Education and Design

Last year I enrolled in a Digital Media program at the UofC. I am always looking to upgrade my skills and knowledge informally, but decided to take a more formal plunge with my design skills (or lack of them) because of a strong belief I’ve developed in the growing relationship between design and education.

Recently I’ve been able to understand and articulate how I understand this relationship a bit more (although not completely, yet).

Over the past few years I’ve noticed design people talking about the fragmentation of their industry – design comes in so many different forms now (graphic, UX, UI, etc etc), and one of the points that design industry workers seem to be making when they bring this point up is that employers do not need to keep creating job positions based on all of these different divisions between these design areas. They need to hire people who are capable of recognizing these divisions and completing their tasks accordingly. People also need to develop accordingly.

And this makes sense to me. A project generally requires a grand vision of what that project will end up as. This isn’t always easy, or time efficient, to communicate. Why bother with a graphic designer AND a design writer and a UX designer, when one person can do that job. The more people involved, the more chances that miscommunication will occur.

This is what I’ve seen happen in education. Institutions are trying to adapt to digital environments, but they’re getting bogged down not only in the number of jobs they’re needing to create, but in the lack of knowledge about design mechanics and timelines. Online course are difficult to plan, for example, because the planners don’t speak the same language as the designers.

Ok, but why is design even important to education?

First of all, what I’ve recently realized is that the natural bridge between the larger industry of design and the larger industry of education is located between Information Design and Instructional Design. On the big poster that maps out all the fragmentations of design (or, of education) these two are right beside each other.

The other point to make is that education, more specifically online learning or digital environments (where I work), now includes an incredible amount of nuance in communication. I think you see this point made many places. We talk of digital literacies not literacy now, and even the definition of the word literacy has changed in the course of my lifetime, I would argue.

In this world where the digital message surrounds us, unlike how the printed word merely directs us, I would also say that we can now start to talk more specifically about rhetorics. Not the sense of rhetoric that is inherently negative, not the way that the word is thrown around to describe a politician dodging an important question. Rather, rhetoric in the way that Richard Lanham describes in The Electronic Word – as a way to be able to say what you want to say effectively. Design speaks to the rhetoric of a given literacy, the quality of our ability to communicate a thought with respect to that form of communication.

Educators don’t know which literacies students are going to bring with them into our classrooms. It’s increasingly difficult and unrealistic for institutions to expect learners to build their literacies specific for that particular institution. Educators need vast literacies and strong rhetorics to make edtech decisions and to create clear, effective, and apt instruction. In the least, educators are models for learners (especially so for language and culture, where I also work), making explicit the ways in which they adapt their own communication within the teacher/learner relationship.

The design skills that anyone may or may not have will be a determining factor in the ability to communicate in a digital environment, and thus determine such things like quality of courses, course design, teacher and institution communication, and for learners it will determine the quality of participation in an online class and even the degree of access to that information/instruction.

Categorizing People

A quick note about the video I posted yesterday, watch it with critical eye. I posted it for the discussion on education, but I should have warned that it does get political.

When I watch videos like this, for example for the education content, I tend to ignore and look past all of the talk about this group and that group. I generally try to avoid discussions where people refer to “the right” or “the left” (or whatever name they use for either) because more often it seems they’re cherry-picking examples from within that group to bat imaginary heads with a caricature representation of their own design. They’re not grappling with ideas.

What often happens in discussion where talking heads use these categorizations of people is that they’ll look at the “other” side with this glossed over categorizations, then claim that the other side never gives their side the individual examination and respect that it deserves. That’s what does in fact happen in this discussion. If you’re looking for the education stuff, it’s more prominent in the first half of the video.

I really don’t know anything about the guest speaker here, but my impressions is that she approaches the issues with a more exploration attitude than the host, who naturally seems to be speaking up his audience and reinforcing his identity.

Education is for Knowledge not Values

I listened this interview about education on the way into work today, and there’s a lot to latch onto in here. The discussion provides many useful debate starters, and I found myself on either end of the spectrum for most of the opinions expressed, agreeing with a majority.

Honestly, many of the points made (especially by the host) are supported by a flimsy “things are different from when I was growing up”, and then an implied “…therefore it’s bad.” More often however, I found myself agreeing with the guest speaker. Here are a few points she touches on:

  • Kids/students/people should learn knowledge, not values from an educational system
  • Elementary schools shouldn’t teach things like good eating and sex ed
  • Grades and credentials vs learning
  • Parents need to teach kids values, and shouldn’t be stuck with teaching things like math and science to their kids
  • Kids need to be allowed to do things, challenged and given responsibility

I struggle with this last one – I want to keep my own kids little forever. But, I know I can’t.

I sometimes write on here about the school system that my daughter and son attend, I hold back a lot of my opinions though because, well it’s just not worth it to complain so much. Paraphrasing Joanna Williams in the video: in these schools parents are commonly put in the position that if they complain about (or, even, don’t comply with) value based initiatives they run the risk of making their kids stand-out on behalf of their own opinions. Unfortunately, this makes ‘voicing opinions’ not a worthwhile mindset for a parent to be in much of the time.

One thing I’ve learned, is that despite how much they insist they want to hear from parents, schools and boards of education don’t want to hear from them unless it’s on their terms.

