Recently, I was sent a few articles about Imagineering at Breda University of Applied Sciences, where my thesis supervisor holds a post. After reading these articles, I felt there were a number of similarities between the many associated concepts including 'Complexity Theory', 'Emergence', 'Narrative Modes', 'Design Research', and 'Value Creation' (Nijs, 2015) and my own work on the "portfolio approach to teaching and learning".
One of the main underlying concepts is that of complex problems versus complicated problems. The notion of complexity is similar to that of ill-structured cognitive domains and their realization in the classroom. A complex problem may be defined as one that is non-linear and that may not be solved by a series of reproducible steps to achieve that same result every time. Similarly, the processes at play in the classroom are complex in that they are often non-linear, interdependent and subject to whim and whimsy of the key players in that classroom. As such, they are difficult to manage and require great skill on the part of the practitioner, or teacher, to manage. As a result, from the perspective of the stakeholder, or in my case the supervising teacher, monitoring for assessment and feedback is very difficult and must be done within the context of each classroom.
The notion of complexity and ill-structured cognitive domains gives rise to the concept of emergence. In my work with practice teachers, I have found that the only meaningful way in which to engage in formative feedback is to allow the feedback to emerge from the discussion based on observed classroom practices. This is much the same methodology espoused in the Imagineering program. By allowing the participants, who are themselves stakeholders in the process, to actually participate in creating the feedback, that very feedback becomes much more meaningful and powerful. In this manner, I can discuss with the teachers whom I am observing and rather than comment on what I may have done in a particular situation, or on what I thouight they should do, I give them room to narrate to me the situation, impacting factors, and other relevant information to tell a story of that situation and what they saw happening. From that vantage point, we then can start to deconstruct the situation and arrive together at a opinion of what happened. More often than not, the student-teacher is far more critical of themselves than I would ever be and this leads to a much greater construction of knowledge for the student-teacher.
A narrative of learning
This type of emergent feedback is at the same time more beneficial to the recipient but more difficult to both participants, myself and the practicing teacher. In many cases, the student wants to receive a linear, step-by-step process for dealing with the various eventualities in their classrooms. When these are not forthcoming, uncertainty is induced. However, this very uncertainty is the what pushes us to seek better answers to our challenges. Indeed, the mentors also often prefer to resort to such feedback in order to save themselves that level of uncertainty and to deal with the challenge of leading all participants through the uncertainty to a better 'truth' at the end.
In support of the principle of emergence in relation to narratives of learning, I encourage my students to pursue a narrative mode in their reflective processes. Given the multitude of processes that are in swirl during a classroom event, in order to actually place each event in its proper place and significance, we must try to understand the sequence and impact of events and the unfolding of meaning as it develops through a classroom period. In the following diagram taken from my thesis, this set of processes is almost entirely that: process. Products are important in terms of finishing something, but even in Math class, you get more points for the process of working out the question, even if you get the wrong answer.
Process over product
From this understanding, I also guide my students through design thinking, an approach in which, "the innovation and creative process is as important as the final product, involving all the social actors in the construction and reconstruction of knowledge" (Camargo-Borges, 2015, p. 31). Part of the reflective process for student-teachers involves examining the days' events and seeking to make sense of what happened. In this example, the notion that the process is as important as the product cannot be understated. Given the range of social actors in any educational setting, the best we can hope for is to understand one particular set of circumstances, knowing that this particular set may not come together again. Similar circumstances may arise, but never the same.
In the classroom, the concept of value creation arises from the belief that we can contribute meaningfully to our peers both in real-time and virtually. This is one of the underlying concepts of my portfolio approach. By making our thinking visible to our peers through dialogue and the use of media, we can strive to pursue forms of 'parallel thinking' in which deBono (1999) tells us that the "emphasis is on designing (italics are mine) a way forward. (p. 4)"
deBono, E. (1999). Six thinking hats. London: Penguin.
Camargo-Borges, C. (2015). Designing for learning: Rethinking education as applied in the Master in Imagineering. World Futures., 71., 26-39.
Nijs, D. (2015). The complexity-inspired design approach of Imagineering. World Futures. 71., 8-25.