Posts Tagged ‘design process’


Bringing facilitation into the classroom

February 22, 2012

The word facilitation comes from the Latin facilis, which means to make easy. While normally, facilitation is used in organizations and companies trying to figure out solutions to their problems, it is alos a skill, if applied correctly in a classroom environment will help students learn through self-discovery using techniques that encourage sharing group’s knowledge and experience. It is a learner-centered method of teaching. You share control with students and let them decide, with you, on the path the class should take.

Process vs. Content

The facilitator is the process expert, and not necessarily the master of knowledge; the one who’s responsible for keeping track of logistics, timing, idea flow, and group development.I say  not the master of knowledge because he or she normally would not concern themselves with providing information directly, but rather the group members’ involvement in learning all the data themselves. This position of neutrality must be understood and practiced by the teacher if the students’ potential is to be fully reached. And with a position title as “Instructor, Lecturer, or professor”, this is not always easy.

In an ideal classroom that uses the facilitative method, the content would be the subject matter, the facts, data, and background information are the responsibility of the students who have the freedom to decide to get more information, continue to work with what they have, or choose a different area to focus on. It will be their job to bring and study the material, put their thoughts in it, and make decisions on the subject matter. The teacher in such a class simply leads the process, guides the students through it, and brings to their attetion where to locate the information and which is the most important.

Personal Experience

Teaching studends about the principles of design and ordering in the Architecture Design Studios at the undergraudate level fits the profile of the environment that requires a facilitative teacher. The students were given a suggestion of a book that taught the basics, but they were free to bring other material. They learned about the subject and experimented in class on their new findings. There were no lectures per se, it was more like bringing all the information to the same table and sharing it. Every class had different information, material, and pictures to share. The basics were always visible to all. My role was certainly just to help them go through the design process, from understanding the situation, researching the facts, sketching out initial ideas, developing the promising ones, and finaly making decisions, all the while continuing on prototyping their solution to perfection. As you imagine, in such a studio, it’s easy to apply such a role, but what about “theory” classes?

With some imagination, one might be able to pull out a facilitator mode every now and then. By definition, these classes require an “expert” giving the informaiton and explaining the theories. But what if the students were required to pre-read before class? then perhaps the instructor can offer exercises for them to experiment with their newfound information straight away. What if they could be given contrasting or un-true facts?  This might be a good job for them to debate it in class and find the right answer.

Designing your course

Many educators make the mistake of thinking that their extensive knowledge makes them good at helping others learn. Although what you teach is a cornerstone for students at college, it will make little difference if you do not know how to engage the minds of your audience effectively. Words alone will not ensure transfer of knowledge to others. To really take advantage of student-led methods in teaching, be careful not to assume the role of “expert” automatically and continuously during the course. For active learning to happen, use activities that will force students to use their knowledge, skills, and abilities in passing their grades. With all the resources available at your fingertips, there is little reason for you to do all the work in stimulating learning. You want your students to think, discuss, feel, and act using as many senses as they can engage. Rather than giving them answers, provide the theory, tools, support, and an opportunity for them to resolve issues.

Anne Davidson writes in The Skilled Facilitator Fieldbook about three levels of the process. First, process designs structure the whole facilitation or a major portion of it. This addresses the students’ purpose for taking the course, their goals after completing it, assignments and projects to assess their knowledge, etc. Methods are more specific processes used to move the group through a series of steps (for example using the Design Thinking or the Creative Problem Solving models). At the most micro level, tools represent discrete activities used within a method. To emphasize divergent and convergent tools for example, one can use brainstorming or card sorting, consecutively.

If you’re thinking of changing the format of your next class, try one of these methods:

Open ended questions: encourage input and feedback

Small group learning: form small groups to address parts of the problem

Teacher-led discussions: Use dialog to draw from the collective knowledge of students.

Group learning: When you need to get consensus or teach a theory

Team activities: Exercises, Games, Role plays all enhance class time

Peer Coaching: out-of-class practice or rehearsal can provide feedback.

Individual learning: out-of-class work to ensure the full value of the course is met

Participant teaching: Presetations are an excellent method of a practiced skill.

The above were examples adapted from Robert Lucas’s The Creative Training Idea Book. Take the time to choose appropriate learning techniques as you design your course. Mix up the format to provide variety, contrast, and stimulation for yourself and your learners. Most importantly, have fun with it.


A Rabbit Detour

February 12, 2011

It is said that Rabbits are one of the only species of animal simultaneously considered pets, pests, and livestock animals by people in the same culture. talk about being so versatile!

Rabbits, animals, forests, and the whole ecosystem are fascinating me these days. I’m looking at nature as a live book or a very animated teacher, sometimes, it becomes a good listerner friend when I find myself babbling on today’s issues and problems we face daily.

In celebrating the new Chineese Year, and in keeping with the spirit of the rabbit, I will maintain sensitive ears and eyes to watch my surrounding, continue an unpredictable way of dealing with life’s detours, and still go with the flow.

It’s been almost 2 years since i last wrote something on this blog, or any place for the matter. it was not beacuse i didn’t have anything to say or the time to say it. i was simply getting too much involved in everything that i didn’t take the time to reflect on things as they happen. A requirement to make the necessary connections.

To say the least, it was a speedy, bumpy ride. However, with every slow-down over a bump, i managed to take a quick glance on the scenery around me, get lost numerous times, and overall enjoyed the ride. In times of change like this one, i plan to write about those speedy roads, as well as the unpredictable detours.

One of those short turns was my initial encounter with biomimicry 4 years ago. I fail to remember when did i hear about it first, but i rememeber very well how much sense it made to me. The basics are considering nature as a model, as a measure, and as a mentor. In Janine Benyus’s book “Biomimicry: Innovation inspired by nature”, she explained those facts:

1. Nature as model. Biomimicry is a new science that studies nature’s models and then imitates or takes inspiration from these designs and processes to solve human problems, e.g., a solar cell inspired by a leaf.

2. Nature as measure. Biomimicry uses an ecologucal standard to judge the “rightness” of our innovations. After 3.8 billion years of evolution, nature has learned. What works. What is appropriate. What lasts.

3. Nature as mentor. Biomimicry is a new way of viewing and valuing nature. it introduces an era based not on what we can extract from the natural world, but on what we can learn from it.

As i hit another bump in my life, Architectural Engineering, I see a big connection between both fields and a story that screams to be told. There has been many attemps and examples on using nature as our inspirational teacher when desinging our buildings. One of the famous ones is the East Gate Center in Harare, Zimbabwe. Designed by Mick Pearce and Arup Associates, developed an air conditioning system modeled on the self-cooling mounds of Termites.

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I claim no interest in developing a final model of a building that took nature as its first draft, but i have an urge to find where biomimicry links with the design process or design thinking for the matter. If the Rabbit lives in burrows or underground passages which they excavate in the soil, how does one of its predators (the fox for example) design its home? Does it look for rabbit hideouts or it locates it in a place that best fits the family need? does it consider the material available on hand or it has special requirements? how does their home serve their lifestyle?

That, and other things, are some of the upcoming bumps I look forward to find on my road.

Happy Rabbit’s Year.