[vimeo http://vimeo.com/27215981 w=525&h=350] Disastercamp was a five-day summer class we taught twice in June/July that students to design creative solutions for disaster response. Inspired by the 2011 Imagine Cup Emergency Response and Crowd Sourcing challenge, the course investigated the extent to which natural disasters are ever “natural” and looked to design as a methodology for creative problem-solving. Participants engaged with each step of the design process as they moved toward a final concept that leveraged social media and other tools to improve communication and coordination for disaster relief.

Lesson #3: Classroom collaboration is difficult. Disastercamp was co-facilitated by Francesca Fay (English), Dylan Snowden (formerly with FEMA), Eulani Labay and Francis Carter (Parsons the New School for Design). Everyone brought a valuable perspective to the class, but I found it really challenging to co-coordinate. Who would facilitate when? Would we contradict each other? Does that matter? How could we take advantage of what everyone was bringing to the class without losing coherency? I've invited people who work outside of Room 402 to come to all of the courses I teach - design critics, an entire college class, filmmakers, etc - and I feel strongly that some aspect of that is really important, but I really struggle with how best to develop that relationship. One of the most common frustrations I heard at DML last spring from educators who work with young people in out-of-classroom situations (after-school, etc) was that it's really challenging for them to get involved in K-12 because of district restrictions, not knowing where to find partner teachers, etc. Something I didn't say there, but that became clear with Disastercamp, was that those partnerships are incredibly valuable - but they're really challenging to cultivate on the teacher side as well.

Lesson #2: Sometimes the design process is the best methodology and sometimes it isn't. I was asked the other day (in an interview for the New Visions Digital Teacher Corps, which I wasn't accepted to) about the possibilities for bringing "design thinking" into other subject-area courses. (The same question came up for me earlier this summer when I heard about another teacher using the design process to facilitate essay writing in her English classes.) I'm pretty skeptical about this; I see a significant difference between the learning experiences through which we try to move students toward an understanding that we're certain of (for example, how to find the derivative of a function, or write a letter to the mayor) and ones where the answers are truly unknown to us (what are the possibilities of using social media for disaster response?) If the design process is used to solve problems creatively, I have a hard time imagining how to apply it to situations where we want to point students toward a known answer.

Lesson #1: I don't really know how to formally assess the design process. When students are engaged with finding derivatives and writing letters - activities that, presumably, their teachers know how to do themselves - maybe it's easier to define what an "assessment" might look like because the outcomes are anticipated. But, when thinking creatively - like when trying to find new solutions for disaster response - the outcomes are often unknown. How do you write a rubric for that? We had clear expectations for what students would learn regarding social media and the nature of "natural" disasters, and these understandings were manifest in their solutions - but when we asked them what they learned, they talked about persistence, and being able to justify their design decisions, and having a user in mind. How do you anticipate that? My design rubric is here; I find it useful as a place to begin (it's helped me to overcome a problem I have with not making my expectations clear enough), but I think the most successful "assessment" of the design process happens throughout, with critique and iteration. I'm not yet sure how to capture that.