Tipping point for online learning? OR The postman always rings twice

Is the Covid19 crisis the tipping point for online learning? As we wrote in our introduction to the Silver Lining for Learning webinar series

…this crisis has forced schools and universities to close, pushing often unprepared institutions to move teaching and learning online.

This was not a decision, we educators, took with great deliberation—it was forced on us by the situation. And, to be fair, we will do the best we can under the circumstances.

It is also true that, one day, this storm will pass. Or maybe it will evolve into something else. What is clear, however, is that “the choices we make now could change our lives for years to come” (quoting Yuval Harari in his piece The world after coronavirus). He goes on to write:

Decisions that in normal times could take years of deliberation are passed in a matter of hours. Immature and even dangerous technologies are pressed into service, because the risks of doing nothing are bigger. Entire countries serve as guinea-pigs in large-scale social experiments. What happens when everybody works from home and communicates only at a distance? What happens when entire schools and universities go online? In normal times, governments, businesses and educational boards would never agree to conduct such experiments. But these aren’t normal times. (Harari, 2020)

I have been in the educational technology field for almost three decades now. And I would not be in the field if I didn’t believe that technology has a great potential to transform education.

That said, over the past few years I have become increasingly concerned and skeptical about how this potential actually plays out: which aspects of technological potential are emphasized and which get ignored; how certain views get essentialized and normalized and which do not; who gets to control the discourse and who does not, and most importantly, on whom does the burden of it fall. (For one take on my evolving thinking on this thinking, pre-Coronavirus, see this presentation titled, Educational technology: A provocation).

It is clear to me that we need to approach the decisions we make today with caution and humility. And, we the technologists, need to step out of our boxes and be willing to learn. We need to talk to historians, philosophers, artists and humanists; people who have thought deeply about these issues, not necessarily from a techno-centric perspective.

We need to speak to, and more importantly listen to, contrarians, people whose ideas upset us, because that is the only way we can get better at what we do.

One of the people who I have always regarded as a thoughtful and insightful thinker about technology and society is Neil Postman. Back in 1998 (eons ago in terms of technological change) he delivered a talk in Denver titled Five things we need to know about technological change. What he said that day, almost 22 years ago to the day (the date on the PDF is March 28, 1998), is as relevant today as it was then (maybe even more so). He brings to the conversation over three decades of studying the history of technological change. He adds, however, that he does not consider, these ideas as being…

… academic or esoteric ideas. They are to the sort of things everyone who is concerned with cultural stability and balance should know and I offer them to you in the hope that you will find them useful in thinking about the effects of technology

Postman’s article is, obviously, worth reading in full, but for now I will stick to the brief summary he offers at the end of the piece. (Note: The five points below have been lightly edited from Postman’s original prose).  The five things we need to know, about technological change, are as follows:

First, that we always pay a price for technology. All technological change is a trade-off, a Faustian bargain. Technology giveth and technology taketh away.

Second, the advantages and disadvantages of new technologies are never distributed evenly among the population. There are always winners and losers, and the winners always try to persuade the losers that they are really winners.

Third, embedded in every technology there are one or more powerful ideas—and biases. These ideas are often hidden and abstract – but they influence how people use their minds, in what it makes us do with our bodies, in how it codifies the world, in which of our senses it amplifies, in which of our emotional and intellectual tendencies it disregards. As McLuhan said, “The medium is the message.”

Fourth, technological change is not additive; it is ecological, which means, it changes everything. The consequences of technological change are always vast, often unpredictable and largely irreversible and is, therefore, too important to be left entirely in the hands of [any one person or group].

Fifth, technologies are often perceived as part of the natural order of things and therefore tends to control more of our lives than is good for us. Technologies are fictions, created by humans in specific political and historical contexts.

I do believe that these five things are important for us to contemplate and consider as we embark on this new journey. I hope to dig into each of these in greater depth in a follow-up post.

I hope that we, as educators, as a nation, and a civilization, have the courage, grace, wisdom and humility to make decisions (whether about online learning or anything else) with thoughtful compassion. As Harari writes:

When choosing between alternatives, we should ask ourselves not only how to overcome the immediate threat, but also what kind of world we will inhabit once the storm passes. Yes, the storm will pass, humankind will survive, most of us will still be alive — but we will inhabit a different world.

For now, let’s give Postman the last word:

… we have been willing to shape our lives to fit the requirements of technology, not the requirements of culture. This is a form of stupidity, especially in an age of vast technological change. We need to proceed with our eyes wide open so that we many use technology rather than be used by it.

Note #1: The connection between this post, the current situation, and our ongoing work, here in the Teachers College, around Learning Futures & Principled Innovation is quite clear. So though we could not have predicted the Coronavirus, in some ways were were preparing for this uncertain future. For more on this see Designing Learning Futures through reflective practice: Parts I and II

Note #2: All images ©punyamishra

Corona virus: Silver lining? For learning? #silverliningforlearning

Image design: Punya Mishra; Photo Simone Viani on Unsplash

A week or so ago, Yong Zhao reached out to Chris Dede, Curt Bonk, Scott McLeod and me with the question:

What would happen to our global and local educational systems, if the Corona virus outbreak lasted for a year?

We met a week ago (via zoom, what else) to discuss this and that has led to a a website and a live broadcast under the broad heading: Silver Lining for Learning. The show will be broadcast live on YouTube Live from 5:30 to 6:30pm US EDT on Saturdays and archived on the website silverliningforlearning.org. As we describe it on the website:

The “dark cloud” of the coronavirus crisis continues to cause havoc worldwide and seems a generation-defining event. In education, this crisis has forced schools and universities to close, pushing often unprepared institutions to move teaching and learning online. The already stressed educational ecosystem now faces unprecedented difficulties that will fall disproportionately on students of low socioeconomic status and marginalized groups. This situation continues to worsen and is expected to persist for months or even years before normalcy occurs.

This disruption, however, provides us with an opportunity to reimagine learning and teaching so as to create an equitable and humanistic learning ecosystem for all. Barriers and structures that have resisted much needed change are now in disarray, offering the chance for transformative improvements.

We seek to begin this reimagining through a series of interactive conversations of emerging trends, disruptive policies, programs, initiatives, and often controversial, murky, and unspoken topics.

The first episode is now done and dusted. We had great participation from people who logged on via YouTube, who were running a parallel discussion on that channel, as well as on Twitter. Scott somehow managed to participate in all three—while I stuck to two: the Zoom discussion and the YouTube chat. Anyway, the video is now available (minus some truncated introductory bits at the beginning).

