Reaching Critical MASS: Promoting and Leveraging a Diverse Learning Ecosystem in Foundation Art and Design
As part of our Foundation Art and Design program review—initiated in the Fall of 2013—we have been considering the status of each of our course offerings and ensuring compliance with provinical ministry program guidelines and addressing gaps identified in the programming through student feedback questionnaires (SFQs). We are also undergoing a process of rationalization to the provincial government in order to help them identify areas of excellence and/or duplication. It is important that our program stand over and above the other foundation programs offered in and around the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) in order to ensure our place in the mix of offerings.
As part of that process of defining just how our foundation programming is different, I have been striving to create a student experience that sets itself apart from offerings at other schools. The vision looks at promoting and developing a set of essential qualities in the teaching and learning experience and the systems that we engage our faculty and students with.
I can’t understate the importance of drawing on timeless and essential soft skills to ensure a positive student experience. There is no technology solution that can even approximate the worth of an enthusiastic, caring and engaged faculty member. One aspect of what we will be promoting in the teaching and learning experience will be engagement with new digital tools and environments that will prepare both faculty and students for the emerging workplace of the 21st Century. In no way do I wish to suggest that the integration of technologies into the teaching and learning mix will supplant the soft skills that were alluded to earlier, rather, they should augment and enhance that experience in some meaningful and substantial way.
The recommendations that are being proposed here are the product of testing and consultation with third year design students in our Knowledge Design-I elective course. These students engaged with a variety of emerging technologies and were asked to envision and weigh in on their potential for enhancing the teaching and learning experience.
In addition to the specific skills developed within each course and the Essential Employability Skills (EES) stated in the course outlines, we are striving to transform this experience in ways that recognize the shifting and emerging competency requirements for the 21st Century workplace.
Above: The turbulence caused by rapid advances and declines in technologies are not only posing significant challenges for large institutions like schools, they are rapidly imposing new relationships on us. Being agile enough to bend and sway with these changes will be a significant predicate for success. On much reflection, I am convinced that the only way to effectively deal with this turbulence is to develop much deeper relationships with innovation drivers like software and hardware development companies. We should seek to deepen relationships with these companies such that the culture and processes that define these agile development communities are inculcated in an institution’s own culture and workflows. This, of course, will require a radical re-configuration of that institution’s conception of its own organizational structure and culture.
Collaborative organizational, methodological and economic models that define the innovation economy are antithetical to the traditional, linear, hierarchal and authoritative models that define most institutions today. Deeper, strategic alignment with innovation companies will help to strengthen an institution’s understanding of the structural and procedural transformations required to inhabit the innovation space. In this way, institutions can move from being relatively slow and unresponsive “reactors” to change to becoming proactive “drivers” of change. Much like a software or hardware company, an educational institution becomes a “lifeware” or “peopleware” commited to providing meaningful, relevant and powerful “upgrade” paths for their client base.
For more on my background views on innovation in the applied learning space you can access my related posts by CLICKING on the blue links below:
Perpetual Beta: 21st Centrury Course Structure Rationale
RISK eBusiness: Moving to a Just In Time Model of Teaching
Worth vs. Work: Transforming People and Organizations for the Knowledge Economy
On Demand Amnesia at the Self-serve Window of Education
Deck the Halls with Boughs of Knowledge: Exploring the use of Augmented Reality in Education
Goin’ Down the Road: My Teaching Philosophy
I am confident that an emphasis on engaging our students with a blend of solid, traditional pedagogy with a new ecosystem of technologies and their related protocols will help to nurture the following qualities:
Our Learners will be:
Reflexive, collaborative, agile, knowledge producers and knowledge sharers. They will be effective and responsible digital citizens with the skills and knowledge to build and promote a strong personal, digital brand in a global context.
Our faculty will be:
Creative, caring, sharing, professionals who are current, collaborative, reflexive, agile, and committed to life-long learning and the success of all our students and fellow faculty members.
Our School/Program will:
Offer flexible delivery of information and learning (Blackboard, ON, HARVEST for supporting student online experience)
Offer content that is universally accessible. Provide an opportunity to experience a variety of digital environments and tools and to develop an agility and facility in their use. Teach the skills necessary for successful student collaboration with their peers.
