3 Quiddity of Design in [learning + design]

Nicola Parkin

The real cycle you’re working on is a cycle called yourself. The machine that appears to be ‘out there’ and the person that appears to be ‘in here’ are not two separate things. They grow toward Quality or fall away from Quality together.

– Robert Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

The institutional narratives of alignment, efficiencies, and solutions do not invite us to speak of learning design with any depth or feeling. Focusing on its utility and its techniques at the expense of its mysteries and its passions is a seduction of management designed to elicit our performance. We know that the lived realities of our practices are far richer and more enigmatic than mere method.

I speak as an adult educator working across professional and academic expressions of learning design. I pursue learning design for its ontological depths, for its existential shadows, for its ineffable “somethingness,” that which is “more than we can tell,” as Michael Polanyi (1966/2009) so perfectly puts it. I have come to appreciate that – ironically! – the fuzzy ambiguity of a learning design spoken like this is actually its strength. Why? Because if we are to resist the hollow ascendency of a learning design tied to only what is measurable, rather than for human being and becoming, we need less defined ways of talking about and engaging with our work. My aim then, as Isabelle Stengers puts it is, “not to say what is, or what ought to be,” but to arouse an awareness of a different kind (2005, p. 994).

The puzzle before us is [learning + design]—or, reasonably equivalently, [instruction + design], [education + design]. In each equation, it is the design part that is the stranger. We have grown skilled at asking about the “learning” part as we go about materialising its potentials and promises. However, we rarely ask about the “design” part – even though, as Sean Michael Morris (2018) holds, it is vital that we attend to and recognise design as teaching.

Discovering a world of design within one’s existing teaching work can be a revelation, as my colleague Jane found out.

I think for many academics like myself, what’s design, they don’t really understand it. But my personal experience of it is profoundly liberating. Profoundly. I’ve been looking for this ever since I started teaching and didn’t realise it.

(J. Haggis, personal communication, May 14, 2015)

Yes, opening to what or where is design in our [learning + design] work gives us new perspectives, approaches, and questions. We open our “design eyes,” if you like, onto what we are already doing. When we attend to design as such, rather than just the contents and processes of our designing, we are attending to more than what is immediately before us. We see behind, beyond, and within. We might become more attuned to the contexts and conditions for our learning design work, for instance. In other words, being conscious of “design itself” enables us to work more expansively, critically and deliberately.

The point is not to arrive at an agreed position, but its opposite: to open a conversation. When we ask difficult questions about what is learning, what is design, or what is [learning + design], we are advancing the discourses within which those questions are, or could be, asked (Willis, 2017). As a “field” as such, wherein its practitioners might philosophically self-trouble and contest their work, learning design is weak – so weak that, arguably, it falls short of being a field at all – although this critical reader may be a turning point. Learning design, if it is truly concerned with learning, might begin with enquiring more deeply about itself as a practice. But learning design is a child of higher education, which is poor in a philosophy of itself (Barnett, 2017), its advance into maturity rests with each practitioner, and its conduct as a practice is lodged in our conscience. Surely our work as educators is, on one level, to productively unsettle the ideas that frame our doing and being in the world, in favor of a deeper understanding?

Let’s begin it now.

Asking About Design As Such

Australian researchers Sue Bennett, Shirley Agostinho and Lori Lockyer (2017) found that when university teachers talk about their learning design processes, they do not report using formal models of designing. Yet, even if teachers do not call what they are doing designing per se, is it reasonable to say that their teaching decisions are acts of design? Yes, say our trio; they claim that what teachers naturally do counts as a form of designing, since the actions of their work seem to share the characteristics of professional designing, such as working within constraints, reflection, and iteration. Peter Goodyear (2015) is more measured, calling teachers’ practices design-like (p. 31), because while they might look like design, these practices lack the professional designer’s discipline to curtail impulse with circumspection and to see one’s work as occurring within broader frames of reference. Goodyear points out that without this disciplined practice awareness in place, teachers tend to make assumptions and rush to implement solutions.