Watch out for the next edition, coming up on Saturday 5:30 ET.


afternoon walk
lingering on the shore line
time for reflection


Reflections © Punya Mishra.
All photos taken with my iPhone, over the years.
(published 2/27/20, revised with new photos 3/16/20)

On Reflection: Haiku by Catherine from her website: Still Standing on her head

Designing learning futures through reflective practice: 2 of 2

Designing learning futures through reflective practice, banner image. Photo & Design by Punya Mishra
Designing learning futures through reflective practice, banner image. Photo & Design by Punya Mishra

This is the second of two posts on the topic of bringing principled innovation practices to designing learning futures. In this post (by Cristy Guleserian & Punya Mishra) we dive deeper into how these practices of PI connect with our model of design. In particular we seek to answer these reflective questions in the context of our design model.

Our model of PI infused design instantiates the three guiding principles of principled innovation. (For more on the design model see Principled Innovation meets Design: 1 new model and 2 videos and for more on the Principled Innovation framework). In this post we focus specifically on the eight practices of principled innovation through responding to a series of reflective questions. 

The PI Design Model
The PI Design Model

As we had written in a previous post the questions we raise are not easy to answer but it is essential that we do so, intentionally and deliberately.

Reflecting on Principled Innovation & Design. Word clouds created from the Wikipedia page for "Values" (left profile) and "Design" (right profile). Design by Punya Mishra
Reflecting on Principled Innovation & Design. Word clouds created from the Wikipedia page for “Values” (left profile) and “Design” (right profile). Design by Punya Mishra
Reflection question, icons

Are we considering values that may differ from our own?

In our design model we seek to identify and acknowledge the fundamental values of the community we are working with, by distinguishing the values that are important to both the individual community members and the design team. This allows our actions to ensure the solutions honor, appreciate, and reflect the values of the community.

In the design process, we start with connecting to the context with a specific focus on history and experiences, language and culture, and knowledge and beliefs. We constantly return to the context as we design. This is symbolized by context being placed at the very center of the model—specifying its central role in the process. Moreover, our model also emphasizes that the problem/solution spaces are not fixed; they can change through the design process, allowing for reframing the problem to better reflect the values and concerns.

Reflection question, icons

Are we questioning our own biases and how they affect the decisions we make? 

We utilize moral and ethical decision-making through engaging empathy and taking a human-centered stance. We seek to view the challenge through the eyes of the humans in the communities we serve. Through the use of a values-informed reflective process we are able to assess possibilities, navigate dilemmas, and make the best possible choice to serve those whose lives and learning will be affected by the decisions we make and the actions we take. 

Our design model emphasizes ongoing reflection on not only the context, but also our own beliefs,feelings, and actions. By remaining mindful of our own thoughts and feelings, we can be more aware of how we affect those we work with.

Reflection question, icons

What is the cultural wealth of the people in the community?

We strive to understand culture and context through the use of evidence-based resources, empathy, reflective questioning, and appreciative inquiry. The use of multiple approaches allows us to truly understand the cultural wealth of the community with which we are working. The model is anchored in context, including history and experiences, language and culture, and knowledge and beliefs. We immerse ourselves in the lived and current experiences of the individuals within the community so we can design solutions that are right for their specific needs and learning environments. We also emphasize communication with all stakeholders as a way to engage cultural assets.

Reflection question, icons

Are we soliciting viewpoints different from our own? 

The key to supporting a human centered design model is understanding a range of users and their needs. Thus engaging multiple and diverse perspectives is crucial. We seek and champion equitable and inclusive involvement and contribution to the design process by including many different voices who have a variety of lived experiences, beliefs, and backgrounds. We listen to understand, and remain open-minded as we consider how to move forward at any given point of the process.

While designing, we seek input from stakeholders through connecting, inquiring, and communicating. In connecting, we build relationships and strive to understand the perspectives of those in the context. While inquiring, we gather diverse perspectives through methods such as surveying and interviewing. We continually communicate with stakeholders in order to engage multiple perspectives throughout the design process.

Reflection question, icons

What data, resources, and learning are supporting our decisions? 

Before and during the design process we continually ask ourselves if we are seeing the entire mosaic while we are designing for one individual piece of the puzzle. We strive to develop habits of an informed systems thinker, ensuring we are gathering evidence-based resources and data to inform how we are thinking about the problem, and appreciate the emerging insights that stem from multiple perspectives. We also step back and look at the larger picture. This allows us to recognize how the individual parts are influenced by their environment and interact to form a complex whole. 

In design, we use inquiry to access and integrate data and resources related to the problem/solution space. This can include searching existing literature or conducting original research in regards to the problem/solution space.

Reflection question, icons

Are we taking time to reflect and make adjustments based on our reflections?

It is important that during the design process we continually look at our work through a critical lens, while  being kind to ourselves and to others when something isn’t working and we recognize the need to shift directions. By reflecting critically and compassionately, we are able to engage a growth mindset to make meaning of our experiences through contemplation and consideration of our thoughts, feelings and actions. As we develop practical wisdom through our experiences and use it to inform our decisions and actions, both the individuals and the learning environments for which we are designing begin to flourish.

Our design model promotes reflection throughout the design process. Reflection happens in tandem with other actions (such as when we connect, inquire, imagine, iterate, and communicate). Finally, we are sensitive to incoming information and for that reason we continually revisit the problem/solution space refining it throughout the process.

Reflection question, icons

What kinds of unanticipated issues are emerging and how are we responding to them?

Throughout this process there will be trials and tribulations. We’ll need to navigate uncertainty and mitigate consequences. Through observation and reflective questioning we can imagine possible outcomes, or spectacular failures, and respond in a way that changes our course of action before it happens.  We navigate the consequences of our actions in a way that fails forward and allows us the space to iterate in a meaningful way, increasing the chance for humane results that reduce the risk of harm to individuals and communities.

The design process emphasizes imagination to anticipate consequences of our work. Designers imagine what might result from proposed actions in order to minimize negative consequences. However, not all outcomes can be anticipated. This is why we create prototypes and test them. In this model, the design is never complete. Designers continually inquire into what is happening in the context and iterate to address problems as they occur. Ongoing communication also aids timely response and adaptations.

Reflection question, icons

Will the solution we are offering better meet the needs of those we aim to serve?

Are we being informed learners and listeners, working collaboratively, and intentionally with and for the community? Are we taking time to  pause and reflect on our decisions and actions as we imagine new concepts, catalyze ideas, and form new solutions? If the answer is yes, then we can rest assured we are practicing principled innovation as we design creative solutions that will allow both educators and learners to contribute to the future of education and a thriving civil society.

