Presentations from the 2011 Spotlight on teaching and learning

The presentations from the 2011 Spotlight Colloquium about teaching and learning we organized at the University of Otago are now online.

Please feel free to follow this link to see the abstracts and some of the presentations.

This year, we also tried out pecha-kucha, which is a unique format of presentation, which is based on 20 images X 20 seconds per image. Presenters are expected to make their point in 6:40min, which is refreshing to watch (and a bit nerve-racking to present).

This tag cloud (made using represents the main topics that were discussed at the conference. Enjoy!

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Notes from – Reflexive Design Thinking: Putting More Human In Human-Centered Practices

Authors: Barton Friedland & Yutaka Yamauchi

Journal: Interactions, 2011, Volume 18 Issue 2

“To engage in the “design” of an organization means to address and reflect on these rules, whereas designing a technological artifact is done according to laws that correspond to the natural sciences. Because normative rules are reflexively understood and produced by people, any “design” of the rules necessarily involves the
people they affect. Thus, no one can design an organization for someone else. The only thing that someone can do for another is to design representations and constraints such as formal roles, staffing, processes, and hierarchical structures. Designing an organization therefore involves other activities, such as supporting members of the organization in reflecting and bringing attention to the normative rules of their own organization.

… On the other hand, actual professional practices in general and design practices in particular embody reflection-in-action. This means designers face each unique
situation and, at the same time, see it as something familiar. Through this, they frame the situation and test successive frames by taking actions experimentally and reframe the situation based on what they learn. To many in management, this kind of practice appears unstable and subjective.

Solutions are often framed in terms of decision making, where an option among given options is chosen. Design is form-giving, the creation of what has not existed. As such, designers often take a solution- focused or abductive approach, by which they explore solutions and problems together and often use a potential solution to better understand the problem [2, 3]. Resulting designs can vary from situation to situation, from designer to designer. In contrast, an emphasis on analyzing a problem and rationally choosing the best solution occludes design possibilities.

Designers simultaneously pay attention to the whole while designing the parts.

…practicing design differs from the theoretical understanding of what design is. Learning design thinking therefore requires actual participation in designing in which experts can “coach, not teach, learners,” to use Schön’s phrase.

Technology can be a tool for learning design thinking and facilitating cultural change. Instead of designing abstractions such as roles, communication paths, and strategies, they designed tangible artifacts. We believe this played an important role in helping them acquire design thinking. Therefore, to help acquire design thinking, as practitioners we need to constantly challenge people’s assumptions. In this relationship, we are always conscious about our relationship with the client. We do not take our relationship with them for granted and instead try to design the relationship as part of our project. Inherently we become part of the situation that we seek to change. Power is also an issue here. Because we are hired by the organization to deliver some value, members of the organization tend to think of design as our job. They believe they can simply say what they want and we will design it. The new research program should take this reflexivity seriously. In most studies in HCI, computer-supported cooperative work (CSCW), and even participatory design, practitioners are seen as observers outside the situation. Much research is needed in this aspect of practice.

It is not clear in what process clients acquire such skills as design thinking while they initially have no idea and become defensive.

For this reason we would like to call for research that is sensitive to the issues practitioners really face. We propose a research agenda that incorporates a broader organizational frame, taking into fuller account how organizations actually change (e.g., cultural change and power relations), and one that still emphasizes the valuable roles of technology, communication, and coordination.”

Notes from “Tackling the Wicked Problem of Creativity in Higher Education”

“Tackling the Wicked Problem of Creativity in Higher Education” by Norman Jackson can be downloaded through this link.

This paper provides a good overview of some the characteristics of creativity in Higher Education. Here are parts of the paper I found to be very interesting and may be of interest to you as well:

There is an assumption underlying what follows, that creativity is important and necessary to achieving difficult things and to our individual and collective well being (not withstanding the fact that creativity can also result in bad things). The world needs people who can combine their knowledge, skills and capabilities in creative and adventurous ways to find and solve complex problems. Creativity is important to our inventiveness, adaptability and productivity as individuals, and to the prosperity and functioning of organizations and to the health and prosperity of our society and economy.

The problem with higher education is that it pays far too little attention to students’ creative development.

A third assumption is that the teaching and learning process, with all its complexity, unpredictability and endless sources of stimulation from the subjects that are taught or practiced in the field, is an inherently creative place, and there are many potential sites for creativity embedded in the professional act of teaching.

