The Most Amazing Day(s): Teaching as Experience Design

For the past few days, ever since inNOVAtion Lab’s phenomenal trip to Corbett Inc.’s Fluxspace, I’ve been trying to figure out what has been happening in class.  The trip to Flux was a highlight of a very young year, and it comes on the heels of another highlight, our trip to the B.Phl Innovation Festival  (see here, and here, and here), which followed a few other key moments–our google Hangout session with Designer Phil Holcombe and a Zoom chat with serial entrepreneur Jeremy Miller.

In each of these instances, but especially in our trips to Philadelphia and Norristown, there has been a perceptible feeling that something unique is happening.  We’re all learning, but I’m not teaching…at least not in the sense that I’m delivering information they must know for a future performance (test, quiz, whatever) as evidence of attaining knowledge.

And yet evidence exists.  Both trips yielded deeply emotional responses from many of the students.  At B.Phl’s Innovation festival, students explored sessions geared for adults working in the business or social sector and came away with an understanding of just how important creativity and innovation is to all sectors of the workforce.  As well, as they were put into spaces with adults attending the festival, they were exposed to just how difficult it can be to get adults who have been in the workforce for a long time to understand, accept, and adjust to change. For many, it was unlike any field trip ever.

Our trip to Corbett’s Fluxspace revealed an even deeper response.  Between the presentation from Independence Blue Cross’s Michelle Histand on Design Thinking, owner Bill Corbett’s inspirational life story and the time he gladly spent talking to students (you have to watch this video!), and the project presentations students did for panels of adults who volunteered their time, the experience opened doors to new opportunities for their projects, validating the type of learning we are doing in NOVA Lab. (Read this post by “Living Now.”

With Director of Innovation Ryne Anthony (@MrRyneAnthony) I organized time, planned action, provided opportunities, but teaching?  Not much.

So what is happening?

In my car this morning, I was replaying the words of Bill Corbett in his presentation to the students.  He noted that while Corbett, Inc. does sell furniture; and while, yes, they design office, school, and other institutional spaces, those aspects of their work are parts of the larger enterprise of experience design–The intentional orchestration of time and space to create moments that are memorable, meaningful, and transcendent.  Corbett, Inc is about experience design.

the-power-of-moments-9781501147760_lg

In their book, The Power of Moments Chip and Dan Heath make the case that moments that are well designed are more likely than not “peak experiences.”  That is they “boost sensory appeal…raise the stakes…and break the script*” (see * below).  Looking back at our field trips to Flux and the B.Phl Innovation festival, it is clear that these peak experiences were, in the Heath’s terms, “Defining Moments…a short experience that is memorable and meaningful.”  (Take a look at the website “Visual Synopsis” for a great sketchnote of the book)

As it has for so many of my most impactful learnings as a teacher, design offers a resolution to my teaching/learning conundrum:  All good experience design is human-centred and focused on changing us in the same way education changes us. 

This is the kind of learning experience I’ve sought to design for my whole life.  This is the center of gravity at the core of all the work we do at Form and Faculty where I am the Director of Learning.  And this is, so far as I can tell, the driving force behind the ongoing creation and expansion of opportunity at Corbett, Inc. and Flux.  

As we move through the rest of this year, we have even more defining moments ahead of us.  In January students and I will host a conversation at Philadelphia’s “Educon 2020.”  (Come see us and talk with us about:  In the Brilliant Light of Authentic Ideas: Students as Innovators ).  Later in the year we’ll be hosting a TEDx event at which students will be presenting their projects to the community.  And, yes, we’ll be returning to Flux…many times.

So what are the students and I learning?  Driven by purpose to question, connect, empathize, experiment, and, yes, “fail,” we’re learning to embody the values that drive the work of inNOVAtion Lab network:  Honesty, Teamwork, Communication, Feedback, and Creation.

I’ll take that learning any day.

Photo on 8-23-19 at 12.15 PM
Our first value…”Honesty.”

*Breaking the script is one way design peak experiences, but there’s so much else.  I thank Corbett, Inc.; Fluxspace Director of Innovation Ryne Anthony for providing the vision and space that is Flux; the administrators in my district for believing in my vision; Art Dept. Chair Tom Komp for his help, his graphic design students, his witness and counsel; and the students and parents of NOVA lab for taking the risk to experience this class.

Published by Garreth Heidt

Designerly Minded High School Humanities and Liberal Studies Teacher Faculty Mentor FIRST Robotics Team #7414--PV Retrobotics. Constantly learning, trying to be more a maker and less a consumer of culture. I believe in the infinite value of a liberal education and the power of design thinking to help make the world a better place.

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