What is unique about this design model is that it is centered on and driven by an understanding of context. It emphasizes the importance of anchoring the design process in the particular needs of the stakeholders. The process cannot occur separate from the context—each act, whether to connect, inquire, imagine, iterate, and communicate happens in reference to the context, resulting in a solution that meets the needs of the community.

Reflection wall-ambigram for the word "reflect" by Punya Mishra
Reflection wall-ambigram for the word “reflect” by Punya Mishra

Designing learning futures through reflective practice: 1 of 2

Designing learning futures through reflective practice, banner image by Punya Mishra
Designing learning futures through reflective practice, banner image by Punya Mishra

This is the first of two posts on the topic of bringing principled innovation practices to designing learning futures. The first post (co-authored by Punya Mishra & Cristy Guleserian) focuses on the need for designing learning futures, and how the PI practices connect with our model of design. We end with a preliminary series of reflective questions that could guide our work.  

A child born today will be shaped by accelerating change in technology, demography and our physical and social environments. The speed and convergence of change across so many dimensions of human experience will shape this child’s life in ways that are as profound as they are unpredictable. 

Education needs to grapple with the fact that we live in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) world where the impact of our decisions will not just be faced in the possible but also in the adjacent possible, namely situations and effects we have not even imagined yet. 

It is not at all clear that the education systems we have today are doing enough to prepare our children to thrive as individuals or as local/global citizens in this emergent future. 

In this video below, we explore some of these ideas, and their implications for how we design the futures of learning. Specifically the video speaks to the importance of educational leadership guided by deeper principles and values.

Note: This video was recreated from a presentation made by Punya Mishra at the Leadership for Today, Tomorrow & the Future convening at Arizona State University. 

We are privileged to work in a large innovative public university which is defined not by whom we exclude but whom we include. Thus we are responsible to design solutions that contribute to the well-being of all.

ASU Charter, photo
The ASU charter, photo by Punya Mishra

This emphasis on positive change means that we cannot merely innovate for the sake of innovation. What we need are not just design strategies for addressing the uncertain futures of learning but also an ethical framework that guides the design and decision making process. Enter, Principled Innovation—a core value that drives what we do at the college. And that includes designing learning futures.

Principled Innovation image
Principled Innovation: Design by Punya Mishra

That said, principled innovation has to go beyond being merely a definition or words on a website. If principled innovation is to be meaningful and have impact, it must connect to practice, it must connect to design. 

In brief, it is the foundation of principled innovation plus our contextualized model of design that allows us to imagine and design the futures of learning.  

Bringing Principled Innovation and Design to Learning Futures. Design by Punya Mishra
Bringing Principled Innovation and Design to Learning Futures. Design by Punya Mishra

In our work we have identified eight practices and we see them as providing a reflective map to guide us through the design process. By helping us recognize the uniqueness of the contexts in which we operate,  as well as the needs of the various stakeholders we serve, these practices help us anticipate and navigate intended and unintended consequences of the decisions we make. The image below maps out the eight practices (as mapped onto 4 character assets). 

Intentionally keeping these practices in mind ensures that we keep humans and values at the center of the design process. These practices also allow design teams to develop questions for purposeful self-reflection. 

PI reflective questions, design by Punya Mishra
PI reflective questions, design by Punya Mishra

There are, clearly, unlimited questions we can ask ourselves as we engage in PI. We list a few below (as a starting point). 

Reflection Questions design by Punya Mishra
RQ design by Punya Mishra
  • Are we considering values that may differ from our own?
  • Are we questioning our own biases and how they affect the decisions we make? 
  • What is the cultural wealth of the people in the community?
  • Are we soliciting viewpoints different from our own? 
  • What data, resources, and learning are supporting our decisions? 
  • Are we taking time to reflect and make adjustments based on our reflections?
  • What kinds of unanticipated issues are emerging and how are we responding to them?
  • Will the solution we are offering better meet the needs of those we aim to serve?

As is clear these are not easy questions to answer. But it is only through engaging with them intentionally and deliberately that we can ensure that the kinds of design processes we implement and the solutions we come up with are respectful of the people we are working with and that the solutions that emerge have the best chance of creating positive change. 

The futures of learning are too important to be left to chance. We need to engage with these challenges by design. This means engaging in an open-ended collaborative process that values humility and reflection, guided by the practices of principled innovation. 

ASU, The New American University, photo & design by Punya Mishra

As to how these specific practices play out in the design process—that is the subject of a followup post by Cristy Guleserian & Punya Mishra.

Principled Innovation meets Design: 1 new model and 2 videos

Principled Innovation meets Design (Image by Punya Mishra)

Our college has embraced the idea of Principled Innovation as being a core value that informs everything we do. (More on this in this post by Cristy Guleserian and in the PI framework document).

Defining Principled Innovation: Design by Punya Mishra

At the heart of the Principled Innovation work we are involved in at the college is the question: We can, but should we? This is of particular importance when we think about the work we do around the five spaces for design in education and designing the futures of learning.

We believe that educational design in each of these spaces needs to be driven by an explicit commitment to a deeper set of values and ethical principles. We believe that educational design infused with the principles of PI become a way of acting and being, and thus a part of our everyday educational practice. How would the three guiding principles be instantiated in a model for educational design? The principles are:

Principle 1: We value individuals and account for the uniqueness of social and educational contexts.

Principle 2: We collaboratively care for and are considerate of the well-being of individuals, communities, and society.

Principle 3: We create positive change by designing creative solutions to pressing educational problems.

As we started this work, we realized that there are many models of design out there in the world, offered by different groups and organizations (see image below). These are usually somewhat generic, sequential models in that they usually define a series of steps to follow irrespective of the design challenge at hand.

Models of design thinking (Image adapted from Designorate.com)

Our model, in contrast, focuses specifically on the role of design in education (infused by principled innovation) and seeks to capture the complexity and richness of the design process. Our model seeks to be versatile and flexible (given the different spaces within which design functions).

Principled Innovation infused model for educational design

Clearly a static image, such as the one above, does not capture the versatility and flexibility of the model. To address this issue we have created two videos explaining our Principled Innovation infused model for educational design.

Video 1: The big picture

The first video introduces the model and thus offers a relatively abstract view of how PI and educational design work.

Video 2: 3 examples of application

The next video shows the application of the model in three different contexts, pointing to the versatility of the model. These applications are presented in increasing order of scale and complexity and include: a new teacher seeking to teach about fractions; a school seeking to improve parent-school relationships; and finally a teachers’ college seeking to redesign an entire teacher preparation program.

