Instructional Design

There is a deep resonance between architecture, design and thinking about structures and systems of social, pedagogical, and institutional relationships. In my role at Sterling College, I often think in systems and complex relationships across a gradient of different scales of institution, program, course, class, and individual student/faculty interaction. When Neri Oxman last Thursday at UVM talked about the need for more multiscale systems that are interdisciplinary in their nature and structure, I could think of few better examples than the development of a resilient, adaptive, and multiscale curriculum.

spiral rubricI recently introduced students to the concept of an open rubric, which, for most of them, represented a far more open approach to goal development and self-assessment that they had experienced. The very question, ‘what do you want to learn?’ is enough to catch students off guard, and sometimes requires some processing of what that really means, and that, yes, I’m quite serious that they have to co-design their own learning experience.

The larger piece, less easily explained in the context of an assignment overview, is this approach nests into a organic and open curricular system.

Another part of Neri Oxman’s work in which I found a profound corollary with this level of systems thinking is the concept of a single material “catering to multifunctionality”:

The ability to design, analyze and fabricate using a single material unit implies unity of physical and digital matter, enabling nearly seamless mappings between environmental constraints, fabrication methods and material expression. Such unity – like that found in natural bone, a bird’s nest, a typical African hut and a woven basket – might promote a truly ecological design paradigm, facilitating formal expression constrained by, and supportive of, its hosting environment. (Material Ecology)

When a relationship between students, teachers, and experience is co-creative, the strength of that foundation of learning can yield rich, self-organizing, and interconnected pedagogy that is finely attuned, flexible, and resilient in the face of students’ learning goals and aspirations.

In an environment that emphasizes scalability, variability of form, and provides space for organic development, the boundaries between the facilitated learning experience and the larger systems of which college education is a part begin to dissolve and learning and its application begin to coalesce.

Radical Ecologies [call for proposals]

Radical Ecologies: (Re)Grounding Digital Pedagogy

A Special Session proposal for the 2014 MLA Convention

This special session seeks dynamic workshop-style presentations to engage participants in new ecologies of learning and leading edge ideas that connect ecological and educational systems. The session aims to explore the idea that technology and ecology need not be mutually exclusive and that they can play an essential role in the humanities classroom.

Drawing on points of intersection between experiential liberal arts education, digital humanities, biomimicry, sustainability, and ecopsychology, ‘Radical Ecologies’ will engage instructors and administrators in course development strategies and in helping students plan their own learning by using a systems approach to curriculum design.

This session is proposed to be an interactive and engaging series of workshops that enable participants to (1) take away tangible first steps to implementing ecologically-based digital course and curriculum design and (2) recognize the opportunities for learners at all levels in thinking experientially and ecologically about curriculum design.

Questions might include:

  • How can ecological thinking provide a model for a more intentional and dynamic liberal arts pedagogy?
  • Can digital technologies help us develop more ecologically focused learning environments and curricula?
  • How can teachers integrate ecological thinking into new and existing courses, units, and overall curriculum design?
  • Is there a role for ecological thinking in developing humanities curricula?
  • How can ecological concepts (re)shape digitally-inflected pedagogy?

Please email questions and/or a 250-400 word abstract by 1 March 2013 to Pavel Cenkl at

For more on the MLA and convention: