Thursday, September 8, 2011

What's TED?

I'm asked me this question a lot recently. Now I know that TED is an acronym for Technology, Entertainment, and Design, but as I have written before I tend to relate everything to my practice. Therefore, I often think of TED as being Teaching, Education, and ... well, Design.

How does design relate to education? I was first introduced to the connection when Mickey McManus from MAYA (Most Advanced, Yet Acceptable) talked at TEDxGrandRapids about Innovating Education. In particular, he described how MAYA developed the LUMA (Looking, Understanding, Making, & Advancing) Institute as a sort of bootcamp for teaching Human-Centered Design. Based on LUMA's successes, they began considering whether design thinking is a basic literacy for everyone and how they might bring their curriculum to kids. This seemed to nibble around the edges of educational reform, however, as it treated design as an extracurricular activity and not a part of school.

Then at the College of Education start-up meeting a colleague asked me if I had ever heard of REDlab at Stanford University. I said that I hadn't and asked what it was. She said RED stood for Research in Education & Design - there's that word again and that connection. With the beginning of the semester at hand, I did not have the opportunity to find out much about REDlab but according to the website:
REDlab was founded in 2009 to study the impact of design thinking in education. It grew from the Taking Design Thinking to Schools Project, which was funded by Stanford’s K-12 Initiative. It sparked a partnership between the Stanford School of Education and the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design ( The goal was to partner with local schools to explore the feasibility of design thinking as a new way to teach and learn.
All of this intrigued me, so when I had an opportunity to sit down for breakfast with an actual designer I grilled him for information. Unfortunately, Rob was unfamiliar with either Mickey McManus or the REDlab. Instead, he shared his own educational journey on his way to becoming a designer.

Rob went to a traditional university before transferring to a design school. As far as he was concerned, these two institutions offered him vastly different educational experiences. The university provided a structure while the design school offered guidance. I quickly interjected that this was understandable because the university would need to have a proven/vetted curriculum and a clear way to assign grades. He could see that and added that some design schools had done away with grades and focused on competencies instead. In fact, design-based businesses seemed less interested in grades than in authentic examples of the designers work.

I asked how this work was shared and Rob said through a portfolio. But the portfolio was not just samples of final products; it contained artifacts of the design process from start to finish. When I asked if this meant it had examples of where mistakes had been made, he hesitated. After some thought, he assured me that someone looking over the process would certainly see where his thinking had changed, but he did not seem to consider these mistakes - just part of the normal creative process.

Breakfast was served and I had taken enough of Rob's time, so we joined the rest of the group in their discussions. I keep thinking about our conversation, though. How can design thinking apply to education?

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