Tag Archives: uarts

Teaching and Learning at AICAD 2013


I’ve just returned from the 2013 AICAD conference, an annual affair which brings together faculty and administrators from mostly small, private art and design colleges and universities in the U.S. and Canada. This year’s theme, New Paradigms in Teaching and Learning, invited a number of presenters who shared examples of the many challenges faced by higher ed arts institutions along with examples of how best to meet these challenges. (*Nb: The emphasis was on the undergraduate experience.) It’s a no-brainer that higher ed is in crisis, with unsustainable, escalating tuition fees and a growing perception that a college education may no longer be a worthwhile — much less, affordable — ‘investment’, even with the insistence by our national leaders that a college degree is a necessity to enter the job market.

Not having many expectations prior to the conference, I was surprised by the diverse approaches being envisioned and implemented at many institutions as we scramble to keep pace with the speed of social and technological change that really does threaten to make our institutions irrelevant to current and future generations of young college degree-seekers. If anything, my university colleagues and I take comfort that we are not alone in our attempts to re-imagine how we create meaningful educational experiences for our students within this turbulent time. And, while I won’t say there was widespread agreement in the range of pedagogical and curricular approaches being tested, some familiar themes emerged: an emphasis on interdisciplinary work, broad collaborative opportunities, increased student choice, integrated digital media instruction beginning at day one, competency-based learning and assessment, and online education. (For my part, my colleague Jonas Milder and I led a seminar on design skills and competencies within a design for social impact education, first presenting our work in the graduate program

at UArts and then facilitating an exercise to sort and prioritize a range of skills and competencies.)

There were many new relationships begun and several insightful nuggets shared during these few days, which perhaps I’ll share in more detail at some point. However, even though many examples of interesting student projects were shared, I felt that a genuine student perspective was missing from the discussion. Our students need to be invited into to these spaces to reflect on our collective experiences in education together. I want to hear more from them, and I believe that in creating space for their input — and truly embracing the idea of student-led learning by giving them access to these higher level conversations — we actually empower them to take ownership of their own educational experiences. At the end of the conference I found myself writing: “trusting students, so that they can trust themselves.” We need more of this attitude.

Human Scale

On Friday, as part of the 2013 inciteXchange conference, I moderated a short Q&A following presentations by three captivating Philadelphia creatives. Organized around three very broad themes — food, clothing, and shelter — the conference brought together a diverse range of designers, entrepreneurs, and leaders from different sectors who are challenging conventions within their respective fields.


[ Andrew Dahlgren presents his research and knit lab projects ]

While watching presentations in the “clothing” segment by Andrew DahlgrenGabriel Mandujano, and Bob Trempe, I noted that each of their work in some way asserts the importance of addressing the human scale in terms of engaging individuals: whether to create intimate architectural interventions (Trempe), build a socially and environmentally sustainable laundry service business (Mandujano), or prototype a model for community supported manufacturing with locally organized knitting machine labs (Dahlgren).

Human scale. The words took on new meaning for me today somehow as I understood it in the three examples at the conference — and I immediately connected it to work my colleagues and I do in The Think Tank that has yet to be named, particularly in the Structures of Support project, which is absolutely about identifying the ways people build human-scaled, community-based networks of resources and support to live rich lives. Clearly, Ivan Illich, a guiding light in this research, was convinced that the industrial scale of our institutions and systems were greatly alienating us from ourselves, each other, and our environments. Ultimately, his insistence on tools for conviviality, those instruments, processes, and relationships that bring us closer together in an economy of mutuality,* was a call for living at the human scale.

I find the idea of the human scale very compelling and evocative now. It suggests a rightness of attitude toward each other and the world that just seems to resonate. When so many of our interactions with the systems around us feel so out of scale, out of reach, impersonal, and often inhumane, the human scale as an organizing motif might offer a powerful antidote.

* I owe my use of “economy of mutuality” to Paul Glover, another speaker at inciteXchange

Twitter in the Afternoon…

I had an unexpectedly valuable interaction with Twitter recently, the kind of serendipitous discovery which makes the format so interesting. One of my former students from a few years ago — who has know gone on to do amazing things, things which strangely intersect with my own intellectual journey — was in attendance at symposium exploring the nature of design PhD’s in North American universities. Hosted by Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Design, this intimate gathering brought together academics, researchers, and practitioners to apparently examine the state of doctoral studies and suggest possible directions for their development in the future.

I took the opportunity for much of an afternoon to follow @juropel‘s concise (of course!) tweets which so nicely documented some of the key points made during the day’s conversations. I was particularly interested to know if any of the discussion touched on a topic which I am wrestling with in the graduate design programs at my university: does design research and human-centered design, with its deep focus on the behaviors of people (aka human subjects) in the context of the design problem space, need to be vetted by IRB (institutional review boards)? I’m getting increasing pressure from academics in the social sciences about this issue, and I’m struggling to make sense of it. I feel that I need more perspective, and the folks participating in the CMU symposium probably have much to say on this.


SMSC at ISEA2009

I will be traveling to Belfast on Tuesday to attend ISEA2009, the International Symposium on Electronic Art. I will also be giving a short presentation on the Social Media for Social Change project. As a refresher, SMSC is a design research collaboration between me, three undergraduate students, and members of the Action Mill that is funded by the Philadelphia Applied Research Lab at the University of the Arts. Continue reading