The “thing” that will set us apart from other similar program hinges on developing AGILITY, ADAPTABILITY, COLLABORATIVE CAPACITY, SHARING, STORYTELLING, PERSONAL DIGITAL BRANDING and DIGITAL CITIZENSHIP in both our students and our faculty.
I am in the process of developing a plan called Critical MASS that is aimed at ensuring that all of our students will have had the benefit of coaching on team-building and collaboration strategies (not only an Essential Employ-ability Skill but also a requirement of being effective in virtual work environments too).
Once students know how to function as a team, this team will serve as an ongoing peer-resource not only explicitly for group projects but as a support and mentoring mechanism aimed at Mutually Assured Student Success (hence, Critical MASS). This will serve to promote a stronger sense of community while ensuring higher levels of engagement and retention. Forming students into effective groups is determined in accordance with a skills and infrastructure readiness survey that I have developed in order to identify the distribution of competency and access to technology for our students. Data is used to build balanced teams. Other data, from Diana McIntyre at Student Success, shows that the nature of student commuting, hours of work and other life commitments are such that it is exceedingly difficult for student groups to physically meet before or after classes. To that end, with our Dean’s encouragement, We have built prototype infrastructure to support virtual/remote teaching, learning and collaboration capacity here at the school. The infrastructure forms an ecosystem with many overlapping parts some of which have particular strengths and limitations. There are plenty of options available to faculty and students from using a mixed bag of technologies to using a one-top-shopping approach. Each of which offers particular advantages.
Much has been made over the confusion of having so many systems and, on the face of it, I feel that this is a valid consideration; however I also strongly feel that it is necessary to acknowledge the fact that the technology ecosystem outside of our doors is infinitely more complex and confusing. It is ever-changing and expanding at an exponential rate: software titles become more complex and feature rich, more titles are published, we are now into tablet computing and mobile data, the app universe is nearing 1 Million apps and growing, browsers are becoming increasingly modular, programmable and complex, and the list goes on. We are all affected by the consequences of this turbulence and I am sure we have entertained the fantasy of being free of technology altogether but I don’t think that it is going to happen in our lifetime. The point being that we cannot avoid it and we ignore it at our own peril.
It behooves us, then, to help both ourselves AND our students negotiate this chaos in some meaningful and effective manner.
Yes. It is chaotic and complex but I feel that the technology infrastructure that we currently have in place is considerably pared down by comparison. The idea is to get all of the stakeholders to develop a degree of comfort and agility—an understanding for why and how to inhabit and move through these environments and to do so in a more purposeful fashion. In my estimation, the benefits outweigh the risks, and, if we can make this ecosystem an integral part of of how we do business here at the School of Design, this will provide a value added experience for our graduates that goes beyond the pale of a standard design curriculum. THIS is what will set us apart.
The biggest challenge, of course, will be developing an understanding, fluency and ease of use for faculty. It has been my experience, that my students use these environments very effectively for the most part—so much so that, where faculty have not been using virtual environments, they simply create their own Facebook pages. The issue with this, of course, is that if there is a systemic issue with the students, you remain blissfully unaware until it shows up in your SFQ several weeks after your class is finished! Being able to monitor the pulse of your class at a glance is a very powerful way of ensuring quality and consistency in the student experience and provides invaluable data for informing iterative designs of your course.
Of course it is never quite as simple as throwing a switch. Using this ecosystem, combined with the power of the internet, requires new protocols and new forms of pedagogy that allow us to leverage its full potential. For example, having access to thousands of authoritative resources on a subject via an instant internet search shifts the balance of authoritative power away from the traditional professor in the traditional classroom setting—the roles in the classroom change dramatically. At worst, the instructor’s authority is undermined as students seek alternative sources for their information. At best, professors are valued, knowledgeable guides who can help the student leverage the maximum potential of the resources that they have at their fingertips.