We could say that what is missing in this teaching-as-design picture is a necessary philosophical dimension to the work. The same applies to professional learning designers, for while we might have design in our job title, we too work from our own personal approaches (Kanuka et al., 2013; Kenny et al., 2005), and are just as likely as the design-naïve individual to ignore the philosophical dimension of our work. For anyone designing within an institutional frame, unless we consciously and critically consider how our designing is conditioned by the contexts of its practice, its figure in our educative work is, at base, functional. Design is then merely a means to an end—a deadline, or a standard—or endlessly looped, simply part of our “frenzied rituals of organisational behavior,” as Stephen Marshall so expertly puts it (2018, p. 11). Even if we were disposed to ask about the root assumptions of our work, realistically, we rarely have time.

Enquiring into the nature of our learning design work “as design” does not mean we have to engage with the rules and formalities of design methods or learn its jargon. There is nothing more for us to “do.” Instead, we can arouse a different kind of awareness in our work, to our work: we can ask about design’s quiddity or “whatness;” we can ask what is undesigned in design, and how design shows itself to be when it is unencumbered by our clever theories and conceptions. After all, these are just designs on design. “Design,” as such, is too big, too complex and indistinct to be a singular phenomenon, though it may be a confluence of other phenomena, or found somehow in the boundaries between phenomena (Salustri & Eng, 2007); indeed, by its very nature design resists reduction and is always expanding its meanings (Buchanan, 1992). Designers are not rule makers, they are rule breakers – and they deliberately and constantly challenge and unsettle their field (Buchanan, 2001).

The quiddity of design is behind, beyond, and within our designing rituals. It is that which animates from its source, and its gestures and signatures are ours to discover as our own, being already lively in our educative endeavors, though more than we can say.

The work of asking about design is necessarily philosophical, because design is itself at root philosophic. Design reveals and deals with our ways of being in the world, bringing axiological matters right into our charge, and as such, requires us to be thoughtful. Design, says interaction designers Löwgren and Stolterman (2004), “deals with the profound and existential issues in a very tangible way. As a designer, you have to think about the relation between what can and what ought to be done. Design reveals, in its very practical activities, very philosophical questions concerning how people can and should live their lives” (p. 11).

Applied to learning design, a philosophic appreciation of what is design invites us to become involved with the question about how education ought to be. However, philosophical enquiry in our practice is situated, explorative and generative, rather than teleological. Design philosopher Per Galle (2002) puts it this way: a philosophic stance on design enacts a responsible criticality, which strengthens and renews one’s work.

Yes, the philosophic stance is active—it penetrates and unsettles, bringing our work into new motion. In design, philosophy (thoughtfulness), action (decisions) and form (artifacts and activities) come into dynamic tensional accord. Without the philosophical element, we are dealing only with form and action, so the philosophic lends the work of it a satisfying substantiveness. Indeed, without the philosophical element, I argue that design loses its essential quiddity; it becomes simply a way to direct processes towards solutions—and this is the job of management, not design.

Philosophy, when brought into relation with form and action, is not lofty, but highly practical. Indeed, philosophy is fundamental to all our work, for it is philosophies that, “underlie our thinking; our social and personal existence; our innovation; and, ultimately, the solutions and the actions we undertake to address the challenges we face collectively and individually” (Konstantinou & Müller, 2016, p. 3).

By way of example: at a service coordination meeting I attend at the university, we have begun—firstly for fun, and now more earnestly—to begin our meetings with snatches of philosophy. Our very practical agenda has taken on a qualitatively richer feel: the agenda is the same, but we reflect more, we make less assumptions, we seek the underlying principle that binds us, and we ask what is important. Not only have I begun to enjoy these meetings immensely, I have become more personally invested, taking on its agenda as my own.