• • •

A Deeper Dive

The sections below explain the connections between the three guiding principles of PI and the design model in greater detail.

We define Principled Innovation as a core value that drives us to imagine new concepts, catalyze ideas, and form new solutions, guided by principles that create positive change for humanity. There are three key principles we follow. Taking each of these principles in turn we map them onto our design model to demonstrate how these integrate together.  

Principle 1: We value individuals and account for the uniqueness of social and educational contexts.

It is no surprise, therefore that our design model centers on understanding and respecting the context within which the design work happens. This means emphasizing factors such as history, experiences, language, culture, knowledge and beliefs.

Understanding the context allows us to better grasp the problem space that we will work within and, most importantly, allows us to build a frame around this problem that is sensitive to what we have learned.

Principle 2: We collaboratively care for and are considerate of the well-being of individuals, communities, and society.

Caring for and being considerate of others requires that we think carefully about our actions and how they influence others. We support this stance by emphasizing the importance of reflection throughout the design process. As we design, we reflect on: our own positions, emotions, and identity; What others’ experiences might be like; The intended and unintended consequences of our actions; and on the design process itself.

Principle 3: We create positive change by designing creative solutions to pressing educational problems.

Principle 3 encapsulates the rest of the design model, specifically focusing on some actions that designers have found effective when tackling complex problems. These include to: connect, inquire, imagine, iterate, and communicate.

Connecting is human-centered, focusing our work on people, not things. It is based on empathy, leads to the building of relationships and through that effective collaboration.

Inquiry is about learning more about the context and problem space. This may mean some combination of empirical research and learning about what others have done in similar situations. This part can be data-driven by collecting data through interviews and observations or data collected by others in similar contexts. Most importantly, inquiry focuses on better understanding the system in which the context is embedded.

Imagining is about thinking broadly, generatively and empathetically while searching for solutions that are unique to the context. It is also about imagining the consequences both intended and unintended–of our possible actions.

Iteration is when imagining touches reality. It is about doing and doing again, usually through devising and implementing relatively simple prototypes, evaluating the results, and then refining the design. Iteration is essential to both learning through action and mitigating unintended consequences.

Communication needs to be directed both internally and externally. Effective internal communication supports creative, purpose-driven action while being considerate of others. External communication helps us expand our impact as well as make us aware of possible blind spots.

Finally, it is important to reiterate the complexity of the process – and that it rarely follows the same sequence as described either in the videos or above.

• • •


This work has been years in the making—building out of the work done by the design initiatives team; and in parallel with the co-creation of the PI framework. More specifically the development of the model was led by Melissa Warr, who worked with Jennifer Stein and myself to conceptualize and prototype. Claire Gilbert, our in-house multimedia specialist, then created the final versions of the videos. Finally, some of the prose in this post builds on a document created by Melissa Warr.

Designing Theory: New article

Banner image: Designing Theory
3d images from DesignerCandies.net, Design by Punya Mishra

Theory is of incredible importance to scholars and researchers. Theories allow us to understand, explain and predict phenomena in the world. That said it is often difficult to say just where theories come from. The standard model—that data lead to laws, that in turn lead to theories—has been undermined by philosophers of science for a while now. They argue, and I would suggest rightly, that theories are often under-determined by data, i.e. there is never enough data that will, inevitably, lead us to a particular theory. This situation is particularly problematic given the important role theories play in scholarly lives.

I have been, in one way or the other, been interested in the idea of theory, its role and value, for a while now. In fact, one of my first published research studies investigated the role of theories in memory. I have also given talks about why theories are important (such as this one titled Why Theory?) and also written about it on this blog (see what is the value of a theoretical framework.)

In a recently published paper (citation given below), Melissa Warr, Ben Scragg and I take on a different question—how do we, as researchers and scientists, particularly those in the field of learning, design and technology, develop theories?

In this article, we suggest that it may be useful to see the development of theory as being akin to a process of design—that of creating an artifact (albeit a conceptual one) that has “a structure adapted to a purpose” and demonstrates “goodness of fit. We argue that, viewing theory development as an act of design might lead to a stronger theoretical and practical scholarship and can help us address some key challenges in the field.

We contextualize our argument with three case studies: the development of Lave and Wenger’s Community of Practice theory; the somewhat round-about process of developing the TPACK framework; and finally, from a work in progress, namely the Five spaces for design in education framework. All this and more is in the article below:

Warr, M., Mishra, P., & Scragg, B., (2020). Designing Theory. Educational Technology Research and Development. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11423-020-09746-9

Ambigram for the word “Theory” designed by Punya Mishra

Move intentionally & nurture things: Human-Centered values in a disruptive world

Image design: Punya Mishra

I have seen the power of the market… But when it becomes the only language, when it becomes the only way of thinking about the right thing to do, it leaves us with a very impoverished sense of how to live together — Giriharadas, 2018

Over the past few years I have struggled with some of the consequences of disruptive innovation and have come to distrust the jargon of creative destruction and disruption that has become the mantra of our time. I have spoken about it elsewhere in greater depth (for instance see this video (Technology & education: A provocation).

More specifically, within the context of my job within the Office of Scholarship & Innovation, this has meant asking the question: We can but should we? And grounding what we do within a broader context of what we call principled innovation. We define principled innovation as the “ability to imagine new concepts, catalyze ideas, and form new solutions, guided by principles that create positive change for humanity.” (For applications of principled innovation to our work see (a) principled innovation meets design; and (b) Principled innovation in hiring.)

Design by Punya Mishra

This focus on principled innovation has meant fighting back against the idea of “Moving fast and breaking things” (a phrase popularized by Mark Zuckerberg as being the underlying working philosophy for Facebook), and in contrast to emphasize the importance of moving intentionally and nurturing things.

