Well, this is it. The final post of my Masters of Education (Knowledge Networks and Digital Innovation) and this first part at least is being written going 100 Kms an hour on the Northern Highway heading to my home in beautiful Echuca, Victoria. My amazing wife has let me smash this out while on the way home from a weekend in Melbourne. This is a small glimpse into the incredible support she has offered me while I’ve undertaken this course. So, first and foremost; thanks to her.
To be honest, I have mixed emotions upon finishing this subject and my course.The past three years have allowed me to explore fascinating concepts of knowledge networks and digital innovation including design thinking, game-based learning, digital citizenship, classroom technologies and knowledge networks. As you’d expect, it is incredibly broad! When I began the course, I was actually hoping to find something that would resonate with me and lead me down a very specific path to become a niche expert. Unfortunately, that just hasn’t happened. The phrase “jack of all trades, master of none” comes to mind. Thinking about that more critically, I’m happy with what I’ve learned and accomplished. I’m looking forward to letting the dust settle and allowing me to reflect on a more focused area of study. I’ll let you know when I know 😉
But allow me to ruminate for a brief moment…
If I’ve completed my Masters, without feeling quite like a Master… what were the gains?
As I said before, it’s been amazing to explore and thrive in the subject areas, but in my opinion, the most important thing has been expanding my personal learning network (PLN). This is the one thing that won’t be forgotten and has proven invaluable over time. I’d like to thank broadly, all those I’ve connected with at CSU for their generous support and encouragement and for their inspirational fearlessness, publishing and sharing their work with a global audience. In particular, I would like to thank a crucial node within my PLN, Jacques du Toit who has helped me learn and grow as an educator/leader over the last three years. Weekly Google Hangouts to discuss readings and assessment have characterised this period.
Reflections on Issues in Professional Learning
Overall, I’ve really enjoyed this subject and in particular, combing through the course materials! There was a wide range of resources that helped me gain a solid understanding of the subject area.
In the beginning of the subject, Susanne asked us to identify our goals. I indicated that I was “ hopeful that this subject will help identify best practice and enable me to implement it with my staff in the future.”
Susanne responded by pointing out that “best practice is a term that has been used for a while – but it can be misleading. See her point below.
My second assessment allowed me time to explore not only the research behind professional learning communities but the contexts and conditions in which my school’s model works the best. It’s been great to sort out which versions of this model are more successful and as a result, begin to think about how I’ll draw from the research and lead change within my school community. Providing increased time, creating an environment that endorses rigorous debate and cultivating leadership are all places I’m looking to start. Despite having done a crazy amount of research on the topic, it’s still important to build with flexibility in mind. Huffman, Hipp, Hord, Pankake, Moller, Olivier, and Cowan (2003) caution that PLCs “cannot be prescriptive or expected to follow a linear course” (p. 68) There are too many factors moving within school organisations that can force you to augment your plans. So to reiterate Susanne’s point, it’ll be more about playing with the elements and finding out what works best within my context.
In terms of participation in the subject, I was able to utilise the discussion forum, blog and Twitter to enhance my experience.
Reflecting back, I found it difficult keep track of discussions on blogs. When I first posted to the “blog” section on the CSU learning management system, I was surprised that no one else had utilised the Think Space blogs or a free alternative platform to track their learnings/musings within this subject.
When comments were posted to the “blog” page here, no notifications were directly sent to the author of the post. This impeded potential conversations as I would often tire of checking. It was nice to connect with other students via my Thinkspace blog.
Obviously, I would have loved to participate more but unfortunately, these holidays, the family came (as it should) first. Now that my official study is finished, I’m looking forward to spending more time with them!
In the lead up to this course, my friend Matt Ives tweeted me something along the lines of “get ready for some mind-crunching fun!” From that moment on, I knew I was in for a challenge and it’s fair to say, this subject definitely didn’t disappoint.
My experience with design thinking had been very limited to this point. Last year, I was fortunate enough to be selected to participate in the Google Teachers Academy and it was there that Tom Barrett and Hamish Curry gave me a crash course and instilled an interest still present today.