In the philosophic register, the subject of our attention invites our more genuine involvement. For instance, the notion of “quality” in education is ordinarily front-loaded into our practices with unproblematised hierarchical narratives of excellence – but in the philosophic vein, we can ask not just about the metrics and performances of quality, but about what quality means to us, how it appears to us, and how it moves us when we encounter its unsayable depths in our lived experience. For where is quality but in our own embrace of it?

These intuitions and enquiries already live in our work, even while they might be unspoken. Our questions about value and meaningfulness, whether spoken aloud, muttered to ourselves, or felt as a formless yearning for something “more” speak philosophy into utility, and when summoned, can come to our aid whenever we find ourselves besieged by the banal or the taken-for-granted. It is the asking that is important, not the answers, for by asking about what is good and right and true (however we understand that to be) we transcend our work as an education concerned only with effectiveness and efficiencies: a technology of education, as Gert Biesta (2004) so aptly calls it.

By these simple means – wielding the question, and adopting a deliberately thoughtful stance—we can find that, quite without any intellectual difficulty or theoretical basis at all, we are engaging philosophically in our design work. And whenever we engage philosophically in our design work, we are in the same move engaging with design itself. There: we have exhibited the quiddity of design just by asking what it might be.

But the quiddity of design is not something we gaze on “over there,” as if we are not personally involved. When we see our practices more critically, we at the same time glimpse ourselves through our practices (Segal, 2015), so that we find, in practice, we are simultaneously “in” and “out” of what we are doing: we see ourselves seeing. In and out are perspectives on the same figure. Each tells us about the other. For instance, like Ron Barnett and Carolina Guzmán-Valenzuela (2017) did, we can ask about the horizons of teaching to tell us more about teaching’s intimate spaces. We can also take the opposite stance, and ask interiorally about the outward conditions of our work. We work concomitantly from the inside out, and the outside-in.

Contradiction, movement, and play prevent us from getting caught up in philosophy’s straightjackets, and are all ways of taking care in philosophic pursuits. What I mean is – while the philosophic stance on and in one’s work might yield strength and depth and perhaps valuable personal and practical insights, it does so ironically, by withdrawing from making any claims. The philosophic, if it is to resist becoming itself a technology, a means to an end, must keep asking about itself—it must keep breaking its bounds and stay endlessly open. In other words, a philosophic approach that becomes too sure of itself, or too automatic, extinguishes itself. (It must, to be fair, not say “must” quite as much as I am doing!) As Peter Sloterdijk (2006) points out, if we are to oppose something, our response must be different to that which we oppose. If we want to oppose a technology of education, we do so by holding openness as sacred in our practices, and favoring humility and uncertainty over assurances and finishedness. In a milieu of arrogant self-assertions, inviting the gentle playfulness and earnestness of a philosophic approach to take root in our practical work is perhaps the most unquieting approach of all.

Design, like philosophy, carries its own traps. Fixate too much on the design part of [learning + design] and there is a danger that we will simply introduce another layer of technicism to learning design work. Quiddity is our friend here, reminding us to attend to design’s inner laws, rather than its rules, if you like. We attend to what is behind, beyond and within; what is at heart, what is not immediately apparent, what seems absent or distorted.

On the face of it, one need not look too far for design: design is everywhere, and we are in it. But design does not always declare itself. In fact, design is the master of hiddenness, covering or camouflaging our realities; hiding even itself from detection. Being in design is like being in a giant blind spot. The designed world we are in is largely undisclosed (Bell, 2017); below our line of sight are the thickets of invisible interconnected data, the territories of commercial interests and the wild algae blooms of algorithms that stealthily condition the activities of our work, our learning, and our leisure. Hidden as such within our artifacts and behaviors, it is easy for design to be a work of deliberate deception, hoodwinkery (Flusser, 1999) and craftiness (Singleton, 2014). With design, says Tony Fry, “what you see is not what you get” (2014, p. 12).