Gif animation designed by Punya Mishra

As a part of this focus on principled innovation and values is a chapter that Danah Henriksen and I recently wrote for a book titled: Innovation and the Arts: The Value of Humanities Studies for Business. Specifically, Danah and I argue for the infusion of more “human-centred learning from the arts and humanities into business.” Complete reference, abstract and keywords given below:

Book cover: ©Emerald Publishing

Henriksen, D. and Mishra, P. (2020), “Move Slow and Nurture Things: Wise Creativity and Human-Centred Values in a World that Idolizes Disruption”, Formica, P. and Edmondson, J. (Ed.) Innovation and the Arts: The Value of Humanities Studies for Business, Emerald Publishing Limited, pp. 143-161. https://doi.org/10.1108/978-1-78973-885-820201006

Creativity is a critical skill across disciplines and contexts, and it is an im- portant trait for humans to survive and thrive, personally and collectively. The fast-paced culture of business innovation has sought to promote and reward creativity as a coveted thinking skill. Creativity in and of itself, how- ever, is a value-neutral construct, because novel and effective ideas may also have negative consequences. This darker aspect of creativity has come to the forefront in many recent cases, particularly in contexts involving digital and networking technologies, where the rapid pace of technological change does not encourage the kind of deliberative thinking necessary for nuanced and ethical business decisions. The authors consider why education is essential for expanding the ethical capacity of creative agency in business, describing the need to bring creativity and ethics together in educational opportunities and cultural values. The authors explore the idea of ‘wise creativity’ and the need to infuse more human-centred learning from the arts and humanities into business fields. Further, the authors suggest better practices for creative business education, such as: infusing real-world ethics learning into business education and professional development; infusing the liberal arts curriculum in business; offering opportunities for arts-based approaches in business learning; and instilling genuine mindfulness training in business education environments. The authors’ focus is on a shift away from a culture that values creativity purely as an instrumental approach for greater profit- ability, and towards one that values wise and humanizing creativity for good business practices that consider societal and individual wellbeing.

Keywords: Creativity and technology; business education; dark side of creativity; business values and ethics; wise creativity; arts and humanities

EDUsummIT 2019: eBook released

EduSummIT is a global community of policy-makers, researchers, and educators working together to move education into the digital age.

EDUsummIT has been convening every two years since 2009. In each case the participants focus on some significant theme relevant to education and technology. I have been lucky to be part of all but one of these meetings, both as a team-leader as well as a participant.

This past year, the EDUsummIT meeting was held in Quebec, Canada. I was a member of Thematic Working Group 3 (TWG3) on Creativity for Teachers and Teaching led by Michael Henderson and Danah Henriksen. You can see the entire team below — though it may be difficult to identify who is who due to the goofy masks :-)

The people in this photo (definately NOT in the order they are listed here) are: Team leaders, Michael Henderson; & Danah Henriksen; along with Miroslava Cernochova; Edwin Creely; Deepshikha Dash; Trina Davis; Ana Amélia Carvalho; Punya Mishra; Erkko Sointu; Paolo Tosato

A few days ago, EDUsummIT leadership team released the report from the 2019 meeting. Edited by Petra Fisser and Michael Phillips the report titled Learners and Learning Contexts: New Alignments for the Digital Age consists of 13 chapters by prominent scholars, policy makers and researchers on a range of topics, one of which is a chapter by the team I was part of.

You can download the entire book here or just the chapter by the TWG3 team here.

For the record, here is a photo of all the participants of EDUsummIT 2019. I think I am there somewhere!

The OofSI/PI 2019 Report

Banner image: Looking back at 2019
Photo: Kalle Kortelainen (Unsplash), Design: Punya Mishra

We are a busy group here up on the 4th floor of the Farmer Educational Building—the space where the teams from the Office of Scholarship & Innovation and Principled Innovation hang out.

To be fair, we do more than just hang out. There is quite a bit of work involved as well (along with laughter and general silliness). We document the work we do in a couple of ways. First, is through our website, specifically the What’s New section (which is an ongoing documentation of our work). The second is through our annual report.

The process of constructing the annual report is important, in and of itself, because it is often easy, in the rush of things, to forget all that we have done in the past 12 months. Constructing the report gives us a chance to look back and reflect, on successes and failures, on what we have achieved and what we have learned through the process.

You can download the 2019 report here or by clicking on the cover below. Last year’s version can be found here.

2019 Report cover - and a link to the PDF.

The report also contains a series of infographics capturing the work done by the various sub-team. These are given below (click on the images for higher resolution versions).

Infographics capturing work done by the scholarly initiatives, scholarly publications, design initiatives and technology initiatives teams.
Infographics capturing work done by the scholarly initiatives, scholarly publications, design initiatives and technology initiatives teams.
Infographics capturing work done by the Principled Innovation and Learning Futures teams
Infographics capturing work done by the Principled Innovation and Learning Futures teams

• • •

As always, none of this would be possible without the energy, passion and hard work put in by the entire team (and that they do all this with joy and infectious laughter is such a bonus). I cannot thank this crazy bunch of people enough.

The OofSI / PI team
The OofSI / PI team

From artifacts to culture, my journey through design: Keynote at IDC, School of Design

Banner image: Designing pencils, universities and everything in between. Image design: Punya Mishra
Image design: Punya Mishra

Design is core to my identity, to who I am. Education is the space within which I function but I try to approach everything I do as a designer.

This was not always the case.

Back in 1984, I had just graduated with an undergraduate degree in engineering, and if there was one thing I knew, it was that I did not see myself as being an engineer. My somewhat idiosyncratic interests (in literature and science; in art and mathematics; in cinema and psychology) just did not gel with engineering (at least the way it was taught and practiced in India at that time). That said, it was not clear to me, what the path forward was, or if there was one.

What 4 years of engineering can do to you. Image design Punya Mishra
What 4 years of engineering can do to you. Image design Punya Mishra

Even as I was struggling with these deeply personal, existential issues, I stumbled upon across a poster for a Master of Design program in Visual Communications at Industrial Design Center in IIT Mumbai (or Bombay as it was known back then). To cut a long story short, I joined IDC in the fall of 1988—and spent three wonderful years there (two as a student and one as a faculty member).

To say that these years transformed me is an understatement.

What learning about design meant to me. Image design by Punya Mishra
What learning about design meant to me. Image design by Punya Mishra

Suddenly all my seemingly disparate interests came together. I found a creative space, a welcoming community and, most importantly, an intellectual history and tradition within which I could place myself.

I became a designer—a label I wear proudly even today.

This January, IDC celebrated its Golden Jubilee and I was thrilled to be invited to speak at the event.

Banner image for the Golden Jubilee  © IDC, IIT Mumbai
Image © IDC, IIT Mumbai
An amazing mural created for the Jubilee
An amazing mural created for the Jubilee

The title of my talk was Designing pencils, universities & everything in between. It was an opportunity for me to look back over my journey through design and education, and to thank an institution and individuals who influenced and shaped who I am today. You can watch the video of my keynote below (approximately 23 minutes long).

Note: The audio used here is a lightly edited version of what I said (with minor digressions removed). I have also added a bunch of new slides to make the talk flow better.

Chitra Chandrasekhar a recent gradate of IDC, and a talented designer, visual storyteller and educator (who runs her own design company called Mographies) created animated sketch-notes on the fly from the presentations. A screenshot from her video, that focused on my talk is given below.

