The Value of Design: A Student and Instructor Reflect on Why It Matters
By Dan Haase and Kyle Tennant
“The design bears the burden.” This is one of our favorite axioms of Jane Vella’s. Our experience with this truth came through a college graduate course entitled “Teaching for Transformation.” Before the class began, we realized we had a major problem with the WHEN. Due to an unalterable work schedule, Kyle Tennant (the student) was not able to make the weekly required course during its slotted timeframe. The eight steps were completed. All of the WHAT, the WHAT FOR, and the HOW were written. Dan (the instructor) began to wonder . . . could the design truly bear the burden? Could Kyle still experience deep learning without actually attending the class? Fortunately, another student had the same scheduling conflict. Putting confidence in the design, and with an experimental spirit, Dan offered the course as an independent study wherein Kyle and the other student would gather weekly to work through the prepared learning tasks.
This is Dan and Kyle’s conversation about the outcome.
Dan: What was your initial response to our course?
Kyle: I think I felt both excitement and trepidation. I was absolutely thrilled to be gaining more tools for my teaching toolbox, yet taking in all of the information was certainly challenging! While I was given everything I needed to engage with the content in terms of What, What For, and How, the documents were intimidating. A learner who is new to Dialogue Education (DE) will be confused by a single learning task; imagine getting a document with over 70 on the first day of class! But you made yourself available to me via email and telephone, which resulted in an increase in excitement and courage, and a decrease in trepidation.
Dan: I know for me, I wondered how this independent study would work since you were not physically in the class where I was facilitating the tasks. It was good that you had a classmate to walk with through the tasks and without this I don’t think the course would have worked at all, due to the amount of interaction that took place in groups. What challenges did you face as the course progressed?
Kyle: The challenge for us was to do the extra work of synthesizing the learning tasks on the paper into a cohesive unit of our own understanding. With in-person learning, the facilitator transitions learners between tasks, and ultimately synthesizes them into a cohesive unit. In Dan’s absence, we were forced to link the sequence of tasks on our own—we had to work to see the connection between each piece of new content and each task. This process was frequently awkward and stilted, but in the end it made for a deep appreciation for facilitators in the design process.
Dan: How would you describe the role that design played in your learning, transfer and impact?
Kyle: The axiom we mentioned earlier – “the design bears the burden” – was proved true in that learning, transfer and impact occurred despite our facilitator’s absence. As we worked to turn these documents into cohesive pieces of understanding, we found ourselves “getting it.” Transfer happened intuitively: as a pastor working with adolescents, I began to use DE in our weekly meetings, taking what I had just worked through earlier in the week and implementing it a only a few days later. Impact came when I asked students to prepare mini-sessions on a given subject, and they had me and my volunteer staff drawing, acting out, journaling, and singing about the given content.
Dan: What suggestions or conclusions would you offer to those writing learning tasks when they will not be present to help facilitate?
Kyle: A few ideas come to mind. First, do as Dan did: be extremely available to your learners via email and phone. The lines of communication were always open, and we met with Dan frequently. Second, be sure to provide those learners in your absence with all the necessary materials—we received the handouts listed in the HOW at the beginning of each week, so we were able to keep up with the learning. Third, remember the power of a “tough verb” and a clear task. If your verbs aren’t tough, and your tasks aren’t clear, your learners can’t learn. A tough verb and a clear task needs no explanation! Lastly, trust your design and your learners. If the design is good, and your learners are willing, learning will happen!
What do YOU think about Dan and Kyle’s experiment? What’s your experience with “the design bears the burden?”
Kyle Tennant is a graduate student at Wheaton College.