Our own designing activities occur largely within conditions and frames of reference that are themselves designed. As teachers, we are granted a seeming authority to design the educational experience as we see fit, but in reality, we are making our design choices within a prefigured and delimited “choice architecture” (Thaler & Sunstein, 2008). The learning management system (LMS) is a prime example of choice architecture whereby our learning design choices occur within a deliberately delimited set of socio-technical constraints configured on many fronts: by the platform “product” itself; by the institutional policies that direct its parameters and use; by the conditions for our choosing, which we may or may not notice and against which we may or may not rail; and more subtly, by the normative practices to which we all, to some degree, conform. The LMS, as William Beasley (2012) says, is a kind of walled garden designed to shut out the outside world. It creates a world within the world.

We can think of layers of design, nested one within the other – design is never alone, but always also behind, beyond and within design: [[design [design] design]]. Indeed, one way of understanding the professional learning designer’s operating zone is that of working up and down these design layers, creatively interpreting, reinforcing, transgressing, and developing them in local contexts as contextual needs and personal proclivities dictate. Design is like that: restless. We work from the outside in, and the inside out. We work largely in the dark, but towards the light. Design is at home with legitimate constraints, this is not the issue; what is important is that the constraints are explicit – that way, we can choose how we respond to them. For my own part, responding to the constraints is somewhat of a game that I like to play – I enjoy pushing the LMS as far as I can, using it as a canvas for breaking the rules. It is not the rules themselves, but the hoodwinkery that I object to.

Design’s enframing effect works both on and within our own design efforts. We regulate and constrain our own designing with our habits of thinking and doing. For instance, we assume that we ought to finish an idea we are working on, even if it comes at the expense of our contested, emergent, messy realities (the same realities that fertilise the pedagogical). Roll out neat packages of learning, and we leave little to the learner’s imagination. There is a case for less design. We have already been told not to over-stuff the curriculum—should we not also pare back the work of trying to manage and direct the experience of learning (as if it were ours to control)? Yes, “too much” design, no matter how intentionally sound, and we risk overwhelming the possibility of an original and spontaneous learning—thus undoing our innermost designs with our utmost designs, so to speak.

A [learning + design] sensibility, where we are mindful of the interactions between [learning] and [design], is surely for the myriad relations between learning and design, rather than a one-way flow. Design does not bring about learning; there is a reciprocity between design and learning. Just as design sways the possibilities of learning, learning sways the possibilities of our designing: it goes both ways. And the two are natural allies, for both learning and design have their ultimate being in what cannot be known in advance. [Learning + design] is not an equation looking for a “=.” This pairing must stay tensionally entangled for learning design to be wholly itself: [learning design].

The quiddity of design in our educational attentions is, then, something to do with remembering to notice, ask about, and excite the tensions between design and learning for the sake of learning. If our designing works against learning, even a little bit, it must be abandoned, or at least, dismantled. Design’s quiddity is lost without learning’s quiddity in its sights. As Anne-Marie Willis (2018) contends, if we are to avoid our design “doing” becoming our “undoing,” then our designing necessarily involves counter-designing. As educators, we should take this responsibility seriously.

Design’s Summonses

In our design work we come face to face with design’s “most uncertain, contradictory, dangerous, and promising summons” (Nelson & Stolterman, 2012, p. 188). This summons comes from without, in the form of great challenges, and from within, as a kind of working conscience. From the outside in, and from the inside out: to design is to let oneself be addressed, and to enter into a kind of back-and-forth dialogue with the world. The question is not an arrow but a space we enter into: when we ask about design, we invite design to ask of us: we invite the summons – and in doing so, declare ourselves already summoned.