Currently, we are in a situation where it is reasonable to expect students to research and present on a topic that, traditionally, might have been covered by their professor—that they should access knowledge outside of class and come to class for an experience other than information dissemination. The natural outcome of the fact that students have 24/7 instantaneous access to knowledge that we have traditionally dispensed has created a gradual drift towards “flipped” models of teaching where the students are actively encouraged to be researchers, presenters and content creators instead of content consumers. In this scenario, they need to develop a crucial set of ancillary skills in research, writing, documentation, presentation, visualization, storytelling, etc.
Digital storytelling of one’s know-how on a global stage forms the new basis on which students and professionals are starting to build their value. For example, trillions of images are searchable and available on the internet for free. Few people are willing to pay for them—even designers! So, the value proposition does not lie in the production of yet another image, rather, the value inheres in building a following in a social media platform by sharing know-how. It is no longer good enough to simply show one’s work, it is critical that they be able to tell cogent stories about how said work came to fruition—sharing insights into creative processes as well as technical how-to-s. THIS is the new currency that will help to build a person’s brand. This brand building and story-telling is an important dimension of how faculty add worth to the teaching and learning experience and build and promote their own personal brand by sharing their own know-how, not only with their immediate students but with the world at large. Both students and teachers are increasingly becoming active participants in this expanding circle. Some examples of how these stories can be curated and shared are shown below (This very BLOG is one such mechanism whereby a student or faculty member can share their insights):
History of Game Design Student Research Project Summary
Faculty Curated Student Work (by Program—Course—Project, respectively)
Foundation Art and Design Homepage (Generic, program landing page)
ART1029: Digital Art and Design Homepage (Course Specific Landing Page)
Digital Art and Design Gallery (Project Specific Landing Page)
Of course, none of this would be possible without a very powerful, interoperable infrastructure. Some of this infrastructure is a college resource and others lie outside of the college domain. Some of the elements are large enterprise level systems and others are small, niche apps. My personal preference is to cobble together an aggregation of technologies in a way that allows for greater independence, flexibility and agility. The fact that many commercial level tools offer freebie versions makes it very enticing. Also, the use of social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Vine, Snapchat, Twitter, etc. as output conduits allows most, if not all of these resources to be interoperable on some level. This allows for an unprecedented level of freedom of choice in configuring a network of enabling technologies.
Let me introduce you some of the tools and spaces that comprise our ecosystem and explain what their core strengths/use case scenarios are (Keep in mind that there is a significant amount of overlap and that not all of these tools are used all of the time but they have all been introduced at one point or another over the past several years in an attempt to gauge their roles and impact for later integration).
Above: This is the college standard default for online/blended online learning delivery. You can fully expect a greater push to utilize this resource. It is feature dense and the user interface is far from being comprehensible and user-friendly. It is like the COSCO of online. It has everything and you can wear yourself out trying to find it! It is a bit like taking someone up in a Jumbo Jet to teach them how to fly a plane.
Fully supported by Blackboard under contract; We have a small team of experts over in ELTI, Rubrics allow for quick, automated marking; Tests are automated and marked, Grades are calculated automatically; Grades instantly available to students if you want. Mobile compatible.
We have a small team of experts; Tries to do too much. Non-intuitive—Not a very friendly User Interface. Low adoption rate by faculty. Low function use by faculty if they are using it. Difficult to learn for both faculty and students and requires dedication of scarce time and resources to train for use.
I am fully committed to mentoring each and every one of you through this process of getting to know and acclimatizing to these environments and will gladly make time to assist you with the transition. Perceived as “extra work.” Limited mobile functionality. Online collaborative environments (collaborate) are difficult to use and prone to gltiching (Fall of 2013). Very costly.
WIKIS (Click BLUE LINK to view page)
Above: This is a WIKI/BLOG/VIDEO server that we have here at the SOD. This VERY simple and stable platform can be used for making course materials available online. Each course is identified with unique branding and icons that are part of a cohesive branding program. Permission levels can allow for private, semi-private or public levels of access.
