Designing Learning: Innovation and Intention

innovationWhat words come to mind when you think of a designer? Innovator, creator, visionary, maybe risk taker comes to mind. But what does it truly mean to  innovate? The dictionary describes innovation as the act of introducing something new; a new method, idea or device. We commonly think of innovators as the people that question the status quo. They challenge norms, assumptions and practices. They have the ability to see what people see everyday in a new way; and to share their vision with others.

How do we become innovators? What does innovation look like in schools? If only it were as easy to ‘tell’ staff to create opportunities for innovation, or demonstrate innovation in their instructional design. But we need something more to support innovation in our schools.

What is at the core of innovative educational design? John Hockenberry, an Emmy award winning journalist, recently did a TedTalks that asserts that we are all designers, if we think we are or not. Bad design is a product of people not thinking. Bad design happens when  people just let stuff happen, without pause or reflection; without intention. Sadly, we have all seen classrooms like this. They tend to be filled with worksheets and pencils, skill drills, and serial Friday tests. Somewhere we get stuck in the myriad of system demands, standardization, and routine; in operational thinking.

Good design starts with supplying intention. When we infuse intention in our task design; in our assignments, projects, and assessments, everything changes. By bringing intention to the forefront of our pedagogical thinking shifts the lens of our practice. I would argue that acting with intent is the foundation of good teaching – good instructional design. Learning is merely the byproduct.

John Hockenberry goes further to say that intent as a design element shows authorship; that someone is driving. People are drawn to intent. It reassures people and helps people make the experience their own. Intent as a design element creates engagement, support and ownership. Students in classrooms are just as drawn into intention.

And John Hockenberry is right – we can’t just imitate the past. Teaching with intention is a powerful treasure. It engages and draws the students in the learning experience. Instructional design with no intent is random. Imitation. Routine. Designing tasks with no intention has the risk of repelling students away from learning.

Navigating us to think a little deeper on design is Interface Designer, Sebastian Deterding.  He speaks to his experience that even designing with intention can have negative, unplanned and long lasting side effects. Our designs requires multiple layers of embedded intentions.

Watching this talk reminded me of postmodern discourse in graduate school of the values and messages reflected in school spaces. As Sebastian Deterding asserts, “any piece of design in the world has a persuasive component.” It communicates something. What are we communicating to students with our task designs? With the designs of our school spaces, of our school day? Sebastian Deterding uses this to exemplify the Socratic discourse of “the good life.” His questions reflect the layers of intention, of what designs say to people.

1. What are your intentions with your designs?
2. What are the side effects of the application of your designs?  What are you ‘endorsing’ as good and normal things to care about?
3. What are the values/virtues that are being communicated in the assessment  in your design?
4. What is the vision of the “good life” (excellence, functioning at your full potential)? What morality is materializing with your design? What are people  aspiring too?

By looking at what we are asking students to do, and why, in our school spaces is a powerful way to start with teachers (Sharon Friesen, 2010).

What vision of “learning” does instructional designs convey in your school?  Is it a vision of the  ‘good life’ you want your school to communicate?

photo credit: John&Fish via photopin cc

One thought on “Designing Learning: Innovation and Intention

  1. This is really interesting. Innovation is something that receives a lot of lip-service but there isn’t necessarily a lot of practical thought given into how to make innovation actually happen. I really like the idea of explicitly looking at our intentions when we design lessons. Combine that with reflecting on how effectively our lessons meet these intentions and I think we can improve both our planning and our teaching.
    Thanks for sharing this!

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