My growth throughout this course could be described as exponential. What I relished the most was the ability to demonstrate my growing understandings of the design literature as the course progressed. This began with a small blogging task which still managed to stretch mind. In fact, there hasn’t been an assessment where I haven’t been pushed in some way. One of the first readings really resonated with me and helped me get into the designer’s mindset was Brown (2009) where he declares “fail early to succeed sooner (p. 17). While I was never keen on failing this course, it did reinforce that I need to take risks and learn from feedback as highlighted by Kuratko et al’s discussion of “display”(p.119). And so I blogged! It showcased my first design project (class seating plan). This assessment allowed me to think critically and follow a process that enabled me to create an effective learning environment. The second blogging assessment drove me deeper into the design thinking rabbit hole and helped me understand how designers use empathy. At the time, in our second of two Google hangouts with Jacques du Toit and Lara Bance I found myself describing items in a coffee shop that could be used for more than one purpose but then discounting it immediately. Lora reminded me of Kuratko et al’s. (2012) research where they call on the use of restriction free thinking to avoid premature judgements (p. 114).
I found that I was learning greatly with the participatory nature of the course. In week four my contributions to discussions by regular blogs was altered significantly with the birth of my second child!! While I’ve managed to stay on top of readings, this definitely impacted my participation in suggested activities and as well as the discussion board. I have still managed to have regular Google Hangouts with Jacques du Toit where we deconstruct readings and assessments.
If looking to quantify my growth in terms of my understanding of design thinking, I’d say that my formal assessment pieces wouldn’t be a strong reflection on this. Instead, I’d look no further than my newly realised designer’s eye that is now refusing to close. It’s constantly examining and evaluating; leading me to ideate new processes for services and products. Supported by a growing competence in design theory, I’m happy to report I’ve learned quite a lot during the past 12 weeks.
Brown, T. (2009) Change by design: How design thinking transforms organizations and inspires innovation. Summary by Get Abstract. Retrieved from: http://www.getabstract.com
The following is a transcription of an interview taken 14/10/15 regarding the creation of a facility in a school in regional Victoria.
How do you remember the project was conceived?
Leadership Team Member:
There was a clearly identified gap in the schools facilities, an indoor gym/basketball court, as well as an undercover/indoor facility that the whole school could gather in. So the first desire was for a space that could cover this need.
At the same time the school site is very tight in terms of space, so for anything like this to happen we knew some buildings would have to go. At this point we still had a portable building on site that housed the school’s music department, which also sat adjacent to the old outdoor sports courts, so it seemed obvious to try to include a more permanent music facility in the project.
Happening at the time was strong school growth in terms of student numbers and growth in a new program, Allied Health, that we didn’t have a purpose-built facility for. We knew the federal government was running a grants program for Trade Skills Centres, and knew that this was one of the recognised trades that grants could be available for, so thought we might as well try to include this in the project too. The strong student population growth also led to us needing more General Purpose Learning Area (GPLA) space, so wanted to include at least 2 GPLA’s in the build as well.
All of this seemed like a bit of a crazy mix, but due to the Principal at the time not being afraid of taking a risk and always striving to keep the school moving forward, she thought why not try to get it done.
So I guess the conception of the idea to try to get this project up and running, came from an identified need in a few varied areas, as well as a Principal that was prepared to take chances and who was always looking to create the most modern and up to date learning areas for the students.
How was the process led and managed?
Leadership Team Member:
In the initial stages of Grant Applications and Architect engagement, the Principal led the way in terms of taking charge and ensuring deadlines, etc. were met. She also engaged the relevant staff at appropriate times of the early design process to ensure that the various ‘parts’ of the building were going to meet the demands identified in the question above.
Once the building project was underway, the Principal deferred the day-to-day management of the project to myself, a member of the school’s Leadership Team. This meant that I would have daily briefings, often quite informal, with the Site Foreman (Aaron), and also regular phone conversations with the Architect. The fortnightly Site Meetings (on site) were attended by the Principal and myself, as she still needed to sign off on any formal decision or changes to the design. Also in attendance were the Architects, the Building Contractor and the Site Foreman. The Architects were the formal ‘Project Managers’ so this meant that any decisions or formal requests that would lead to a change in the design needed to be passed through them. They also ran the Site Meetings and had control over when payments to the Building Contractor where due. The Architect did this Project Management from off-site, so phone conversations and emails were heavily utilised. At the conclusion of the Site Meetings, the group would conduct a Site Walk to check progress and ensure the building was matching the design.
How did you go about dealing with exterior pressures and design constraints?
Leadership Team Member:
There were four main areas that we identified that might fall under that categorisation.