You can explore some of this infrastructure by clcking on the BLUE LINKS to view additional content such as the Digital Art and Design course. It also allows students to create profiles and to BLOG on their weekly learning. It is also great for curating work and for telling the stories of what you did with your class in any given semester (this reflexive practice is very prevalent in US schools and US educators are establishing clear leadership roles and setting the agenda for online education. Some examples of how we are using the environment are accessible below:
Art of Wine and Cheese
Hawaiian Shirt Project
Director’s Design Competition (Daniel’s Spectrum, SPRING 2013)
Extremely simple and easy to learn (takes about 10 minutes and works pretty much like a simplified word processor); Faculty can create/post content there; Secure (Only registered faculty and students can author in it). Students and faculty can create profiles and post blogs about what they are learning; Unlike Blackboard, the material posted there is persistent and is always accessible (don’t have to worry about content importing every semester as in an LMS); Great resource for holding and presenting video; No ads or ownership issues as with Facebook and YouTube.
Limited layout potential (uses basic templates). Does not allow simultaneous co-authoring of pages. People outside of the college system can be allowed to SEE the material but they cannot author with it. Perceived as “extra work.”
Above: This is an Open Source version of Facebook. It has all of the same functionality: Create Special Interest, Group or Course pages and set membership privileges for them. You can create and promote events. You can Poll users, send public or private messages, post video, audio, create threaded discussions, blogs and more.
Leverages student familiarity with Facebook so no training is required. It is a popular social media platform with most students. Very secure environment hosted behind the college firewall. There is no data collection as there is in Facebook and other Social Media Tools. Can monitor and track user engagement data and feature student leaders within the community in order to promote greater participation and development of knowledge sharing, storytelling skills in the service of building a strong personal brand and good digital citizenship. Has potential for introducing “badging” to recognize student accomplishments.
Lower level of uptake than anticipated. There is a need to promote the benefits of the environment to key faculty and students. Perceived as “extra work.” The environment is “by invitation only” and requires professors to have students input their email to generate an invite. There are some bugs but they don’t impare usability they are just minor annoyances. We are upgrading this by the end of January, 2014 to address this issue.
Adobe provides a wide range of collaborative tools for virtual collaboration that includes application and screen sharing and video conferencing (Connect) as well as document co-authoring, document signing and security and file sharing (acrobat.com, work spaces) that integrate with their universal PDF workflow. This is an important workflow for the 21st century skillset. The creative cloud brings together creative tools and collaborative spaces that duplicates some of the functionality such as file sharing and collaboration that is found in Acrobat.com.
Above: The workspaces interface allows for the creation of teams and the sharing of files with its members.
Above: The Creative Cloud interface allows for file storage and sharing as well as a mobile workflow and social media capacity. This is an important environment for anyone using 21st Century digital authoring tools and, particularly, for creative industry workers and teaching professionals.
BEHANCE: Professional Creative Community and Portfolio Site
Above: This is an online community of professional creatives that allows for portfolio curating, sharing, commenting, collecting, collaborating as well as a job market board. It is useful to follow influential creative types for the industry or field that you may be interested in becoming a part of in the future.
Industry leading. Global community. Connected to industry professionals and leaders. Costs the college nothing. Powerful curating tools. Can socialize and promote work or follow community professionals. Can create feedback groups. Easy to organize and catalog student work. Helps promote the notion of building a global professional brand and participating in a community of practice. Owned by industry leader Adobe Systems.WEAKNESSES:
Currently follows the two-tiered membership model of most social spaces. Free membership for a limited array of functionality and a pro-level (could revert to entirely subscription based in future). Perceived as “extra work.”
This cloud-based note-taking software allows for the creation of custom notebooks (for each course, project, etc.) and can record text, images, web pages, audio and video. Notebooks or individual notes can be socialized or shared with individuals via email or via a public URL.
Go to EVERNOTE by CLICKING on the BLUE link and download Evernote, Skitch and Web Clipper. (Feel free to try others) these are great tools for capturing, representing and organizing information.
Above: In order are icons for Evernote (note-taking), Skitch (annotating web pages or screen captures) and Web Clipper (Capturing web pages). If you are a visual thinker CLICKING on the BLUE MohioMap link to download this visual notes organizer for Evernote.
