Thursday, February 17, 2011

RADical Design for LEARNING

For the past 10 years my collaborators and I have been getting dangerously stoked about radical education philosophers. Finally we, The Beginner's Mind Collective, are holding a formal MIT class, for credit (and grades), on the topic of "Radical Design for Learning." The premise is that we're at the end of a the dark ages of learning. There's a trend toward being disgusted with traditional/industrial schooling models, and now is the perfect time to experiment with redesigning learning experiences as we know them. The great news is people already are, and there are many learning saints to look up to who came before us: Ivan Illich, Maria Montessori, John Taylor Gatto, John Holt, Grace Llewellyn, Larry Harvey, Rudolf Steiner etc. They've collectively created Not Back to School Camp, Waldorf Schools, Burning Man, and much more.

The first assignment in the class is to design your own grading system. We take all the illegitimate "power" we have over the students and hand it directly to them to do with as they wish (want to assign yourself an A arbitrarily? Great! Want your friend to assign you a letter grade based on how much you grow? Okay! Now let's move on with the real learning). From there we meet with the direct students of our learning saints for discussion.

We open class by singing a song about revolution, "Go Back to the Mountain Turn the World Around." Then we have a minute of silence. Our first activity was to share our best and worst learning experiences with each other, and then try to distill insight from each of our experiences to start to create a list of guidelines we call the Folk Wisdom of Learning Experiences.

Since it's also an Action Laboratory, we undergo various learning experiences ourselves: Awareness Exercises with local artist Jeff Lieberman (host of Discovery's Time Warp show), Sufi Dances, Technology Workshops with the original creators of Scratch, Design Blocks, and Mod Kit for Arduino, etc.

Finally, each person designs a learning experience of their own, for themselves or for others. One option is like an art class where you paint a picture in the style of a famous artist, so you might create a manipulable in the style of Montessori and leave it on a playground to see what people do with it. Another option is to take your own direction: throw a party for 36 hours with platforms hanging from your loft ceiling -- the catch? No one can touch the ground for 36 hours. (Is that a learning experience? What are people learning?) Design a tour of the city that highlights the wealth-poverty disparity and offer it along side the traditional tours. Make a seed bombing handbook, and try it out with people. Anything goes! As long as you try something out that you are personally stoked about and as long as it's experimental enough that it might fail, and try it more than once (iteration!).

Here is the webpage for the course:
We do all of our discussions on this Facebook Group, so feel free to join the group and discuss the media (readings, videos, etc.) even if you're not enrolled in the course. If there's enough popular demand we will try to get an online component going.
And for goodness sake watch the 3 minute Movie Trailer.

Our first class was on Tuesday, and we were excited by the diversity of people in attendance (and overwhelmed by 34 people, more than 3 times the number we can handle). One student was formerly part of Il Sistema, one from MIT Business School with a background in Peace Corps, MIT lecturers, undergrads, grads, dropouts, everything! The first class was also attended by the leader of MIT Media Lab's Lifelong Kindergarten, founders of Sprout Community Center, and a Not Back to School Camp long-time senior counselor.