A fourth assumption is that we have constructed many barriers and inhibitors to creativity. Higher education seeks to satisfy many purposes and goals and some of these conflicts. Barriers include: staff and student attitudes/resistances/ capabilities/interests; organizational – structural, cultural, procedural; time and other resources; government policy…

But it is not enough for educators to overcome such barriers through their own ingenuity and persistence, ultimately, organizational systems and cultures themselves have to be changed. Such changes have to be led through sympathetic, inspiring and energetic leaders. A fifth assumption is that we will not change the conditions for creativity in higher education unless we can persuade the leaders and decision makers that it is worth doing.

Paradoxically, our sixth assumption is that we can all do something about this state of affairs.

We live in a world where change is exponential and we are trying to tackle the ‘wicked problem’ (Rittel and Webber 1973) of preparing students for jobs that don’t yet exist, using technologies that have not yet been invented, in order to solve problems that we don’t know are problems yet.

The world needs people who can combine their knowledge and talents in creative and adventurous ways to work with such complexity to find better and more sustainable solutions, create value, enrich our societies and cultures, and enhance their own sense of identity and wellbeing in the process.

Compared to some of the world’s wicked problems, the problem of creativity in English or any other higher education system may seem trivial. But I would argue that the problem of creativity in any education system is fundamental to enabling mankind to grapple with the wicked problems that emerge from all the social, cultural, political and technological and complexity that surrounds us on a planet that itself is full of complexity.

The problem is that higher education values above everything else individual academic achievement while preparing people for a lifetime of cooperation and co-creation. Our educational programmes demand conformity and prescribe learning outcomes that only value learning that we expect, while we espouse the desire for originality in the products of learning. And our emphasis on formal learning and explicit knowledge at the expense of the tacit and informal is at odds with the epistemologies of successful practice in work environments.


So, what is the problem?

1.     …It is more a sense of dissatisfaction with a higher education world that seems, at best, to take creativity for granted, rather than a world that celebrates the contribution that creativity makes to academic achievement and personal wellbeing.

2.     Our problem is not that creativity is absent but that it is omnipresent. That it is taken for granted and subsumed within analytic ways of thinking that dominate the academic intellectual territory.

3.     Although teaching and designing courses are widely seen as sites for creativity: teachers’ creativity and creative processes are largely implicit and are rarely publicly acknowledged and celebrated.

4.     Although we expect students to be creative, creativity is rarely an explicit objective of the learning and assessment process (except for a small number of disciplines in the creative arts). Creativity is inhibited by predictive outcome based course designs, which set out what students will be expected to have learnt with no room for unanticipated or student determined outcomes. Assessment tasks and assessment criteria that limit the possibilities of students’ responses are also significant inhibitors of their creativity.

5.     Many teachers find it hard to translate the generic language and processes of creativity into their subject-specific contexts. Conversely, many higher education teachers have limited knowledge of creative approaches to teaching even within their discipline.

6.     … any conversation about creativity raises many issues and barriers in the work environment that people believe inhibits or stifles their attempts to nurture creativity.

7.     Moving outside the academic world, many teachers, particularly those who have only known the academic world, find it hard to imagine life outside the academy, and to appreciate that success in the trans-disciplinary world does require people to be creative in ways that are not determined by ways of thinking and being in their discipline, and do involve creativity through collaborative enterprise.

8.     the sheer complexity of the concept of creativity is itself a potential barrier to a) persuading the academy that we can support learners’ creative development and b) enabling the academy to operationalise the idea in any meaningful way.  


[Greene, 2006] identifies at least 60 personalised models that are in the minds of creative people when they create. From his study Greene concludes that anyone treating creativity as one thing (for example: businesses seeking environments to support creativity) is not only failing to support most of it, but is probably hurting more creation than it is helping.

A second lesson that might be learned from Greene’s work is to encourage learners, through well designed thinking tools and facilitated conversation, to reflect on and develop their own models of how they are creative.

