Beckman and Barry’s (2007) Innovation as a Learning Process: Embedding Design Thinking (2007) is a great resource for understanding the history and current direction of design theory. The authors describe three broad stages of development that represent a move from design as a top-down process of cause and effect analysis and linear improvement to design as an organic, iterative, and fundamentally democratic process by which communities organize to make meaning together.
This first phase of design theories and methods was focused on optimization and systematic problem solving. Beckman and Barry describe this approach as rooted in “machine thinking” and focused on rigid methods for breaking down complex tasks or operations into discrete problems and solving each one in a logical and linear order. In these practices, designers were often laboratory scientists, studying problems from afar, deconstructing and then reconstructing them for greater perceived effectiveness. Designers believed that their own aesthetic and practical understandings could effectively determine both utility and significance in design processes and methods. This early phase of design practice was premised on the modernist belief in the unifying progress of humanity towards a more ideal society. Designers were seen as heroic figures of the modern world, raising society to a more ideal state (Buchanan, 1998) and designers themselves generally believed that part of their role was providing a unifying vision of progress that would drive society along the path of human improvement (Beckman & Barry, 2007).
This initial understanding of design theory as a process by which a few experts solve the problems of society was strongly repudiated in its second wave. Buchanan (1998), a design theorist and historian, asserts that the modernist “unifying” vision is oppressive as it imposes one definition of utility and significance for all people regardless of culture or context (Beckman & Barry, 2007). Buchanan (1998) writes:
No one possesses all of the knowledge and wisdom required to understand and act responsibly in this world. We need diversity and alternative perspectives to keep alive the ongoing inquiry into ordering, disordering, and reordering that is the central enterprise of human culture. We need the diversity of many personal visions to avoid entrapment in narrow thinking. (p. 16)
My academic research (and Claire’s as well – @ClaireYates3) over the last few years has focused on the interaction between the literature of design thinking and the literature from the field of education that supports the design and creation of new schools.
Today I am going to start by taking a quick look at the field of what is called Design Thinking. In upcoming posts I am going review a bunch of literature and also do some sorting and aggregating of the field in general.
First, my long and inclusive definition of design thinking:
Design thinking is a way of approaching planning using a non-linear process of learning and experimentation that engages community members and their needs in formulating problems and creating purposeful solutions that are rooted in utility and significance and adapt over time.
The design thinking approach is an iterative process of knowledge building and knowledge using. It is frequently described in four non-linear stages—discovery, creation, modeling, implementation/production (Ackoff, Magidson, & Addison, 2006; Brown, 2010; Beckman & Barry, 2007). In addition, many authors identify a fifth state focused on organizational learning and evolutionary change although some see this as simply a continuation of the iterative process of learning, creating, learning more, and recreating (Brown, 2010; Beckman & Barry, 2007; Owen, 2007). (more…)
In my work for Building21 I have been digging through local resources in Philadelphia. The most useful of these resources is The Notebook has been gathering and organizing an enormous amount of useful data on Philly’s schools. Local educators and advocates certainly know this.
1) A Map of the local school catchments, feeder pattern. This should be common knowledge in the city, but for some reason, it is not: https://webapps.philasd.org/school_finder/
2) From perhaps the most useful resource of all, the Philadelphia Public School Notebook itself, please see a list of the regional superintendents in Philadelphia and the schools each oversees.
3) A recent edition of the School District of Philadelphia’s Organizational Chart: I got this from an article in the Philadelphia City Paper. Here I am not concerned with the content of the article but on the usefulness of the org chart, which can also be seen below.
From the 1970s to 1990, the total number of schools in the U.S. actually declined. In the past two decades, however, U.S. public schooling has seen an explosion of newly created schools and schooling models (U.S. Department of Education, 2013–see attached spreadsheet US Census Data – Number of Schools and Students – 1990-2012).
Since 1990, 13,790 public schools have been created, a more than 16% growth rate. During the 1990s and early 2000s in the United States, educators and advocates from across political and philosophical spectra collaborated in support of creating independently conceived and operated school models. Of the roughly 13,000 new schools created in the last 20 years, the U.S. Department of Education (2013) labels 4,993 of these (36%) as “alternative schools” and 3,703 (27%) of them are some form of charter school.
I am pleased to announce that School For Real is getting a bit of a refresh. We are tweaking the look (still in progress) with a focus on separating out the different themes we explore and giving school design itself its due place in both the metaphoric and visual heart of what we do.
The impetus for this in part the return of some wayward writers, but it is also a long needed change that reflects the current state of our organization which is really a loose consultancy and think tank.
I am excited to share, on a personal and school design note, that I have spent the past year working for Building21, a start-up, competency-based high school model opening as a Philadelphia School District school partnership in the fall of 2014. Their work is extremely interesting and represents a significant advancement in the field. I will write more about it in upcoming posts. In the meantime, check out the building21 blog, which is in itself both interesting and important. See for example, the thoughtful work they are doing with the language of competency and mastery.
Finally, I am very excited to share the research on school design I have been doing over the past five years. I am going to publish an overview of design and reviews of a wide range of school design texts. I hope it will prove a useful tool for school designers and researchers.
Send us your thoughts!
Working on my never-ending doctorate (I’m on year 7, I note sheepishly), I recently re-examined one of my absolute favorite school design texts, Peter Senge’s Schools That Learn: A Fifth Discipline Fieldbook for Educators, Parents, and Everyone Who Cares About Education (Senge, Cambron-Mcabe, Lucas, Smith, Dutton, and Kliener, 2000).
Recently I wrote about student leadership and what I believe to be the profound educative value of leadership experience. Then, while reading Schools that Learn, I stumbled across the following:
One last comment on why schools seem remarkably difficult institutions to change and where particular leverage may lie. Industrial-age schools have a structural blind spot unlike almost any other contemporary institution… (more…)