Promotes a group-based, collective strategy to capturing information. Two students per class are assigned to take notes on an iPad or laptop or workstation (one at the first half and another after the break). The link to the notebook is shared in common so all students can draw on it. It eliminates duplication of effort and spreads the workload out across the entire class. It costs the college nothing (no note-takers required). It is available on any browser on any platform including mobile. Accessible from anywhere with an internet connection. Notes can be downloaded and printed if desired.
Not all students are adept at this and the focus, style and veracity may vary considerably. Perceived as “extra work.”
I have my students follow my Twitter handle @prof2go. Not all students use Twitter and even fewer faculty do. This form of instantaneous communication platform is variously used and abused and, for many, it represents the most invasive form of communications tools—commanding a great deal of moment-to-moment attention. It demands brevity and clarity in messaging and allows for deep socialization.
VISUAL UNDERSTANDING ENVIRONMENTS
(Tufts VUE, SimpleMind MapWebspiration, Inspiration, ):
These tools are for visualizing complex concepts such as processes, workflows, ideas, etc. and making connections between them. Webspiration and Inspiration are cloud-based and desktop mapping software, respectively and come from the same company. These tools were sponsored by the distributor. They aid in making complexity less intractable by visualizing and simplifying. Elements in these maps can be connected to rich media assets such as video, audio, PDF and text documents as well as URLs and other maps. The tool from TUFTS University is a research-based tool that is capable of powerful data modelling and semantic analysis.
This is a handy little tool for shortening incredibly long and difficult to recall URLs. There is no downside to this. You can curate collections of your URLs too.
This plug-in gives your browsers the ability to access the Zotero collaborative Research cloud to form research teams, collect, catalogue, cite and share every sort of media source imaginable.
Provides a structured approach to research. Allows sharing and socializing. Provides collaborative research infrastructure. Works inside the browser. Accessible on both your computer and in the cloud. Well documented.
Could use a live social function. Not entirely self-evident use. Potential for browser upgrade issues. Too much horsepower for what a Foundaton program would need. Focused more on academic research at the university. Perceived as “extra work.”
Above: One of a few publications that Professor Jim Kinney compiles on Augmented Reality.
Socialization capacity. Global reach. Great research tool. Great for personal brand building.
Everyone can do it It will be difficult to stand out as a truly original piece. Little original content connected to the syndication publisher. Perceived as “extra work.”
This lets you manage your social media for information blitzes, campaigns and promotions and tracks the recognition of your personal brand in social media circles. You can monitor trending and use analytics to understand traffic patterns and trends.
Robust and deep functionality. Allows you to aggressively promote your message and monitor its effectiveness. A pretty good free trial version. Great tool for faculty who are active members making contributions to professional discussions and events.WEAKNESSES:
Limited user base for free. More horsepower than is necessary for student needs unless they are focused on advertizing and social media design. Perceived as “extra work.”
This is a very simple, free polling tool that is useful for determining meeting schedules.
Simplicity. Free. Aids group collaboration efforts.
No additional project management functions. Perceived as “extra work.”
This survey tool has a free version that allows students and faculty to gather data from a broad range of sources on a broad range of topics.
Simplicity, unlimited global reach potential. Great research tool for gathering user experience data. Great for getting timely student feedback on issues.
Need to pay to expand sample size and analytics. User should be knowledgeable in asking the right sorts of questions to avoid inherent biases and leading questions. Perceived as “extra work.”
These environments were explored in the winter term of 2013 for their ability to augment the teaching and learning environment by delivering access to on-demand knowledge in situ. My students and I built a permanent installation in our new game design school on the history of game design. Students can now access short documentaries and interviews by designers that relate to seminal digital video games simply by pointing a smart phone or tablet at trigger images throughout the school. Later experiments were done with select faculty on using AR to deliver tutorials, room greetings and schedule and web site access from one’s smart device. For more on this follow the blue links below:
The Virtual Academy Emerges
Faculty Knowledge Transfer
Here we look at how classroom culture and rolls can be transformed in order to promote a more profound use of the ecosystem and how to prepare the learners of tomorrow with 21st century skill sets.