QCA [Qualification and Curriculum Authority – the schools system regulator and main R&D enterprise)] (2005) suggests that creativity involves pupils in:

• Questioning and challenging

• Making connections, seeing relationships

• Envisaging what might be

• Exploring ideas, keeping options open

• Reflecting critically on ideas, actions, outcomes


The creative process involves: thinking or behaving imaginatively. That such imaginative activity is purposeful: directed to achieving an objective. That these processes must generate something original and the outcome of the process must be of value in relation to the objective. QCA

When we contextualize abstract notions of creativity in the world of a higher education teacher, through a question like ‘what does being creative mean when you design a course?’ teachers begin to give meaning to their own creativity in the contexts in which they work (McGoldrick, 2002 and Oliver, 2002):

– creativity as personal innovation – something that is new to individuals. This is often about the transfer and adaptation of ideas from one context to another;

– creativity as working at and across the boundaries of acceptability in specific contexts: it involves taking risks; creativity as designs that promote the holistic idea of ‘graduateness’ – the capacity to connect and do things with what has been learnt and to utilise this knowledge to learn in other situations;

– creativity as making sense out of complexity, i.e. working with multiple, often conflicting factors, pressures, interests and constraints;

– creativity as a process of narrative-making in order to present the ‘real curriculum’ in ways that conform to the regulatory expectations of how a curriculum should be framed

Jackson and Shaw (2006) reveal that academics associate a number of features with creativity regardless of disciplinary, pedagogic or problem working context. For example:

       Being imaginative

       Being original

       Being curious with an enquiring disposition – willing to explore, experiment and take risks

       Being resourceful

       Being able to combine, connect, syntehsise

       Being able to think critically and analytically

       Being able to represent ideas and communicate them to others


Alltree et al (2004) identified several conditions that appear to facilitate students’ creativity:


• having sufficient time and space in the curriculum to allow students to develop their own creativity

• having sufficiently varied and diverse working situations to enable all students to be creative

• allowing students the freedom to work in new and interesting ways

• challenging students with real, demanding and exciting work

• designing assessment which allows for outcomes which are not narrowly predetermined

• fostering a climate within a module, programme or department which encourages experimentation, risk taking, observation/awareness, evaluation and personal development for both staff and students

• continuing academic debate within the discipline, and dialogue with the various stakeholders, about the nature of the subject and the role of creativity within it


An analysis of twenty-eight accounts of teaching that was deliberately trying to encourage students to be creative in a range of disciplinary contexts (Jackson, 2004) revealed the things that higher-education teachers do to promote students’ creativity.

To summarise, teaching for creativity requires a pedagogic stance that is facilitative, enabling, responsive, open to possibilities, and collaborative, and which values process as much as outcomes. Teachers operate in strong cultural and procedural environments that have significant impact on what they can do as teachers to promote students’ creativity. In spite of, or perhaps because of, these constraints, teachers who care about creativity are able to overcome these barriers to create, through their pedagogy, curricular spaces and opportunities for learning that encourage and reward students for their creativity.


What is the difference between design and art?

Yesterday, I had a conversation with my colleague regarding the difference between art and design. We both felt they are clearly not the same thing, however, found it quite difficult to explain what it is exactly that separates them.

I always thought that the difference lies in the reason design and art are created. Art, from my point of view (as a designer) is born from someone’s need to express themselves. Design, however, is focused on whoever is going to interact with the design. It seems to me that you need to understand who your “user” is, who your market is, and who your client is in order to produce good design. You need to learn to understand yourself in order to produce good art. Naturally, you need to understand yourself to become a good designer, but I don’t think it is as crucial as it is in art. But I’m not an artist.

While my colleague and I were discussing this, we thought that it may also have something to do with constraints versus freedom. Artists seem to have more freedom and to be able to handle it better than some designers may. Personally, I find constraints to be a crucial creativity inducer. I don’t cope well with blank sheets of paper and no brief. In order to start creating something, I have to at list create my own brief. Do artists do that as well?

Looking for an answer to what the difference between the two may be, I came across this post. It suggests the following differences:

Good Art Inspires. Good Design Motivates.

Good Art Is Interpreted. Good Design Is Understood.

Good Art Is a Taste. Good Design Is an Opinion.

Good Art Is a Talent. Good Design Is a Skill.

Good Art Sends a Different Message to Everyone.

Good Design Sends the Same Message to Everyone.

I find these statements to be quite frustrating. I can’t agree with any of the statements regarding design. For example, I don’t think that good design is a skill versus talent. If that was true, every designer that had practice would have been a top designer. Also, I believe great designs have another layer to them – not just the layer someone can understand, but also one that someone can interpret. Does that mean it is art?

What I appreciated about the post is that it does not claim to know the answer, but merely to share a hypothesis.