Understood this way, design is a disclosive experience that one is “in:”

The process of design is thus a disclosure, in two senses. Firstly, it is a disclosing of the artefact that is being designed; and secondly, and simultaneously, it is an unfolding of self-understanding, since it reveals one’s preunderstandings. It uncovers the preconceptions that are constitutive of the design outcome, and at the same time brings to light the prejudices that are constitutive of what we are. The design process is an edification in two senses: it builds up the artefact and edifies the designer (Snodgrass & Coyne, 1996, p. 25).

Then – one comes to know design by paying attention to oneself in design? Is this what “being” a designer means? The design scholars point in this direction; they say that a designer is one who intentionally and consciously attends to their practice (Salustri & Eng, 2007), one who responsibly accepts the call to design (d’Anjou, 2011), who is themselves shaped by their designing (Wendt, 2018), and who is aware of the consequential involvements of their designs in the designed world (Nelson & Stolterman, 2012). A designer is one who also knows when a situation is not about design (Mitcham, 2012). None of these understandings are to do with design’s rules or conventions, but to having an awareness of oneself in dynamic relation design’s own “self,” or quiddity.

Conscious of ourselves in design and even “as” design, we lose our design naivety, but preserve the possibility of a genuine “undesigned design” rooted in its deeper layers. As such, we can no longer rely on what can be measured externally, but are thrown on our human mettle: we must rely on the quality of our awareness in practice.

Learning from Learning

The first summons is to learning itself, for in [learning + design], design is only extant by its necessary and abiding entanglement with learning. Since we as educators are already in the place of learning, we can approach design from here. The approach, however, is not a route to a destination, but a stance made within its already-hereness. We begin where we are: involved with learning. And, since learning is never what we expect it to be (Ramsden, 2003, p. 8), and in any case there is no agreement about what learning is (Barnett, 2011), thankfully, there is still room for learning about learning. Learning’s appearance cannot be known in advance, and we should not expect our designing of learning to foretell it or compel it—this would be a kind of educational arrogance. We would do well to refrain from even trying to reach an agreement about learning, for not knowing about learning keeps our learning design innocent.

Learning and design exchange forces. In the equation of [learning + design], the “+” stands in for something generative to be discovered, rather than an adding up—we have had enough of a calculative kind of education, after all. The tension between them, rather than being for resolution, brings them both into greater relief. Perhaps [learning “vs” design] might communicate my intention better, although the “vs” does not carry into our imaginations the pedagogical potency in this difficult pairing of forces. It might help if I use Maxine Greene’s powerful words from 1992 on the “educational equation” here to press home my own [learning + design] point:

We are charged, we who care about thinking and teaching, to study that equation and keep trying to discover what does not “add up.” We may be able to find connections that enable us to do something about the desire to submerge in a comfortable life, the tendency to believe blindly, the dedication to profit, even the self-infatuation of the few. … It will take critical consciousness, imagination, thoughtfulness of many kinds. It will take the opening of spaces where people can come together, where they can choose. It will take disclosures and refusals and the shaping of new visions. It will take thinking what we are doing, knowing there is no stopping place and that the search must continue on (p. 15).

Aha! Then our equation [learning + design] contains within itself an exquisite irony – for both learning and design love whatever does not “add up!”

We can find new perspectives if we play with this equation. For instance, instead of saying we design for learning, it might be better to say we design from learning. If we are not learning from learning, I think it is because we have, in part, objectified our material by speaking of teaching as the flip-side of learning. This is merely another assumption that we have made; I know this because I was surprised some years ago by a free-thinking colleague of mine who shared her own assumption that “teaching and learning” referred to the integration of teachers’ own learning into their practices. Yes – why not think of it this way? It is critical that we inhabit learning from inside the experience of learning, if we are to be experts with our material. Learning must be gained from learning itself: from its own origin, which springs in each of us, teacher and student alike.

Arguably, then, the educator’s work is to know that origin in themselves. We must avoid the trap of thinking that learning design is “over there.” We are each part of the equation; we ourselves are the brackets […] that contain [learning + design]. We open and close our work at will, ontologically, within our being. Accordingly, we let ourselves learn about [learning + design] from within its lively equation. Even at the level of a field of practice, learning design is still learning about itself, and the field is nowhere, if not lodged in our common attention to its possibilities for our work.

