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.

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machine ecology

A few ideas percolating this morning.

One from an AoIR email thread weighing the intentionality, activism, and idealism of the #pdftribute response to the tragic passing of Aaron Swartz, has me thinking about open access of information not only to human users, but to the machines that in actuality do the vast bulk of information parsing, organization, aggregation, and dissemination. Why not then engage a “machine public” (in the words of danah boyd) as a constituency, to which information should be openly accessible? Such thinking among academics necessitates a different order of thinking than interpersonal file sharing and social network-based link exchange.

Another, in reading around for a nascent book project, I’ve been struck by the clarity of Tim Morton’s premise, which begins his book Ecological Thought“At what point do we stop, if at all, drawing the line between environment and non-environment. . . ?”

Morton succinctly points to the danger of becoming so enamored of place that we may become separate from the ecosystem in which every place is situated. How can we understand our own place well if we cannot see it in a broader context or networks in which we actually live?

Morton goes on: “Ecological art . . . isn’t just about something . . . . Ecological art is something . . . insofar as it is made from materials and exists in the world.” Applying these ideas about ecological art to ecologies of information–to our digitally-inflected networked knowledge economy–only underscores that the network which enables and physically powers our digital interconnectivity is anything but virtual—what with real wires drawn across or buried beneath actual places and really integrated with the physical world in which the virtual is embedded. Kazys Varnelis and the late Anne Friedberg point out similarly, “place itself does not disappear in favor of the ‘city of bits.’ On the contrary, place is as important as ever, playing a key role in the network itself” (Place: The Networking of Public Spaces).

The place is the network infrastructure, and without understanding the nuances and complexities of that network, we are at risk of platial myopia. Indeed, I think that the term virtual world is itself a misnomer, in that ubiquity of digital places and their ability to augment our physical experience changes our corporeal experience of place in very real ways.

In a sense, it is the machines that constitute a tangible network ecology; it is our presence on the network that is virtual.