Reflections on a Day at the d.School: Part One

Reflections on a day at the d.School

I can split this up into 3 general categories:

The Debrief
Booty Calls of Design
An Ode to Modularity

For today we’re just going to think about the first. More will show up later.

The Debrief:
The lesson I learned, stated directly upfront, is that there’s no good reason to do a debrief with you on the stage. There’s reasons, like maintaining the power dynamic, continuing to feel important, and giving them something to look at. These are reasons, but not particularly good ones. This relies on the traditional classroom assumption that the lecturer is important and has all the information. Everyone pays attention to the lecturer. Ideally, they pay attention to only the lecturer, as answers given by the class tend to be to questions that are fishing for an answer.

Now, why you wouldn’t want to the sage on the stage: students better understanding what they learned by sharing it, students better listening to each other, and and facilitating personal connections. The opposite of the sage on the stage is the comparably rhyming guide on the side. When we debriefed the stokes activities the facilitators sat down with us on the floor. We’ll get to that, but emphasis on them being facilitators. When you’re hosting an interactive event like a workshop you aren’t lecturing it like you would in a class–you’re hosting, facilitating, leading, etc. The choice of words is important because a facilitator has a COMPLETELY different approach than a lecturer. The lecturer does the heavy lifting alone and has the main intention of transferring the knowledge from the adult to the children. Again words mean things so this adult/child distinction, while a little extreme, I feel better captures the power dynamic. When you’re facilitating however, the students or attendees are doing the heavy lifting themselves. They don’t need you to to them what they should be learning or feeling because they’re busy doing it and feeling it themselves, as well as sharing. Too busy living it to listen to you tell them how they should live.

As the day at the d.School wasn’t entirely perfect, we got to see this demo’d. In the odd case where someone was on the stage telling us what we should be learning, it just didn’t vibe as well. I know that I felt more distracted when I wasn’t listening to my peers and was reading things off of a powerpoint. You’ll have to believe me or try it yourself since I’m clearly biased, but the smaller group interaction was far more engaging and I wasn’t tempted to zone out or check my phone.

How they did this: after doing either a small group or individual interactions with a large group based activity, one of the facilitators (there were multiple, this is important to breaking up large groups) ran over and claimed 10-20 of us, and asked us to sit down in a circle so we could discuss the activity. Instead of asking “what did you learn,” they asked questions more like “how did this one part of the activity make you feel?” Or, “What made you the most uncomfortable?” Or most importantly, “How could you see yourself directly applying this into your field or at your school?”

Unsurprisingly the last one got some great answers. It takes that hard thinking you might do later and brings it here, now, immediately after doing the activity. This eliminates some of the cognitive biases we can apply with things have time to settle–emphasizing the raw thoughts in the moment. This combined with the group sharing has the power of constructive conversation that’s tailored the students specific problems instead of the generic “this activity demonstrated how to celebrate failure.”

As an example, we did an improv based exercise where we took our real selves and inserted ourselves into a scenario given by the facilitators. The scenario wasn’t that important, but the discussion topic was.

First, we started at a cocktail party hosted by a mutual friend of all group members, Pedro. Pedro was socializing with other guests and we found ourselves in a group talking about what we did and how our week was.

What we got was a brief summary of the things we do, and how much time they take up. Valuable information in getting to know someone, but not that helpful in really getting to know someone.

After a little talking, we found ourselves in a park, walking among the trees. We were talking about what our work means to us.

Unsurprisingly the answers had near delusions of grandeur (mostly warranted). Again very helpful in getting to know someone, but just not quite hitting hard enough to dig in deep.

Lastly, after waking around this part for a while longer we had made a campfire and were sitting around the dying flame and hot coals. It’s dark now and the lights in the atrium were turned off. This allowed the facilitators to create the mood in the physical space as much as the mental one. This time, we discussed what was most important to us in life.

Somewhat surprisingly (to me at least), we got right into the deep end here. Right to what really makes you who you are. I admit this could have really easily been put as “I like innovation” due to the framing of the meetup, but each in the group shared very specifically the single thing that meant the most to them in their life. My group took the approach of what concept is most important–what guides your life.

After talking for a few more minutes, a facilitator ran over and sat us all down. We had a group of about ten and he asked us how we felt at each level of conversation. We talked about the value of going deep with people and how sometimes you need to ramp up into it. Most importantly we discussed how the concepts of going deep with people can be applied to seemingly completely unrelated situations. It’s easy to use it when you’re teaching design, and even when your team is struggling to work together. It’s more difficult to just take someone else’s work and figure out how this could help.

When someone gave an answer that was “bad” by some standards–usually making the group grimace–instead of shooting it down the facilitator asked if anyone else felt similarly. We got a few yeses but mostly no’s. Getting this group consensus allowed the facilitator to choose whether to pursue the “bad” answer or to direct the group into what related most to the group. Just being the d.School and how they operate, the weird answers were valued and discussed briefly as they have merit but groups were ultimately steered toward what related most to the group, mostly due to time constraints.

My summary of this is simply why be the sage on the stage–working so very hard to impress learning upon the students, and often failing–when you choose to be the guide on the side, letting them do the hard work, hard thinking, and even allowing themselves to learn in a way more comfortable to them.

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