I’m left with trying to make more sense of this, and I should probably sit down for a good conversation with an artist one day. Any volunteers?

Creative Teaching – Teaching Creativity

Notes from reading “Creative Teaching – Teaching Creativity” (2007) by Aud Berggraf Saebo, Laura A. McCammon, Larry O’Farrell

Authors quoting: Lucas, B. (2001). Creative Teaching, Teaching Creativity and creative learning. In A. Craft, B. Jeffrey & M. Leibling (Eds.), Creativty in Education. London – New York: Continuum. )

“Creativity is a state of mind in which all of our intelligences are working
together. It involves seeing, thinking and innovating. Although it is often found
in the creative arts, creativity can be demonstrated in any subject at school or in
any aspect of life.

Authors paraphrase of: Fisher, R., & Williams, M. (Eds.). (2004). Unlocking Creativity: Teaching Across the Curriculum. London: David Fulton Publishers:

 …” the processes of creative evolution consist of generation, variation and originality. To create is to generate something, to be productive in thought, word or deed. But generation is not enough. Variation and differentiation are needed. Creativity does not repeat itself; it always contains something original and new… Many creative breakthroughs occur through intuitive insight, when a problem is intuitively seen in a new way or from a fresh viewpoint. …The challenge for schools and social institutions is to shift the focus of education onto the development of a population that is capable of thinking and taking new initiatives, not merely repeating what past generations have done. They must be equipped for a world of challenge and change.

four points to check whether a lesson has stimulated the
students’ creative thinking. Are students
• applying their own imagination?
• generating their own questions, hypothesis, ideas and outcomes?
• developing skills or techniques through creative activity ? and
• using judgement to assess their own or others creative work?

The most important keys to individual creativity, says Fisher (2004) are:

Motivation – which is the key to creativity. The things we want to do, we feel
passionate about; they engage us and are fed by internal encouragement.

Inspiration – which means being inspired by oneself or by others, getting fresh
input and lots of knowledge and stimulating curiosity by being more observant
and asking more questions.

Gestation – that is allowing time for creative ideas to emerge. We need time to
think things through on conscious and unconscious levels. Creative insights
often result from processes that are unconscious and lie below the level of

Collaboration – because we normally are more creative when we have others to support us. The learning environment in school needs to open up for ideas to be created, examined, shared and tried out, and for this we need creative partners.”

Authors paraphrase of: NACCCE. (1999). National Advisory Committee on Creative and Cultural Education : All our Futures: Creativity, Culture and Education. London: DFEE.

“Teaching creatively occurs when teachers use imaginative approaches to make learning more interesting, exciting and effective, while teaching for creativity takes place when forms of teaching that are intended to develop young people’s own creative thinking and behaviour are introduced… Creative teaching is regarded as a key component in all good teaching, but it does not guarantee that the children are developing their own creative potential.”

What triggers our creativity?

There are small things I do to trigger my creativity. Whether I use well structured techniques like inserting ideas into a “must should could” scheme, or simply focus on something else until ideas “come to me” – my door is always open for creativity.

There is a certain magic in knowing that something new (to me) is going to come up any moment now.

However, I wonder if the more we practice the same methods of triggering creativity, the less creative they allow us to be? Also, I believe each person has techniques that work for him, and some that just don’t. This is why I’m always looking for more ways to trigger creativity. 

In this article I found some interesting ideas people have. I’m sharing my techniques on twitter under #TriggersMyCreativity. If you want to join the discussion and share your secrets, you are welcome to add comments to this blog or simply tweet and include #TriggersMyCreativity in your tweet :)

Do we need boredom in order to be creative?

Do we need boredom in order to learn?

Recently, I took part in a journal club exploring a paper regarding boredom in the lecture theater – warning us from the destructive nature of boredom.

However, during the journal club we began discussing a possibility of boredom being an integral, and at times crucial, part of successful learning. One associate professor even suggested (naturally, while supporting his stand with the appropriate literature) that one cannot reach a state of enlightenment without reaching a state of “profound boredom”.

A similar stand was taken in this article (written by Scott Adams, creator of the cartoon show “Dilbert”) asking people to find time to be bored for the sake of creativity (and therefore – the world…). 

Personally, I can’t say I get bored very often. Actually, it only takes a few seconds before I already start doing something else that interests me. Even when I stare out the window “vacantly” it’s not because I’m bored, it’s because I’m thinking or reflecting (and that, to me, is interesting). 