Working collaboratively is an essential skill. Organizing students into groups and arming them with the tools and techniques to work effectively in groups will be the key to ensuring their success not only in project work but throughout their tenure at the school. We will develop a shared sense of responsibility for the success of one another that will build a more cohesive and caring learning community. Peer groups will act like a family support mechanism throughout the year.
INVESTING STUDENTS WITH A DIRECT RESPONSIBILITY FOR LEARNING:
We will promote the notion of the student as a capable researcher, scribe, presenter/storyteller, teacher and allow them to directly participate in unearthing and presenting subject knowledge. They will construct and share knowledge with their groups, their class, the school and the broader global community through participation in professional online communities of practice.
We are moving, in some instances, towards a flipped model of learning where students participate in knowledge creation and sharing as above. Faculty, will make content available prior to class and predicate class activity on prior engagement with any posted materials in order to reserve face time for deeper levels of interaction that transcend mere information dispensing.
I recall a time in my undergraduate years at the University of Waterloo where I sat in the Engineering Lecture Hall at 8am alongside 200 other very groggy students only to watch our professor put acetate copies of the textbook on an overhead and read from it verbatim. It was by far the worst experience that I ever had as a student and it stuck with me. In light of unprecedented access to information on the internet, standing in front of a class and dispensing facts is somewhat akin to the professor reading from a textbook. It is incumbent upon us to create more engaging experiences with important content and having the students researching and presenting is one such way that provides the added benefit of learning how to work as a group and present.
I have been introducing Evenote to classes and rotating the responsibility through the student body. This is just another example of working smarter in a collective and collaborative manner. Each day two students take responsibility for recording audio, video and text and for sharing public URLs that connect everyone to the notes. Each student is responsible for taking notes for only one half of a class all semester (provided there is a class of at least 30 students). This also has the potential of saving the college considerable expense for note-taking.
Students are expected to participate directly in the life of their learning community and can do so by reading, liking, commenting, posting in the Open Network community on a regular and ongoing basis. Highly active students who are showing leadership can be promoted and potentially rewarded (praise and recognition from their professors, recommendations for student awards, being featured in the blogs/social platforms, etc.
Faculty, too, will be encouraged to leverage these community forums to ensure direct participation in the development of programming. Like our students, our faculty have diverse interests that make face-to-face contact difficult most of the time and this reduces opportunities for part-time and sessional faculty to add their voices and ideas to the conversation. This underscores the need for leveraging these environments to allow everyone to participate.
Students (and faculty too) are encouraged to reflect on their learning in the Harvest network personal blogs (blogs are also available in the Open Network too) This promotes meta-cognition and promotes awareness of what one is learning by incorporating weekly reviews of learning.
At the midterm break and at the end of the semester indiividuals and the groups to which they belong will be evaluated on the level and quality of their participation. This will be directly reflected by a grade that measures aspects of this participation. They will be evaluated by the professor as well as by their group members.
Faculty and students will work to build their online presence through direct participation in key online communities of practice. Through sharing their work, know-how, creative insights, commentary and critiques both faculty and students will build personal brand recognition in key online communities like BEHANCE.NET Building a strong brand of leadership will be the cornerstone of what sets us and our students apart from our competitors.
Through the Critical MASS initiative and participation in online communities we will continue to promote mentoring between students and faculty alike and will develop opportunities for sharing best practices with one another through online training, discussion forums and face-to-face meetings where possible.
There is a considerable amount of information put forward here and it may be difficult to understand all or parts of it and how it impacts both the faculty and your students. I have created discussion groups within the Open Network, Foundation Faculty Page where faculty can contribute ideas, voice opinions, etc. Discussion boards are created for each course and are used to share best practices and ideas for course changes with the faculty members who share courses. There are also pages dedicated to the technologies introduced above that allow technology-specific Q and As.
Participants accept their invitations to join the Open Network and create a profile (including head shot) . All future communication regarding our programming will happen inside of that community resource. Ultimately, the success of this venture will hinge on faculty participation and, already, I am starting to see a real community of learning and practice emerge and stakeholders, that were initially overwhelmed, navigate the ecosystem like ducks in water.