Screenshot from video sketch-note created on the fly 
by Chitra Chandrasekhar, visual Storyteller & educator at Mographies
Screenshot from video sketch-note created on the fly
by Chitra Chandrasekhar, visual Storyteller & educator at Mographies

One of the high points of the event was celebrating the faculty members who have made IDC what it is today. Though not all of them could make it to the event, it was wonderful see and felicitate those who could. The two I missed most are R. K. Joshi (about whom I have written here) and Kirti Trivedi (who first introduced me to the role fractals play in design).

6 of the key faculty members who made IDC what it is today, and played a critical role in bringing the idea of design to the India.
6 of the key faculty members who made IDC what it is today, and played a critical role in bringing the idea of design to the India.

Pragmatic yet hopeful: Talking creativity with Dr. Barbara Kerr

Photo & banner design: Punya Mishra

Dr. Barbara Kerr is Distinguished Professor of Counseling Psychology, and is co-director of the Center for Creativity and Entrepreneurship in Education at the University of Kansas. She utilizes innovative counseling and therapy approaches to better understand the relationship of creativity to gender, privilege, and talent development. She has authored the book, Smart Girls: A New Psychology of Girls, Women, and Giftedness as well as over one hundred articles, chapters, books and papers in the area of giftedness, talent, and creativity. She is an American Psychological Association Fellow and currently directs the Counseling Laboratory for the Exploration of Optimal States (CLEOS) a research-through-service program that identifies and guides creative adolescents.

Dr. Kerr’s work has explored creativity and giftedness through a diverse array of perspectives trajectory. In this interview, she discussed how she studies creativity in ways that offer a view of creative personalities and development, as well as the relationship between gender and creativity. Complete reference and link to article given below.

Henriksen, D., Mishra, P., & the Deep-Play Research Group (2020). A Pragmatic but Hopeful Conception of Creativity: a Conversation with Dr. Barbara Kerr. TechTrends. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11528-020-00476-6

Design: Fixing clocks | Negotiating Systems

Banner image
Design: Fixing clocks | Negotiating systems
Photo: Jon Tyson, Unsplashed | Effects: PhotoFunia.com | Designed by Punya Mishra

I just came across a quote from Alan Kay while browsing the web. Alan Kay is a programmer, educator, jazz musician and one of the key inventors of computing as we know it today. He received the A. M. Turning award (informally known as the Nobel Prize of Computing) and his citation read:

For pioneering many of the ideas at the root of contemporary object-oriented programming languages, leading the team that developed Smalltalk, and for fundamental contributions to personal computing.

Here is the quote that captured my attention. (Here is the original video from where this quote is taken.)

You can fix a clock but you have to negotiate with the system - Alan Kay
Design by Punya Mishra

Before I dig into what this quote means to me, let me add that, as it happens, one of my favorite quotes of all time is from Alan Kay as well. 

As with most media from which things are built, whether the thing is a cathedral, a bacterium, a sonnet, a figure or a word processor, architecture dominates material. To understand clay is not to understand the pot. What a pot is all about can be appreciated better by understanding the creators and users of the pot and their need both to inform the material with their meaning and to abstract meaning from the form ~ Alan Kay

Below is a design I created a year (or more) ago, with this quote, as part of my LanguageArt series.

Alan Kay quote visualized by Punya Mishra

But this new quote spoke to me in a different way—something relevant to our discussions of the spaces for design in education. 

As I have said elsewhere, everything in education is designed (one can argue whether this is intentional or not or whether the outcomes are the ones we want/like) but the broader point is that there is nothing “natural” about the systems of education we have around us. They are constructed by us, by humans. Whether the idea of the curriculum or seat-time, learning metrics or the idea of problem-based learning, or the idea of school, these are all human creations, structures adapted for some purpose (to quote Perkins and his definition of design). 

That said, there is something fundamentally different about designing a textbook v.s. a chair; or designing a school v.s. designing an instructional plan. The differences have as much to do with the scale and the complexity of the tasks as it has to do with human psychology i.e. people’s desires and needs. That is not all. Everything we do in education works within broader organizational, policy and information structures that constrain and guide what we can do, and the complex feedback loops that can emerge from the inherent complexity (wickedness) of the enterprise. 

5 spaces for design in education
The five spaces for design in education

What this means is that designers have to function differently depending on the “space” they are working within. We have argued that (broadly) it may be productive to think of five spaces for the design in education: artifacts, processes, experiences, systems and culture. Moreover, working within these spaces requires different tools, elements, practices, knowledge and judgement that we as designers need to bring to the task. 

And this is what the quote by Alan Kay captures in a nice crisp manner. 

You can fix a clock but you have to negotiate with the system ~ Alan Kay 

If an artifact is broken you can fix it. But even though we know that teenagers are not getting enough sleep, moving the school start-time back is not as easy. Talking of it as “fixing” misses the point. There are too many factors (bus and sports schedules, parents work timings etc. etc.) that the only way forward is negotiation.

This is the classic “wicked problem” dilemma—one that design can work on but it is not one that design can “fix.” And what Kay’s quote captures is this difference.

In brief, it is easier to fix an artifact but it is harder to fix a system. You have to negotiate with it and that requires a whole new set of the tools, elements, practices, knowledge and judgement we have to bring to the task, what we have called the “disciplinary aspects of design.”

Disciplinary aspects for design
Disciplinary assets for design

Happy 2020 (& and new video)

Photo Jude Beck / Unsplash; Design Punya Mishra

We have been creating short videos to welcome the new year since 2008. This year was no exception. These videos, created on a shoe-string budget, are usually typographical in nature with some kind of an optical illusion or AHA! moment built in. Check out our latest creation to welcome 2020 titled Writing with Light, (created with a budget of zero dollars!).

You can see all the previous years’ videos here. Some of them are quite cool, if I say so myself.

What is going on here? OR How does this work?

This video uses the idea of light painting. As Wikipedia describes it

Light painting, painting with light, light drawing, or light art performance photography are terms that describe photographic techniques of moving a light source while taking a long exposure photograph,

The key here is long exposure, i.e. keeping the camera shutter open for a relatively long time (in this case two shots of 6 seconds each – one for 2019 and the other for 2020) to let moving light create an image. (For instance the banner image above was created by somebody writing in the air with a sparkler.)

This video takes the idea of light painting or writing to another level. It is light painting with an animation! What is interesting is that even though you can see the animation and the entire process, it is difficult to predict what the final image that shows up on the still camera (the one taking the long exposure photo) will look like.

