to the water whenever you want. The table also normally includes two or three copies of today’s edition of The Age and The Australian.

The lighting is modern and tasteful. The background music is always exactly that with the genre of music they play ranging from rnb to smooth jazz. The overall effect is to create an atmosphere which is warm and inviting. The customer is encouraged to linger over a coffee or two whilst reading a newspaper or chatting to friends.

Vincent the Dog is named after Vincent who is the owner and barista. Vincent is the consummate latte artist and has elevated making a coffee to an art form. His coffees are always designed for a purpose with that purpose being to present you the consumer with a thing of beauty both visually and via your taste buds.