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Educated By Design Blog

Filtering by Category: Design

Why Empathy Just Might Be The Most Important Skill You Teach This Year

Michael Cohen

empathy.png

This is a follow up to a previous blog post on Empathy, and why it's the buzzword I hope never goes out of fashion. 

Empathy Applied

While I advocate for more empathy in the classroom, I want it  to be the start of any problem solving process involving others. With that said, it cannot come at the expense of success. It also doesn't need to followed through via the Design Thinking or any other model. Simply put, being empathetic is a good thing across the board. Regardless of approach, if applying empathy comes at the expense of research and common sense, then the process is flawed from the beginning. Putting all resources into empathy and trying to then develop a solution that isn't sustainable or flawed helps no one. Empathy is only as effective as the effort and ideation putting into developing a high-quality solution.

Years ago I took a Design Thinking MOOC from Stanford. They introduced the course by sharing a story of a think tank sent to help drought ridden African communities develop a more effective way to collect and maintain their water reservoirs during the summer months. Their solution, a light weight plastic storage container that could be buried was completely rejected by the community. This was a teachable moment for the group's use of empathy, or lack there of.

They learned, and all who watch understand that products and solutions, even the highest quality ones will receive very different responses from people and communities based on their culture, lifestyle, and past experiences. As an educator, how many of us can relate this story to moments in our classrooms over the years? How many times have we, or other education professionals design high quality learning experiences that were altogether rejected by their intended users, the students, because they did not consider the students needs, desires, and passions? No one consciously tries to remove empathy from the problem solving equation, but many times our own experiences and expertise can blind us from effectively helping those we are striving to best support. Empathy can actually allow you to be more success not just in ideating, but along the entire design process of a learning experience. By understanding that empathy can and should evolve during the problem solving process, we can empower ourselves to be more flexible and agile as we support student success.

I want to highlight the power of empathy by sharing a personal story. As a Director of Education Technology, and now a consultant and trainer, I have the opportunity to deliver a fairly significant amount of workshops and other professional development experiences. In designing workshops, I realized that although my approach, design, and delivery were always well received, I was designing my work for them. I knew that there must be a better way to support those attending my workshops who were either looking to grow, or forced to grow. While reflecting on this, I realized that a simple pre-workshop survey gave me the space to get to know participants, their passions, and understanding their vision for their professional growth on a more personal (and hopefully more effective) level. I was right! But hy do I do this? With no complaints and generally stellar feedback, why would I shift my approach in delivering training? Better yet, why would I make more work for myself? What if I needed to significantly redesign already amazing workshops and sessions? I did it because, I believe in helping people. I did it because I believe that my skills and ability can help others develop their own skills and abilities. I want to teach people how to fish, not give them fish. Especially if they want tuna, and I am coming with halibut. This means as a facilitiator of professional development, if you come into a school, introduce to them what is cutting edge, and show them how to transform the teaching and learning in their classroom you should consider asking them what they think at the start, not the end. Where is the empathy in that? The end is their thoughts on you. The start is their thoughts on what will be best for them.

This realization strengthened my core mission as a trainer and facilitator. It gave me a new found determination to empower educators to feel confident and capable of utilizing technology in their classroom in a meaningful and sustainable way. Notice that “my expertise” or “cutting edge tech” are not part of the mission. As a trainer, workshops must be developed with a sense of empathy and compassion for faculty and the realities they face in the classroom.

If you do not have a pulse on what it truly means to be in the "trenches" of a classroom, you should not be instructing education professionals on how to hone their craft.

To be effective in the professional development space, you must understand their needs, the school culture, the challenges they face with access to resources, support, and above all time and expectations. Now stop for a moment. Are a manager, administrator, or director? Do the individuals that you lead believe that you strive to support them with that level of empathy? Remember, regardless of who you are supporting or servicing, the client whether student, teacher or parent are kings because it is that feeling that will make them an active participant who will fulfill their role in the success of the institution or organization. 

collaboration_and_empathy

In 2014, I wanted to help a 3rd-grade class learn a little bit about empathy. Working alongside a colleague we designed a project where students would do research on a specific topic, then digitally publish their work. Their published work would then be used as a resource for the rest of their class to learn from. The question the students needed to answer first, was what medium allowed them to learn their best? Through their own discovery process they came to the conclusion that some students like video and photos, while others liked sound, and everyone seemed to enjoy the ability to navigate and interact with a information on their own. During the entire process from brainstorm to product design,  students focused on how their learning and technology could facilitate learning for their peers. This no innovation of mine, but the way it which I packaged the experience for the students was something special. Imagine how this type of scenario could play out in your class. Begin by askin students how they learn best. Ask them what engages them. The end result was a nice moment where students learned about themselves, but even more learned about others as they tried to discover the answer to the following question:

“How do you think others learn best, and how could you help them learn?”

