Iterative Instruction

Time flies when you are having fun! I launched the Technology, Engineering, and Design (TED) course 2 years ago. The curriculum, my teaching style, and the space(s) have changed significantly since then – largely in response to my students’ feedback. Because TED is a one semester elective, I have had a chance to test 4 prototypes. I’ve tried engineering themes (GIS, Environmental Engineering, Product design). I’ve tried different projects (architecture & construction, bike redesign, furniture design & fabrication). I’ve tried different assessment strategies (a magazine/portfolio, project deliverables, standards based). Learning from those prototypes and iterations I feel like I have finally gotten pretty close to a replicable semester experience. That is saying a lot considering I have really enjoyed changing up content and themes each semester.

You may have read my previous post where I shared this semester’s syllabus…full of hopes and dreams. Being 6 weeks in I thought it might be worthwhile to reflect on how things are going. At this point the TED course is ⅔ of the way through assistive technology foundations. Foundations are 2 week project sprints meant to:

  1. use project type (wood working, electronics, 3D printing) to acquaint students with protocols, tools and materials available
  2. use specific deliverables to teach students my expectations for how we work
  3.  use a semester theme to enforce consistency and human centered design practice

The foundation projects were presented to students in the form of mini-design briefs (below).

This started out great! Each group of students was excited about the project they would start with (seemingly forgetting that each group will get a chance to do each of the projects regardless). Below are what some typical days looked like:

As the first round of projects wrapped up, it was fun to see the how the next group learned from the previous. One of the key hypotheses I continue to test is how projects evolve after students critique the builds from the previous group.  The “exit ticket” out of one foundation build and into the next is 1) a clear deliverable and 2) honest critique and feedback on each other’s work. In particular, students are getting more comfortable with sharing their pHails. In fact, just 20 minutes prior to me writing that last sentence a student exclaimed “Hey we forgot to share my pHail today AGAIN! Can we be sure to do it tomorrow?” The craving of feedback with an eye toward helping next project iterations is a key element of the maker community we want to build.

I think there are at least two reason why the pHailur (that just happened!!) culture has flourished this semester.

  1. A full class period is protected at the end of each foundation round with the intent of doing formal critique
  2. Students have generated empathy for users of assistive technology.

Regarding the latter, empathy for a variety of users has been generated largely through a partnership with Georgia Tools for Life – a non profit dedicated to testing and delivering assistive tech to people in need. GaTFL hosted myself and Trey Boden at their offices where we were able to ask if they would serve as both inspiration and outside evaluators for our students’ work. Following that visit, our students were able to visit….virtually…using a piece of assistive technology called a VGo telepresence robot. Driving the robot around from our own school was an empathy exercise in its own right, but the real “aHa” moment was a tour of the seemingly endless wall of assistive devices – each with it’s own story of how it made someone’s life easier – more independent – with restored dignity.

In reflection of how things are going, I’m pleased. That is not to say that things are perfect.  I will continue to iterate my instruction, but for the most part the culture of design and making that I hope to cultivate is taking shape. Students are coming in early and staying late, presumably because of their perceived shift from projects to purpose.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s