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PHD-DESIGN  October 2011

PHD-DESIGN October 2011

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Subject:

Re: Design Education: Brilliance without Substance

From:

Teena Clerke <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

PhD-Design - This list is for discussion of PhD studies and related research in Design <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Fri, 7 Oct 2011 12:46:58 +1100

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Hi Stefanie,
to trouble when you say,

> In terms of struggling to learn or write in an academic way- i feel this is
> mainly a problem of the school or institution that is teaching. 

following Dorothy Smith, my understanding of 'institution' is the social interaction on a local scale 
between particular people and the material environment in a specific historical moment and physical 
place, rather than an entity or education program. While your experiences are similar to those of 
the people in my study, we might look at this from a slightly different epistemological position than 
that which perpetuates the idea of it being an institutional problem. Based on talking to PhD students 
in many other fields, my understanding is that they also struggle to learn new skills in an ongoing 
process of 'becoming-scholarly', albeit in different ways to designers. There is a large literature on 
transformative learning (Mezirow 1981, 1997; Taylor 1998) that suggests that struggle, albeit with 
the right balance between challenge and skills set, is necessary for deep rather than surface 
learning (throughout life).

However, what I have learned from my research is that the people in my study draw on all their 
skills as they interact with individual students in particular classroom contexts, including those 
generated through design practice and those generated through the practice of scholarly research. 
This means that these people are guiding undergraduate students towards research through their 
own research (and design) practices that become embedded in their teaching practices, difficult to 
separate, difficult to articulate and very, very difficult to justify with undergraduate students for the 
reasons I suggested previously. Yet they are doing it nonetheless, each person, one class at a time. 
My study suggests that what you speak about is happening, it's just not particularly well understood 
partly because it escapes documentation, and partly because it is difficult to write about and 
'evidence' in quantifiable terms and therefore value in a disciplinary context that is still finding its 
research 'legs', which means there is a very small and narrow theoretical tradition on which to draw.

> I feel that this is largely to do with (and im sure i will be corrected)
> the fact that at an undergraduate level, to be a designer you need to perfect
> your craft before you can 'reflect' upon it. 

I also suggest that the idea of perfecting craft, and separating 'design' from 'research' within this 
term, reinforces the problems of which you speak. A university education (in design, for example) 
might be considered a way of preparing people to identify what they need to learn for the future by 
expanding their thinking and capacities in various ways through intimate introductions (through their 
interactions with teachers and through a design lens) to new and foreign fields. Which, according to 
my research, is what is happening on a very low key level and in localised ways. I assume there are 
many other design academics on this list who are doing this too, but what they do and how they do 
it goes unnoticed primarily because of the lack of value afforded in what Strathern calls the 
contemporary 'audit culture' in universities that values quantifiable evidence of scholarship 
measured for example, through publications audit systems. What interests me is on what fields do 
design academics base their theorisations if not design, and in which arenas do they publish if not 
design? 

cheers, teena

Mezirow, J, 1981, A critical theory of adult learning and education, Education for Adults, Vol. 1
Mezirow, J, 1997, "Transformative Learning: Theory to Practice", in Transformative Learning in 
Action: Insights from Practice. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education. no. 74, P. Cranton 
(Ed), Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, pp. 512.
Smith, DE, 1987, The everyday world as problematic: a feminist sociology, Northeastern University 
Press, Massachusetts.
Strathern, M, 2000, Audit cultures: anthropological studies in accountability, ethics, and the 
academy, Routledge, London
Taylor, E. 1998, The theory and practice of transformative learning: a critical review, Information 
Series No. 374.

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