Design Turns Towards Difficulty

If you are finding the quiddity of design a difficult idea, and yet have read this far, then you have already entered into its spirit, for design holds within its ambit a willing embrace of difficulty; indeed, design turns towards difficulty. As such, design is a place where an educator can be at home with personal risk and the embrace of discomfort (Fellmayer, 2018). Instead of thinking about design as a means for closing down risk, design can help us find a way in.

Personally, this appreciation has helped me enormously. When I remember to orient this way, I can understand the tensions that besiege my work “as” my work, rather than something that gets in the way of it. Indeed, when difficulty presents, I am grateful for the crack, for it delivers me from a state of blithe unconcern—after all, it takes a rupture for our practices to explicitly become a theme of concern for us (Segal, 1999). When a schism appears—say between what we personally hold to be important and the institutional narratives of worth that press upon us—then, we pay attention with our very selves, and so embody the tensional equation.

For me, the appearance of difficulty is welcome, for it signals that I am emerging into a deeper engagement or understanding with my work. Sometimes I seek it out deliberately. Difficulty is then transformed from what thwarts my work, to what gives my work back to me. After all, notes philosopher Karl Jaspers, it is the “lively disparities” between plan and outcome that save our work from being purely mechanical (1932/1970, p. 133). Might we then not court some of this liveliness under the banner of our learning design work, and make some good trouble for ourselves? We may be tired and maybe even cynical, but it is worth following the ruptures, opening inward, digging down.

Of course, we might feel drawn to seek out a few securities, and realistically, we are not always practically or professionally disposed towards difficulty. Exhausted by the struggle, I might prefer to concede it, as a form of self-preservation. But if I sidestep the difficult altogether, my learning design work will be dead for me, reduced to box-ticking and rubber-stamping (Sloan & Bowe, 2015); an exercise in conformity only. Then, I will find myself in a design situation in which what is truly configured is not the possibility of learning, but my compliance.

The point is that we have a choice: perhaps even that the quiddity of design is choice, insomuch as choice contains within itself those elements of philosophy, action, and form. Design, as choice, is strange—it opens and closes in one move.

Design as Our Figure of Freedom

Tony Fry’s description of design as our “figure of freedom” (2005, p. 139) seems to perfectly capture and communicate design’s powerful opening-and-closing forces, its inherent philosophical necessity, its action-orientation, and its concern with form. Conceiving design as a figure of freedom, our orientation is to work with the tensional forces, both freely creating within limits and curtailing freedom through purposeful delimitation. We also figure new limits by which our designing might perpetuate itself—we figure design’s own freedom to be.

Let me break this down through our metaphor of the equation. We can think of what is within the brackets […] as the “design space;” that is, the field of our attentions and attunements (Akama, 2012). Within this field, we are free. Attending to the brackets themselves as the limits of our own awareness, the conditions in which our designing occurs, and the delimitations that we deliberately impose, our designing contains itself, in us. The constraints and the freedoms of our work are mutual, because the constraints can themselves open the space within which form is conceivable—forms that, once opened, must then be contained – and so on, in the mutual disclosivity (if that can be a word—why not?) of self-and-form.

Yet, at the same time as we (con)figure our freedom within the [design space], “what” is designed always comes out of and exceeds its bounds …[]…, because our designs open new forms of experience-spaces with their own […]. Our nested design worlds open as well as contain being’s experience spaces in their cascading motion. In designing, I open the world as it never was and bring it into new motion; a world which McCarthy and Wright (2004) explain in Technology as Experience, “though already half-designed, is always becoming;”

In such a world, design is always for potential, for what is already becoming. It is an act of reframing experience in a way that points beyond the reframing. This involves the designer giving to the user a surplus, which allows them to play into their potential (p. 196).