With the “I like” and the “works for me” out the window, students struggled to proceed. That is the moment you want to have. Empathy needs to enter into the creative process when people are stuck and surrounded by unknowns. This is where learning gets awesome. In the end, they solved it, mastered it, and engaged their peers. Everyone was so immersed in the learning that recess was passed up by over half the class. These are the moments we want and the moments like these begin with one word - Empathy

Be Empathically Aware

As I said before, empathy doesn't magically end during the design process, but there needs to be a point where you are ready to move on and try to develop the product or solution further. So what are ways to know that empathy is in the equation? A few questions below might stimulate an answer:

 

  • What is the culture of the individuals involved?

  • What are their values and what values have they been taught?

  • What are their struggles as a group and as individuals?

  • What resources do they have available?

  • What is their history of embracing change?

  • What levels of collaboration and social connectedness exist in the group?

Empathy might seem simple to actualize at forest, but many times we confuse empathy with understanding or awareness of someone's behavior or challenge. You might feel you are empathizing with the person but are in fact empathizing with the struggle itself. As a designer, I struggled with this regularly as I needed to help clients and their client base as well. To support someone, service them, design for them, or teach them, you have to know them intimately. For many, this is unfamiliar and uncomfortable. Remember, before you can truly define or attempted to ideate a solution to the problem for someone else, you need to be aware of the angle they are coming from. In truth it takes a bit of humility to put your expertise and experience aside for a moment to figure out how to best help someone in need. So I leave you with the question:

 

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Learn How To Creative Interactive Diagrams In Google Slides In Less Than 5 Minutes

Michael Cohen

I love taking Google Apps to the next level. Here is a short video to get you up and running for the start of the school year. Learn to create interactive diagrams, maps, or photos in Google Slides that will engage students and inspire them to create their own! 

Why Functional Fixedness And The Fear Of The Unknown Are The Greatest Obstacles Of Creativity.

Michael Cohen

So if we are open to shifting our thinking, what is the next step? It lies in a famous quote from Steve Jobs who said “creativity is connecting things”. The ability to connect things lies in how we look at the relationship between people, places, and ideas. It's in how we overcome one of the greatest obstacles to creativity - Functional Fixedness

Read More

I Think In Pictures, Don't You?

Michael Cohen

I think in pictures. Needless to say, I was quite surprised when I first heard that others thought with words. Then I realized even thoughts made up of words are pictures as well. We are visual creatures. Still, in the classroom we rely mostly on verbal communication backed by technology in the form of text based slideshows, and words on the board. This 20th century approach still in practice is not only outdated but is leaving behind a majority of learners to struggle on their own to internalize information. This approach was developed with technologies available in the 1900’s, primarily printed books, pencils, and paper. Today’s educators can no longer ignore multimedia technologies when looking to support all learners in the classroom. When exploring how to integrate more multimedia and visual communication methods in your classroom, consider these 3 ways to engage visual learners, and hopefully all learners.

Read more here... 

Intentional Space & Reflective Experiences

TheTechRabbi

Dream&Build

As a global learning community, we are constantly promoting ourselves as 21st century learners. We are adaptive, mobile, flexible in what we learn, and how we learn it. On Twitter, I came across a tweet during one of the weekly education chats that stated:

We are closer to 21st century learning than ever before. 

If we as learners choose to modify our experience, as well as create tools to enhance and expedite the process, then why are our learning spaces still rigid, one directioned, teacher centered lectures?

No amount of tablets and motion detected digital displays will transform education that is still filtered through the same spacial, teacher focused experience.

intel-bridge-the-gap

I first heard about Don Orth & The Hillbrook School through the edtech ciricut at ISTE 2012. It was my first exposure to a philosophical approach to space that mirrored the adaptability and efficiency we expect from our learning process and the tools we use to enhance it. I followed his experience with the iLab (Idea Lab) and saw amazing videos of students engaged, empowered, and most importantly, enjoying their learning.

In February, I attended the EdTechTeacher iPad Summit where Don shared his vision and practical application of intentional learning spaces. Since the 2012 launch of the iLab, Don Orth had integrated the intentional learning experience into three middle school classrooms. During his conference session at #EttiPad, Don ask five core questions of how we use our learning space. Do they Compliment the mobility of mobile technology? Are they multi-functional? Do they support project-based learning and design? Are they accessible to students? Do they allow for differentiated learning? I shared my session experience with my principal who met Don at the Boston iPad Summit and we both came to the same conclusion-

We had to see how ideas become a reality at Hillbrook's iLab.