So lets break it down.

The video starts with an abstract animation which is in two parts. (That is what you see at the beginning of the video). This animation, created using Keynote on the Mac, is at the heart of the entire trick. I have extracted them as two animated gifs below. Look carefully, what do you see?

This animation is nothing but the numbers “2019” and “2020” moving across the screen as seen through a slit. Essentially the numbers are in the background, moving behind two black boxes with a gap between them. The two animated gifs below will make it clearer – since I have reduced the transparency of the black rectangles so that you can see what is really going on. All you see in the gifs above are the white portions of the numbers as they pass below the gap between two black blocks.)

The direction of the movement also matters. Note that 2019 is moving from left to right while 2020 moves from right to left. This is important because it tells us how the laptop is to move with respect to the still camera.

When the laptop moves with respect to a still camera, with its shutter open, the light of the animation “paints” the complete image on the camera—which in this case happen to be 2019 (when the laptop moves left to right) and 2020 (when going in the reverse direction)!

For the shoot, the laptop was placed on a skateboard that could be moved (by someone hiding behind the table) from right to left for 2019 and from left to right for 2020, the opposite direction of the actual animation). The setup is sketched out below.

The setup for the shoot

Once the things have been set up, the video camera is switched on and stays on the entire time. The DSLR is switched on twice, once for the 2019 and the next time for 2020, giving us these two images – created by nothing but light. How cool is that!

Talking about Design in Education (The Five Spaces Framework)

Design by Punya Mishra | Photo by Jason Rosewell on Unsplash

Note: This post was co-authored with Melissa Warr.

I love to talk about design and education. I like to hang out with people who care about design and education. This brings us to TalkingAboutDesign.com, a website/blog created by a group of graduate students (and faculty) at the Teachers College that seeks to explore “design in all its richness.”

At the heart of the website is a framework for thinking about design and its role in education which needs a bit of an introduction (which sort of justifies the length of this post).

Herb Simon, in his book, The Sciences of the Artificial, famously wrote:

Everyone designs who devises courses of action aimed at changing existing situations into preferred ones. The intellectual activity that produces material artifacts is no different fundamentally from the one that prescribes remedies for a sick patient or the one that devises a new sales plan for a company or a social welfare policy for a state.

In one fell swoop, Simon situated design as playing a role across a range of human-centered professions, whether it be graphic design, architecture, medicine, or social policy. 

And most relevant to us: Education.

We aren’t the only ones to see education as a design domain (far from it!). For example, in 1992, Donald Schön highlighted how teachers are designers of instruction.  Others talk about the design of school buildings, systems, curriculum, and more.

The application of design to education (specifically in its newest avatar: design thinking) has been receiving some significant attention recently. I have written elsewhere about some concerns I have with this trend – but that does not detract in any shape or form the value the I place in bringing a designer’s perspective to education and educational change.

Design by Punya Mishra | Photo by Edho Pratama on Unsplash

The role of design is complex. Design happens across a range of contexts:  from designing textbooks to designing policy; from designing learning experiences to designing admission procedures; from designing professional development programs to designing institutional culture. Thus, design can play out deferentially in different “spaces.” These spaces are connected: they impact one another, and effective design in one space requires an awareness of the other spaces.

The 5 spaces for Design in Education

Over the past couple of years, we (Melissa Warr, Ben Scragg, others in the Office of Scholarship and Innovation, and a group of doctoral students who call themselves the Talking About Design team) have been working on figuring out the nature of these spaces and applying them directly to education. Preliminary versions of this idea have been presented at conferences (see here and here) but this is an evolving idea, and this blog post is the most current version.  

Essentially, we see five interactive spaces where design plays out:

This work builds on and is inspired by previous work by Richard Buchanan and his four-fold classification of orders of design–symbols, things, actions and thoughts or, when seen in terms of the evolution of industries, moving from graphic design to industrial, interaction, and systems design. In each case, the orders are places of invention that allow designers to reimagine problems and solutions. We are also inspired by Golsby-Smith’s work wherein he offered a structure similar to Buchanan, but framed it in terms of the changes in value that designers bring to the process of change. Specifically, as we move from image to strategies and culture, the designer moves from creator to facilitator. This means that designers need a new set of interpersonal skills with an emphasis on communication, facilitation, and systems thinking.

Whereas Buchanan and Golsby-Smith labeled domains of design as “orders,” we avoid the term as it implies a kind of hierarchy between them. As we envision it, each space offers new possibilities for designing, places to create something new or change something that isn’t working. Although the spaces overlap and interact with one another, we distinguish them by where the intended outcome of the design process is focused, whether this is in artifacts, processes, experiences, systems, or culture. In reality, the spaces aren’t as distinct as we are making them out to be; each affects the other in fluid ways. This is where the real power in the framework comes in: we can purposefully move the intention of our design to different spaces in order to create new outcomes—to take new perspectives and find new problems and solutions that can create real change.

Photo & Design by Punya Mishra

What is common across the spaces is design itself. Perkins defines design as “structure adapted to a purpose” and each space then represents an area where we can intentionally create change. Furthermore, there are certain attributes we can point to as being important for designers to possess, regardless of the flavor of design they practice. These are attitudes and mindsets, ways in which designers approach problems, think, and act. These include attributes such as openness, empathy, creative confidence, optimism, a willingness to learn from failure, and a willingness to iterate.

Design also requires working with specific elements and tools, and designers develop knowledge, practices, and judgment that allow them to be effective. These are particular to both the design space and discipline. For instance, within the space of artifact, the kinds of knowledge, tools, practices and judgement required for designing an app are very different from designing school furniture. Similarly, designing a process such as a lesson plan is different in many ways from designing a bell schedule, and so on. Design disciplines have developed a deep reservoir of disciplinary knowledge and practices that give them the unique ability to have a strong impact within their design space.

We have identified five categories common across the five spaces for design that frame the assets each discipline brings to design. In each context, the designer (either individually or in a design team) brings contextual knowledge, practices, and judgment to bear on specific elements and tools. For example, in the case of designing the culture of a university, the elements may be having the right people in the right positions, while the tools may be the development of policy documents, as well as procedures for hiring the right people.

As we design in education, it is important to remain mindful of the rich disciplinary traditions of designers across the five spaces of design. We can draw upon these traditions, including collaborating with expert designers, as we design change in education. At the same time, the five spaces of design framework becomes a conceptual tool to think with—a way to shift perspective and reframe problems and solutions, enabling new ways to approach complex problems. It encourages systemic approaches to innovation in education.