The “user” in our design context, is the student. Design is for the world, not for ourselves. It is as if design spins itself out of one’s being and becomes part of the fabric of our shared being in the world. In offering design into experience, my work is deeply personal, but at the same time, vast; it exceeds me, and goes wide and long. In this way, design gains a life of its own in ways that do not belong to me: I must give it away for it to be free to do its work (but in giving it away, it returns to me in kind).

Perhaps then, as the figure of freedom, the only thing that I might sincerely “design” as such is that which preserves my designing as a figure of freedom. A dangerous summons indeed!

Design as Disclosing Design

The quiddity of designing is ours to enjoy within the context of our teaching, but its fruits are for the student. It is not a stretch to appreciate that by disclosing design in our teaching, we pass on its figure of freedom as part of pedagogical intentions. Yes, rather than enclose the student in our designs, we pass the design to them; we pass the […] to the student. Way more than the “surplus” that McCarthy and Wright signal, the uniqueness of learning design as a form of design is that it can give itself away entirely through the pedagogical act of disclosure. For instance, we can offer a reading list, but we can also say why we chose that list: what lenses we used when selecting, and what our intentions are for the student when they engage with those readings.

As educators, we are free to disclose design in the events and affairs of learning. I would go so far as to say that we are obliged to disclose it. We can also choose to reveal the schism, the struggle, the difficulties of our designing in our designs, as our designs. In other words, we can preserve the very human acts of design in the artifacts of design. In this simple but radical move, our learning design is turned inside-out, and “undesigns” its own camouflage. Now, because our own design eyes are open, we can invite students to notice the designs that they are already in; designs that configure their attitudes and choices, and indeed their learning – we can help them open their own design eyes.

We are used to hiding our teaching behind design. Especially in the online learning context, we have come to rely on design to stand in our place when we cannot be bodily present in the event of teaching and learning. We want to prepare our lessons well, hoping not to disappoint, or to be caught out as a fraud. But if we are brave, we can let conversations about the best tools and methods for learning occur as part of the educative experience, rather than thinking we need to prepare these […] experience-spaces in advance. If we do prepare in advance, we can disclose the design within our work, by explicating the philosophy of our choice, and how it came into action and form. Why keep the way of our work hidden? Why go to all the trouble of designing a lesson that serves only to fulfill only its own pre-configured “learning outcomes?” The only learning we can be sure of here is that we as teachers have learned the rules of properly structuring a lesson. If education’s summons is for the appearance of freedom, as Greene (1988) says, then surely we must ourselves exemplify that freedom in our educative practices?

Holding open our designing in our teaching is like teaching naked, without guile or guise. It is intimate and bold, but when we open ourselves sincerely, we also serve learning most sincerely. Disclosing design in our teaching gives power to humility. We cannot be more personally generous than this, and we cannot be more pedagogically generous than this. We can stand together in learning with the students, in a “suspended” educational state, where, “a new kind of freedom can be sensed, a new kind of education explored, a new common manifest, which belongs to no one and resists all forms of regulation and assessment beyond its own appearance” (Lewis & Friedrich, 2016, p. 248).

A transcendent education like this cannot be “designed” as such. Yet, if we do not ask about design, we remain ourselves the subjects of design, even perhaps its unwitting minions, rather than its fiduciary agents —or counter-agents, as needs be. But we are not without direction. It is my conviction that by tapping into design’s quiddities, we can open our [learning + design] anew, inside our original experience of it, and so discover something we can believe in to offer into education.

With, of, as, and to.

Where it comes from, so do you.


Note: This chapter draws on, remixes and extends snatches of text from my doctoral thesis: Parkin, N. (2021). Intimacies of being in learning design [Doctoral dissertation, Flinders University]. https://theses.flinders.edu.au/view/d85f1904-3007-429d-9a71-e8868960d89d/1


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