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Making Ripples Rethinking Pedagogy in the Digital Age
Posted by 3DP4E

This is a tremendous resource if you are looking to implement and incorporate digital fabrication within existing curricula for beginning design students.

Making Ripples: Rethinking pedagogy in the digital age (Part 1)
Murali Paranandi
Miami University, Oxford, OH 45056

1.1. Abstract
This essay presents a pedagogical model for beginning design that introduces digital fabrication methods through an integrated learning framework. Ripples – a wall sculpture made collectively by all second year architecture and interior design students as a joint project between studio, graphics and shop-exemplifies design practice as a collective activity. In this example, solutions emerge out of interactions among multiple stakeholders through iterative experimentation and optimization. The goal of this essay is to provoke a rethinking of the status-quo pedagogical practices in order to incorporate digital fabrication within existing curricular structures as a core skill for beginning design students, rather than merely as a technology course elected by a few students. Conclusions suggest the relevance to broader contexts of lessons learned from this modest experiment.

Digital media have caused a knowledge explosion, redefined classroom content delivery methods, and changed learning environments. These changes pose significant curricular and pedagogical challenges. The 19th century model of mass education–in which a learner, after schooling, would enter a career lasting a lifetime–is no longer relevant. The quantity of knowledge in the world is doubling every 18 months according to the American Society of Training and Documentation (ASTD). Adding more courses to the curriculum is not a viable option. Instead, the focus should be on rethinking teaching practices, and
retooling pedagogies to help students develop their critical thinking and lifelong learning skills in accessing and evaluating information.

2.1. Collaborative learning
It is now more important than ever for students to know where to find the knowledge they require than it is
for them to internalize it. Siemens proposes “connectivism” as a learning theory for the digital age [1]. His approach attempts to bring about learning by active participation and by connecting people with each other and to information. These models are gaining traction in creating Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) aimed at increasing access to knowledge through distance education. The educational effectiveness of MOOCs is still a subject of debate, because they equate access to knowledge and information delivery with learning. Any further discussion on this topic is beyond the scope of this essay, except to say that the key issue in learning is engaging learners.
While computers provide easy access to knowledge, they also encourage people to be passive consumers of information. Research shows that the best learning experiences occur when people are engaged in activities that they enjoy and care about. Mitchel Resnick, professor and head of the Lifelong Kindergarten group at the MIT Media Lab, shows that when children use computers more like paint brushes and less like televisions, “playful learning” occurs because of a stronger sense of active participation, opening up new
opportunities for children to playfully explore, experiment, design, and invent [2]. This applies to the higher education learning situation as well. Essentially, this approach requires carefully framing the problems such that they are meaningful and exciting to students to engage in, and incorporating computational processes as part of the basic skills and core competencies to solve them.

The nature of the present-day problems is systemic. The knowledge required to develop design solutions transcends any individual’s mental capacity or disciplinary knowledge. This requires participation of experts from a wide range of disciplines. Computers play an important role in these regards, by connecting
people and enabling them to work together. Therefore, it is more important than ever to teach interdisciplinary collaborative approaches to creative problem solving. A more appropriate objective of learning and education in the 21st century would be to “Renaissance Communities,” instead of “Renaissance Scholars”[3].

2.2. New Practices
Architectural solutions are influenced by certain key parameters such as light, wind, economics, occupant load, etc. during the design phases. Conventional solutions culminate in architecture represented by a static structure. In reality, these parameters are not always constant; some of them vary over time. Complexities brought by the speed of change in the digital society further amplify this notion. The way people work, spend leisure time, and live has been changing at a dramatic rate directly influenced by evolving technologies. Consequently, our environments need to reflect these changes. Design projects should not only consider initial solutions, but also extended periods of redesign and evolution. Advances in digital technologies allow not just the creation of static forms, but an architecture that is adaptable to changes in environment, occupancy, program, user behavior, economics, etc. Consequently, the building’s life-cycle considerations in response to these conditions should be part of the design process. Beyond making static forms, 21st century design education needs to consider the interactions and experiences, services and
strategies, and include the creation of physical systems capable of change and adaptation. The following case studies illustrate some of these ideas.

2.3.Crowdsourced design

Figure 1. Carbon Nano-tube balloon sculpture made by crowd participation at Cincinnati Museum Center.Photo by author.

The first case study is a carbon nanotube balloon sculpture that was manufactured by a process called crowdsourcing, an overarching term that denotes enlisting a large number of individuals to perform a particular task, typically using the Web as a means [4]. The University of Wisconsin Materials Research Science and Engineering Center Interdisciplinary Education Group developed such an interactive process that involves crowds generating a giant balloon sculpture of a Carbon Nano-tube to educate the public about nanotechnologies [5]. As shown in Figure 1, it takes form through the interactions of people in a public atrium or lobby over a few days. Curious passersby participate by adding a balloon segment to a structure hung from the ceiling with a pulley mechanism. This is a self-explanatory design process, involving people separated by time and distance to generate curiosity and hook them into science through the art of making. The characteristic of this process may be understood as a recipe to generate form. This solution is designed by an interdisciplinary group with expertise in the arts, design, engineering, psychology, and science to fit the skill sets of lay people. The process of human interactions not onlygenerates the form, but an interest and curiosity about what the form represents. This ultimately leads people to learn more about nanotechnologies.

2.4.Reconfigurable Architecture

Figure 2. (Clockwise) Summer, Autumn, Winter, Spring schemes were inspired by Cook’s exploration of
New Zealand. Photos by Michael Weber

The second case study, AVROKO’s Park Avenue restaurant in New York (Figure 2) provides a good example for how objects or spaces can be designed to permit reconfiguration in order to be more engaging. The understanding of the restaurant experiences and services sets up the design and coordination of distinct iterations for interiors and seasonally inspired menus down to the business cards and matchboxes. Surfaces, lighting, and fixtures have been designed and fabricated to transform four times every year to reflect the
change of seasons [6]. Note that this process was designed for a predetermined number of transformations.

2.5. Design with Life-cycle considerations

Figure 3. (Top Left) A custom steel structural frame is made of leftovers. (Bottom Left) The skin consists of the boards that are byproducts of skateboard manufacturing. (Right) The scales of the skin are removable to be used by for informal seating. The problem of conventional buildings being conceived to provide one design solution in a static configuration is addressed by the next example. “Party Wall” by CODA provides an architecture that adapts to user behavior, context, and even its own lifecycle. It is a temporary structure engaging the urban scale of Brooklyn as a billboard [7]. This project reflects an understanding of technology, business, and human psychology (Figure 3). The geometries and material properties of industrial byproducts drive the
development of the building assembly details and strategies. Additionally its form responds to the scale of he courtyard by acting as a stage-set for a series of micro-performances, and by shedding its skin in order to accommodate those events. Upon dismantling the structure, the seating units that were designed to form scales on the lower skin are sold to the public and thus upcycled.


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