Council – When you ask any local in our area, our Local Council is notoriously difficult to deal with. Initially we found that they were very keen to help us make sure this process was smooth, however, it didn’t take long for us to hit a roadblock. One person who works at the Council had an issue with how vehicles would access the site and their signature was required to approve the Building Permit. No other member of the Council’s Building Approval team had this issue, including local Councillors who toured the proposed site. We were advised to go ahead with the project and that the permit would be issued in due course. The Council did not receive one complaint about the vehicle traffic, nor did they once tour the site once it was in action, however, it took until the project was almost complete for us to attain the completed permit.
Neighbours: We have a small number of neighbours that live adjacent to our property that can be upset with how the school operates. To negate this, we held an open information session for our neighbours before the project started to brief them on what our plan was and when, how long, etc. we anticipated the build to go for. This seemed to work in our favour and was reflected on favourably by the neighbours. We didn’t receive one objection to the proposal and were able to work with our neighbours during the build to ensure they knew where the project was up to and when any activities that might impact on them might have occurred.
Heritage: As the school is located in a Heritage Zoned area and the proposed building would include a fairly large amount of street frontage, as well as sitting next to our 128-year-old buildings, we knew this could be a difficult part of the planning and building application process.
Our architect, Matt, had the brilliant idea to do some research on the local heritage approval officer from the Shire to find out who she was and who some of the other people she had worked with were so he could get a sense of where she stood on a number of issues. Once he had done this, he engaged the services of a Heritage Consultant whom he knew had worked closely with the local Heritage Officer on numerous occasions. This consultant was able to provide us with advice on the design that she was fairly confident would then be accepted by the local officer. This turned out to be true and we faced no hardships or delays in terms of getting the planning application through the Shire due to heritage concerns.
Funding: Any government funding application is a drawn out and demanding process. The complexity in this project was that we were trying to get funding from two different sources to complete one project. This is not something that was historically easy and did create some headaches for the school. Included in this was a change of Federal Government, so that slowed the process for one of the funding applications somewhat. This meant that we actually started the project without one the funding sources being formally approved. We had been told we had nothing to be concerned about, however, until the official paperwork came through this was a testing time.
Could you talk a bit about the work that occurred within groups and teams?
Leadership Team Member:
Initially in the design phase, relevant staff were engaged to ensure that specific learning areas were going to meet the needs of the intended learning. Teachers from the PE, Music and Allied Health fields particularly were engaged to ensure their teaching spaces would meet their needs.
The group of people that were most heavily involved in the project was made up of the Principal, myself, the Architects, the Building Contractor and the Site Foreman. This group had a very good working relationship and was able to negotiate, discuss, disagree and decide on key decisions in a very respectful and positive way. This did get tested as the project drew to near its conclusion. There were some errors in product identification and ordering that meant the product used as the indoor and outdoor court surface was not ordered in time nor the contractor engaged early enough for this to be completed before the official opening of the building. In hindsight, this was poorly handled by the architect and building contractor as they both didn’t want to take any responsibility for this mistake and both tended to blame each other. It was here that myself and the Principal had to step in to create a sense of urgency and also a way forward so that the official opening could still go ahead. This did leave a bitter taste for all of us at the end of the project, but once the building was completed, we were all able to acknowledge what a fantastic space it was and that it was actually better than we could have imagined.
I predict that the morning rush at Echuca’s Johnny and Lyle’s cafe is not much different than other popular cafes around the country. Takeaway customers enter regularly, wait for their coffee then depart.
My initial concerns were for the extended wait times that customers including myself can experience. My group work with Jacques and Lora this week focused on ideating potential solutions for this. Many things were brought into consideration here including: creating a mobile coffee station, extra coffee machine, extra employees at peak times, converting the window into a takeaway service window, ordering online/coffee app, staff undergoing additional training.
For a potential solution to the extended wait time problem, another suggestion sparked my curiosity and led me back for a second round of observations; something that I clumsily termed “other time distracting services”(ex. having newspapers and magazines to read). Thinking about this idea further, we realised it wasn’t to do with the operational, management side of the coffee production but a different issue altogether (So yes, I did find another excuse to get some delicious coffee and do some more observations before school!)…
This time, I was interested in what people were doing after they were ordering and how that could impact the design of the store. I observed people: heading to the bench and reading newspapers, chatting with the baristas, checking their phones, entertaining their babies, waiting patiently. I began to wonder what would interest the diverse clientele (professionals, trade workers, mothers) to make their wait seem shorter. Yes, empathy will be key to further exploration of this problem.
Brown, T. (2009). Change by design: How design thinking transforms organizations and inspires innovation. HarperBusiness. p.43
Today, students and I went back to the drawing board to find a happy median between the top contenders within the sketches they had developed in the previous lesson.