I think that “boredom” takes different forms, and I’m not sure I agree with either the paper nor the article regarding its role in our lives. I don’t see it as an “enlightenment inducer”, as a “learning terminator” or as a “creativity generator”.

A person who has a need to express his/her creativity will do so regardless of being bored of something else. Growing up, I have always preferred concentrating on my creative projects rather than listening to class. I did so, not necessarily because the class was boring, but because I found my projects to be more interesting.

This leads me to the conclusion that sometimes people refer to boredom as the list favorable/interesting option they can think of. If that was the only option they had – I’m not sure if they would have regarded it as being boring at all.

About Learning and Tweetting

Recently, I began using Twitter. I’ve known about it for years, but was frankly too afraid to try it myself. My pursuit to maintain some level of privacy in my life, had led me to the conclusion that social networking is just not for me.

For years I’ve been the “lurker” – enjoying the benefits social networking offers without actually contributing to it. I had a Facebook account only so I could see my closest friends’ photos and updates – and never put anything up there myself. I read numerous blogs and have learned hips from them, but have never bothered to write my own. I even avoided typing anonymous replies to posts I enjoyed. All, until the past couple of months. 

As I was starting a new research project (about teaching, learning and design) I recalled a conversation I had with a colleague regarding “open research”. If you have yet to encounter this concept, the main idea of it is that you perform parts of your research in an open-online environment (e.g. a blog). At the university, we tend to keep a lot of what we do behind the scenes, and only when we reach the final “answers” we were looking for – we publish them.

This behavior may lead to well-polished studies and results, but those are usually shared only through the academic channels of journals, books, or conferences. The unfortunate part of it is that a lot of the first stages of research, as literature reviews for example, are performed behind closed doors. 

“Open-research” suggests that by conducting as many parts of your research as you can openly, you can contribute to the community while receiving back from it. For example, if I write about what I’m researching/exploring I hope to create synthesis that would be of interest to others, while learning from their comments, discussions and links to further resources I wouldn’t have thought of or found myself.

So, going back to my small “social media revolution” – I opened this blog, and as I said in the beginning – I also recently started using Twitter. I did so when I wanted to get some feedback and tips regarding my blog, and thought to myself I should try and see if someone out there, in the #design community on Twitter could help me?

The pressure was on. As I was about to send out my very first tweet, I felt both anxious and excited at once. What is going to happen next? Who will be able to help me? What would they say?

And so I tweeted. That’s it – it was up there for the whole world to see!

Or………. was it?

By the time I typed #design in the search field to see my first post in its glory, I discovered 2 highly embarrassing facts:

1. The post wasn’t there. It took me a while to find that it was only showing the Top tweets (which naturally, my first post wasn’t a part of…).

2. When I chose to see All tweets (rather than only the top ones) I discovered that my post was already long down the list of tweets and, as we can all assume, probably wasn’t seen by anyone other than me.

Disappointing? I’m not sure… Something in me was quite relieved to discover I didn’t have to dive into the rush immediately, but rather take some time to learn the rules of this foreign territory. And so I started my Twitter journey.


After spending 1 hour on Twitter I can now say the following:

1. I can probably do this all day, every day. (How scary!!!)

2. I just had one of the most intensive learning experiences of my life! I’ve been exposed to more resources, ideas, projects, people and initiatives than I could ever imagine. I’ve deepened my understanding of concepts I was already exploring and was exposed to many new ones. (How exhilarating!)

3. Working in the field of Educational Media, I was familiar with the idea of Twitter being used in classes and conferences as a platform for discussions between participants/students. I have always found that to be rather annoying to be frank, and didn’t see the benefit of people typing their thoughts through this platform instead of raising their hands and speaking out to encourage in-class/in-session discussions. However, after exploring Twitter from a different angle, and learning so much, I can now see that it may have many possibilities to enhance teaching and learning. That is, if it is being used in a slightly different way if I may suggest (mainly, not as a discussion tool for people who are sitting in the same room together).

This is “a documentary exploring design thinking, a movement that tries to distinguish design as a ‘surface’, from its thinking ‘behind.’”

These guys are looking for support and donations, and are offering some creative ways of thanking their supporters. Learn more on: kickstarter

Thank you Stacey Sheppard for introducing this beautiful project to me.