Anyway, the other thing I did want to say about this video is that all of the comments Joanna makes about “eating right” hit so close to home. Schools are terrible at teaching kids good eating habits. Yet, for some reason, they seem so dead set on taking up this cause. It’s simply not needed. Their “healthy hunger” lunch program that features Little Caesars Pizza, Opa, Subway, and all other sorts of fast food places, isn’t needed. Their gym classes that ban running, isn’t needed. And they’re constant fundraising that try to sell us discounted pizza, isn’t needed.

It’s difficult not to undermine the authority of our kids’ schools when they constantly take up the teaching of values at the expense of knowledge, and then turn around and sell those values off to local businesses in the name of education.

An Elementary School Teacher Telling Students that Wikipedia is a Bad Website

I’m hoping to get some advice from anyone who happens to read this. Just as the title states, my daughter’s 4th grade teacher told her class last week that Wikipedia is a bad website, that the information on there is mostly wrong, and that they should not use it.

More specifically, the students were doing an in class exercise on computers – they were supposed to look up something they were interested in, and write about it. One of my daughter’s friends searched for “Morse Code” and navigated to a wikipedia page on the subject. The teacher saw, and gave the speech about how wikipedia sites are bad and strongly suggested they use google or other websites instead.

I’m not sure how to handle this, what to do or if I should do anything. We’re pretty active in teaching our daughter at home (based on past experiences with the school here, I realized we need to talk on most of her education herself), and I work in technology and digital literacy so I have no problem teaching her about such things (we got her a tablet about half a year ago, and I slowly introduce her to various websites and digilit concepts – wikipedia was one of the fist we added). What I do worry about is what else is her teacher telling her?

Or am I seeing this wrong? I realize that maybe I’m out to lunch on this one. Is Wikipedia seen as a bad website now? I use it often throughout the week, in professional settings, though not usually as a final resource in itself – like any other source of information, it needs to be verified when the situation calls for it, right?

Are these the types of opinions teachers should be telling kids at this age? Shouldn’t they rather be teaching them to discern information more objectively?

The edtech “Ban/Not Ban” Discussion is Misleading

The underlying origin of any edtech “ban/not-ban devices” question out there is the gap between what is taught in elementary and middle school, and what is expected that secondary and post secondary learners ought to know. The gap being the digital literacy skills that many people feel should be taught at a young age, similar to reading skills, study skills, and even cultural norms like “how to behave in a classroom” and the ever-vague “socialization”.

If one believes this, that elementary kids need to learn digital literacy skills, then this is a question of what needs to be included in education goals and curriculum. There is not much worth in bringing it into the ban/not-ban question, which is a useless question to ask or answer.

A flat ban on devices ignores technology’s impact (let alone many learners’ access to content and preferred literacy), and conversely a mandate that teachers must use devices because it is “best” is technology infatuation that prioritizes digital literacy as a class goal over whatever the subject matter is. Both are wrongheaded, and both fail to consider the situation.

An educator designing their course needs to look at each activity/lesson and decide whether to include modern technology or not. It may be that one day devices are useful for that activity, the next they are a distraction. Devices are often superfluous, when technologies like pen, paper, desks, and spoken word are more suitable. If educators want to teach learners “self-regulation” then they should practice and model it in their class design.

(Furthermore, and I say this because I don’t see it enough, the first question to ask when deciding about technology/device use is “What is the content?”)

Interchangeable People

It is difficult to talk, think, or write about anything these past few days that isn’t directly involved with the disturbing events in the USA right now. It’s also difficult to know what to say, as a non-American. This is just one small thought I’ve had recently.

When people talk about other people in categorical terms, such as “the left” “the right” “SJWs” “Conservatives”, the individuals being referred to become interchangeable.

There are times when it’s necessary to do this, like when referring to someone as a “refugee”, however unless steps are taken to balance this categorization with a personal lens, the result is that people are belittled.

Some modern educational approaches have fallen into this trap. Online and massive teaching methods tend to treat students as interchangeable (even when delivered in blended and non-massive contexts – it’s just the mindset that some teachers teach with). These approaches, unbalanced with the power of intimacy and individualization that current technologies afford, have done damage to the field of education and those course participants.

The EdTech Mindset Problem

Unfortunately, I don’t have access to the article linked, but the quote in this blog post raises a few questions that I think lead to clear responses.

For several years, I’ve felt that the field of EdTech was becoming or has been detached from the rest of education, detached from the “other” disciplines that it’s meant to serve. In EdTech discourse, the question of context rarely comes up. It is uncommon to see an EdTech discussion framed in terms of “What is being studied? How do our technology choices relate to the subject matter?”

There’s an extensive knowledge base created by the EdTech community, worthwhile professional orgs and publications, but they tend to relate to edtech itself – even when they do dive deeper below the social surface. Is it worth it for any specific discipline to dive into that knowledge knowing that none of it has considered their content? Isn’t it easier and more effective to build their own knowledge on how to deliver their subject matter, originating with subject matter in mind?

It’s up to EdTech to reach out into other disciplines, to bridge the connection more extensively by producing knowledge based on subject matter. Otherwise, it’s just edtech for the sake of EdTech.