After moving the tables around and further weighing of pros and cons, we decided on this setup.
Click for a better view Photo by Jordan Grant 2015
An interesting design feature that we developed was the area we’re calling the “study nook.”
Click for a better view Photos by Jordan Grant 2015
This is the collection of five tables (upper left) that are partially blocked from the front of the classroom by half of the students pods (the place where students store their bags during class). Students can also have the option of standing and using the top of the pods as an elevated desk. Placing the pods perpendicular to the wall not only has allowed for this nook and created an ideal place to put our couch(on opposing side of pod) but has freed up more access to the windows which are frequently used for brainstorming.
Now, shifting away from what Kuratko, Goldsworthy & Hornsby term as the iterative “play” and into the “display” stage. I’m trying to bring with me the humility and flexibility that good designers have. I’ll continue to keep you posted as I “watch the replay.” Initial feedback has been positive with one teacher commenting:
“This layout/model worked really well for me today as I had the privilege of being the first cab off the rank in P4. Much more relaxed yet controlled environment that allowed me to access all parts of the room far more easily. Good stuff!”
I’ll let you know how this plays out. I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Kuratko, D., Goldsworthy, M., & Hornsby, G. (2012). The design-thinking process in innovation acceleration : Transforming organizational thinking. (pp.103-123). Boston: Pearson. https://www.csu.edu.au/division/library/ereserve/pdf/kuratko-d1.pdf
I’ve just gone back to full-time work this Semester and among other things, have picked up a Year Nine English class. The new unit we’ve started is theme based and it predominantly involves students working in small groups and alternating thinking roles while meeting within it for discussion. It seems as though this task came at an ideal time; a time when I can re-evaluate the classroom design in order for students to feel comfortable and able to participate within their new “literature circle” groups.
Here’s the current design
Photo by Jordan Grant 2015
Photo by Jordan Grant 2015
Photo by Jordan Grant 2015
Tim Brown asserts that “the first stage of the design thinking process is often about discovering which constraints are important” (Brown, p.18, 2009). My classroom design situation is no different as I’ve had to factor in things such as other teacher’s use of the room, students tendency to alter furniture, students’ own desires, ability to communicate effectively, points of focus (Heppell’s Rule of Three), and types of activities students will be undertaking.
Over the course of the readings in this module, it struck me as interesting that many of the designers identify empathy or something similar as a characteristic that is crucial within the design process. In his TED talk, David Kelly alludes to Doug Dietz and his breakthrough in his once feared, medical MRI scanners within a hospital, due to his ability to listen to nurses and children. Brown further highlights this by relaying that it is vital that the designer put themselves in the position of the user in order to understand the troubles that confront them regularly.(Kimbell)
Like Razzouk and Shute, my mindset is to “see it as invigorating challenge to handle rather than shrink from”(Raz 111). And so my changes…
Based on the research regarding empathy, getting the students involved in the design process would be essential in order to have success within the classroom. After introducing the unit, I broke down some of the key skills they required in order to find success. I then pointed out that our current environment needed to be changed as a result of the work that we’d be doing. I asked students to create booklets that address 3 key questions:
What are the problems within our current space?
What does your ideal learning space look like?
What do you think our new classroom design should look like? And asked them to make a sketch. (Our materials included 2x Standing Rectangular Tables, 2x half circle tables, 5 oddly shaped tables that fit together and form a flower shape, 13 traditional desks and 1 two seater couch).
Unfortunately, our scheduled classes didn’t allow me to officially reorder the classroom. Leading candidates are a mix between the one in the top right of figure 1 and the bottom right in figure 2. I’ll also ensure that there is additional room for three teachers (a learning aid, literacy support teacher and myself) to adhere to Heppell’s rule of three.
Putting the tables within groups was obvious to students as they concluded this would enhance their discussion. What wasn’t obvious to them was the use of our school’s other areas. Below are photos of potential meeting places around the school that I’m planning on allowing students to use during portions of selected classes.
Image taken by Jordan Grant
Image taken by Jordan Grant 2015
Image taken by Jordan Grant 2015
Image taken by Jordan Grant 2015
While this change isn’t earth shattering, I’m predicting that it enhances their ability to work together. I’ll be sure to continue to blog about the progress of these Year Nines and their adventures in literature circles
Brown, T. (2009). Change by design: How design thinking transforms organizations and inspires innovation. HarperBusiness. p.18