Thinking about design

I’ve done some reading and thinking but rather than write this post in a true academic style I thought I’d just note down my own responses to these questions, based on but not specifically referring to what I’ve read. They probably sound a bit random. I’m thinking that coming back to these questions in a couple of months time would be an interesting exercise – hopefully my responses would have matured. Anyway, for what it’s worth this is what I think right now:

Why does design matter?

Design is the difference between something being good (great, fantastic) or merely good enough. Good design embodies a holistic approach that takes into consideration the human and environmental factors at play not just simple function or cost. Innovation is a product of design. Design enables clever solutions that can do more than was first thought or imagined.

What are the core reasons for which we need a design process?

A process allows for planned and agreed steps. Points along the way to try things out, reflect, refine and try again. Without a process it’s likely that the first ideas get implemented without being prototyped or trialled in an inexpensive or non-permanent form. Expensive mistakes are likely.

What might be the role of design when we think about learning spaces?

To use all the many and varied needs, wants, constraints and possibilities to come up with creative, inspiring and practical places to learn. Design looks further than current practice in the one field – it seeks and plays with ideas from unrelated, even incongruous fields to develop ideas that can be explored further with prototypes.

Other reflections

Last week at my school we were fortunate to have Sam Gliksman, author of iPad in Education for Dummies present to us about using the iPad to demonstrate learning and tell a story.

Our first activity was a challenge, “The Marshmallow Challenge” – groups of three were given 20  sticks of spaghetti (uncooked), a ball of string, sticky-tape, scissors and one marshmallow. Our instructions were to use these materials to make the tallest possible structure that could support the whole marshmallow at the top. We had 18 minutes and were also asked to record what we did using the iPad camera. The purpose of the exercise, as it turned out, was twofold. Firstly, we were gathering material to use while learning how the app Explain Everything can be used to demonstrate learning, but more importantly it was to illustrate a difference in the ways adults and children learn.


My group was monumentally unsuccessful. Our tower was tall but collapsed as soon as we put the marshmallow on top. Children (even kindergarten aged) almost always do better than adults at this challenge; better than teachers, lawyers and high-flying CEO’s (the only group of adults who does do better is architects and engineers which is probably a good thing). The difference that has been observed is that children will test the marshmallow at the top of the structure up to five times during the 18 minutes whereas us adults wait till the end (I know we did in my group). 

Thinking about this as I was reading about design and design thinking I realised that what the kindergarten kids did which we adults didn’t was prototype. They tried, failed and tried again. It made me realise that I only look for one solution to a problem – yes, it was me saying “don’t put the marshmallow on top yet, what if we break it, we’ll have to start again!”

Since starting this blog post I’ve found this TED video all about the Marshmallow Challenge.

Critical reflection: Putting the INF [530] into INFinite INFormation

#INF530 has been invigorating, exciting, lots of hard work, overwhelming at times, but above all fun. A few weeks ago faced with tackling my digital essay and thinking about all the material in the modules that I hadn’t gotten to I was feeling very overwhelmed, and more than a little despondent. Part of my problem was that I was stuck on a potential topic for the digital essay that was way too big. This is what I posted in the forum:

Having come across Tom Whitby’s recent blog post Educators will never be 100% connected and thinking about it as it relates to content of INF530 – Connected Learning; Open, social and participatory media; Computational thinking, and Education Informatics, I’m thinking something along the lines of “Enablers and barriers to teachers embracing digital literacy as the third essential field of mastery”. The first two fields, according to Whitby are content knowledge and education/pedagogy.

Fortunately I was reminded that the module material is there for us to dip in and out of as needs, interests and time allow. I know I’ve not done justice to some of the modules…yet. I will be saving the content to Evernote to revisit, particularly in this coming break. Even better, in a flash of inspiration I came up with a more manageable essay topic that I was immediately able to map out a plan of attack for. Having some certainty and knowing where to start made me feel instantly better.

But I am still very interested in that initial topic idea. If nothing else, INF530 has convinced me even more of the need for all teachers to become digitally literate, connected educators. It’s no longer good enough to make excuses about being a digital immigrant (and there are more than a few questions about the validity of dubbing all young people “digital natives” so claiming special treatment for immigrant status should be equally questionable). It isn’t now, and never was, just about the technology, it’s about utilising what is available to change the pedagogy so that students are empowered as digitally literate adults who can function capably in the networked environment that is the 21st century.

But better than preaching to the converted, my engagement with the modules, readings, and connections with the cohort have given me more ammunition to use in the battle to win over the nay-sayers. I still may not succeed but at least my attempts will be grounded in research. Perhaps as a starting point I’ll encourage teachers to read Bec’s essay.

In my first post on this blog I wrote about what I hope to get from the course:

  1. A way of formalising/legitimising the reading, connecting, curating, commenting, learning I already do.
  2. Skills in interrogating and articulating my thoughts about the mass of information I come in contact with each day.
  3. More and better connection with outstanding educators.

Big ticks already to 1 and 3 but I still struggle with articulating my thoughts, I hope my blog posts and assessed work do show evidence of some improvement. 

I feel I’m on top of things like searching in Primo and I’ve had occasion to use some workarounds so as to get to the information I need. I’ve now got a reasonable handle on Zotero and a much better workflow setup for producing a bibliography although nothing comes close to Evernote for working with sources. My appreciation for and application of tagging has reached new heights.

I have loved connecting with the cohort, it’s been amazing. People have said to me “isn’t online study very impersonal and isolating” but I couldn’t disagree more. I feel infinitely more connected with my classmates than I ever did while studying in the traditional way over twenty years ago. That said though, the personal interactions, particularly with Simon and Bec, have been invaluable. I loved that conversation I had with Simon just before the book review was due that I wrote about here.

So thank you Judy, and thank you to all the other students. What a fabulous beginning, I’m very excited about what is to come.