Our team consisting of the principal, two educators, a parent, and myself met Don at the beautiful Hillbrook campus to see learning in action.

In general, in my experience attending conference sessions, presenters naturally showcase the successes of their process and outcomes. Conferences for me tend to be inspiration generators. They give you a spark, an idea that will on be successful long term due to your own research and development.

Don's presentation was different. His vision felt tangible and concrete. In his session he explained how individuals who are in charge of their learning space are not only more invested but responsible in their learning outcomes. One teacher at Hillbrook described a scenario of student choosing to build their own space for learning. If they fall off task or are not able to focus, the discussion of their productively is less about discipline and more about helping students think critically. If the space your building isn't creating an effective learning environment, then ask yourself what you can do to make it better? This challenges students to solve their own problems instead of being the problem, or being handed the solution.

Students want to feel independent; They take ownership over their personal or communal learning space which fosters problem solving, critical thinking, and planning. 

While the empowerment of students is a powerful goal, it isn't something that will come over night. Students have been programed since their very first classroom experience to sit in their assigned seat, face forward, with eyes on the teacher. While the younger grades can be molded to meet the new learning process, it is very difficult for middle school students to thinking outside of the box. While we see students excelling when we give them open and free choices, in many cases the spacial standards of yesteryear are ingrained in their educational DNA.

At Hillbrook they create space through movable furniture as well as versatile writing spaces. The walls, desks, and mobile whiteboards create formations that fit the needs of the students, and what they are learning. Writing an expressive essay in english is not going to look like a collaborative project in history. How we crank out mathematical formulas does not have the same spacial needs as a science experiment. At Hillbrook Don supports the teachers, and it seems in the birthing stages of the classroom model, the faculty is supporting the students.

At Hillel, my school is in the planning stages of our own Collaboration Lab (CoLAB) (Still working out the name) and classroom space ,that will model Hillbrook's intentional learning spaces. The spaces themselves however, are not a recipe for success.

It is up to us as educators to help support students personal exploration into their  learning environments, and help foster their own independent learning outcomes.

I recommend anyone considering modifying, creating, or building an adaptable learning space to reach out to Don Orth at Hillbrook School in Los Gatos.

Don Orth @finddonorth / Hillbrook.org

Why Elementary Students Should Learn How To Design

TheTechRabbi

weather-explained.jpg

Image Courtesy of: dribbble.com/lobanovskiy

In middle school, incoming 6th graders are met with an overwhelming change in how they learn. One teacher multiples into six or seven, school becomes longer, and students are expected to become super organized and able to communicate on a whole new level.

"This is why elementary students must learn about Design." 

Students must understand why it's important to be aware and thoughtful when creating even the most menial documents. Design evokes emotion, and gives a person a connection to a visual object. Typography, layout design, color theory, are inseparable parts of everyday life. The letter types of street signs, the colors emitted from lightbulbs, everyday objects are carefully designed to give people a positive and enjoyable experience. We expect certain colors, and letter types around us, and it's only after they are altered that we become aware of how truly powerful their impact is on us.

stopsigns

Student learn basic math and science because they are the foundation of understanding how the world works, yet not every student will become a mathematician or scientist. Similarly, learning design doesn't mean you must become a designer, but it will help you view the world differently. One of the biggest misconceptions is that design is just about making advertisements and posters.

"Design is about making conscience decisions that verbally or visually connect people and ideas."

We do this every day with our students, friends, and co-workers yet we still make powerpoint slides that look like this

Screen Shot 2013-07-31 at 10.52.31 PM

instead of like this Screen Shot 2013-07-31 at 10.52.39 PM

Source: @emilanddc

Flat Design

Flat design is a trending design style that utilizes geometric shapes, color, and smooth lined letter types. Below is the ever popular Facebook logo which was recently updated with those elements in mind. By dropping the blue highlight at the bottom, and utilizing positive and negative space with the "f", these small yet powerful adjustments have strengthened the logo's visual pop.

Challenging students to make good design choices enhances their critical thinking, problem solving, communication, decision making and organization skills. It teaches them how to simplify their ideas so they are clearly understood and internalized by the viewer. Design was not always this way. Below is an example of a logo that has experienced one hundred years of design as it abandons high contrast muddied imagery, and replaces it with simple, sharp, and powerful form.

Who can teach this?

While many teachers are already overwhelmed by meeting learning quotas, every teacher can themselves learn, and model proper design concepts that can be integrated into the many projects already planned for the year. Design can be taught as a class but in an elementary or middle school environment this would not be realistic or even productive. Like technology, design should be used to enhance current learning experiences or stimulate new ones, they should not be an end unto themselves.

"Students are not interested in learning when it isn't relevant to them, and design is no different."