There is a lot more to unpack and build on. One place where this is occurring is the website/blog Talking About Design. This website is the collective effort of a group of doctoral students, faculty and staff at the Teachers College. They are (in alphabetical order by last name): Daniel Brasic, Kevin Close, Luis Perez Cortes, Amanda Riske, Ben Scragg, Melissa Warr, and Steven Weiner. You can find out more by going to talkingaboutdesign.com and we hope you can also engage and participate. We are soliciting questions and answers or just comments. Feel free to jump in.

Fibonacci’s Poem

Design: Punya Mishra; Photo: Adrien Olichon on Unsplash. Image ratio 1:1.618

Fibonacci’s Poem
December 10, 2019

It starts
Slow but sure
Expanding out numerically, adding more
Marching forward, doing the math, not asking why
Knowing the ratio of words, in this line and previous, will equal Phi!
A number, elegant, emergent, magical; found in sunflowers, shells and patterns musical; stark and alien in its perfection; meaning(ful)less patterns accreting
Unrelenting, an unending stream (One point six one eight zero three three nine eight eight seven four nine eight nine four eight four eight two zero four five six); An irrational dream, never repeating!

Note: A poem on the Fibonacci sequence where the number of words in a line are based on the sequence.

Alternative banner image for Fibonacci’s poem. Image ratio 1:1.618

A cosmologist worries (about infinity)

Photo by Denis Degioanni, Unsplash; Design by punyamishra

A cosmologist worries (about infinity)
December 2019

They cannot scare me with their empty spaces
Between stars–on stars where no human race is.
I have it in me so much nearer home
To scare myself with my own desert places.
~ Robert Frost, Desert Places

A cosmologist, surprisingly,
Is worried
about infinity.

It is on his mind,
Clearly, since
He comes back to it 
Often, all evening.

Bollywood music and winter
Are in the air, 
As we hang out,  
Drinks in hand,
Rows of satay on the grill.

In his mind.

It is not the empty spaces
Or vastness, of it all
That bother him.
But rather,
It is the too-muchness
Of the idea.
Where every pattern
and its variant
Can co-exist.

What if, he asks, we live
Not in a finite
world, bounded and complete
But one that goes on
Just more and more
And unimaginably more
Unending multiples
Of love and self
And regrets and pain
Repeated ad infinitum

Ad Nauseum. 

(I, to appear smart,
mention Borges
and his fear of mirrors
and their power to multiply.)

He comes back to this topic
A steady refrain
Again and
Yes, once again.

There are no themes
He worries
In this plenitude
Just variations
And it is this idea
I figure,
That destroys his mood.

The world is too big
I try to say
Flipping the satay
Too much to grasp 
What’s an infinity or more 
To keep us up at night.

As the chicken sizzles
And sudden laughter,
From others by the fire,
Crowds into our talk,
I imagine
Worlds beyond worlds
The same as ours,
Not the same.

One where, this poem
Ends, maybe 
With some deep insight. 

Note: Inspired by a conversation with Tanmay Vachaspati. New version posted December 10, 2019

Creativity as Perspective Taking with Vlad Glaveanu

Multiple perspectives on reality Image © punyamishra

Dr. Vlad Glaveanu, is Head of the Department of Psychology and Counseling at Webster University, Geneva; Associate Professor at Bergen University, and Director of the Webster Center for Creativity and Innovation. He co-edits the book series Palgrave Studies in Creativity and Culture and is editor of Europe’s Journal of Psychology. In 2018, he received the Berlyne Award from the American Psychological Association for outstanding early career contributions to the field of aesthetics, creativity, and the arts.

In this article, we share how he (Dr. Dlaveanu) understands creativity beyond individual creative actors, the importance of wondering as part of the creative process, the possibility of creativity and social transformation in online spaces, and how we can better scaffold students’ use of technology to enable openness. We bridge between Dr. Glaveanu’s established and written scholarship as well as direct quotes drawn from conversation with him, to provide readers with a broad sense of his work and thinking around creativity.

This is the 40th article in the series on Technology, Creativity and Learning in the 21st Century that we have been writing for the journal TechTrends. You can read the entire article by following the link below, or access all the articles in the series here, or just the interviews here.

Keenan-Lechel, S., Henriksen, D., & the Deep-Play Research Group (2019). Creativity as Perspective Taking: An Interview with Dr. Vlad Glaveanu. TechTrends, 63 (6): p. 652-658. dos: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11528-019-00404-3

Note: The banner image was created by me (punyamishra) by combining a few impossible figures into one.

TPACK Newsletter, #42 Nov. 2019

teepee-ack image, designed by punyamishra

Here is the latest pdf version of the TPACK Newsletter (#42, November 2019), as curated and shared by Judi Harris and her team. (Previous issues are archived here.)

This issue includes titles, abstract and links to 116 articles, 5 book-chapters, and 34 dissertations that have not appeared in past issues. This brings the total numbers of publications recorded in the newsletter (over time) to a total of 1170 articles: 291 chapters; 28 Books; and 394 dissertations.

Note: Over the past few issues I have tried creating tongue-in-cheek TPACK diagrams, which explains (or maybe not) the image above!

Principled Innovation meets Design: The video

© photo & design, 2019, PunyaMishra

Quick summary: In which I disparage the buzzword “design thinking” even while praising the idea of design; point to the value-neutral nature of design and the need for a more principled approach, and end with a video that seeks to capture a vision of principled innovation embedded into the design process.

Design thinking is the latest buzzword in education. It has been variously described as being the new liberal arts or even your secret weapon for building a better good. Design thinking is now part of pricey executive leadership programs as much as it is part of K12 education.

I am somewhat uncomfortable with this hype for a range of reasons. The first being that design thinking seems like just another fad that educators have to deal with. And like all fads it will end and nothing would have really changed. Second, and maybe more important, is that it is increasingly clear design thinking does not necessarily leads to good solutions. Examples abound—of companies and organizations that have used design thinking to manipulate and trick users. A lot has been written about dark design or dark patterns. (I addressed some of these issues in this video, and Danah Henriksen and I have a chapter on this very topic, titled: Move slow & nurture things: Human-centered values in a disruptive world). Along these lines, the renowned scholar of design, Richard Buchanan, had this to say:

‘The Holocaust was one of the most tragic, prominent products of design in the 20th century. It was designed thoroughly, but with a horrifying ethical foundation. And the fault lies in the people; Albert Speer and his surrounding henchmen. Design and creativity are neutral tools. But people need to know when and how to use and when not to use them.’ (See Henriksen, Mishra & the Deep–Play group, 2019, p. 26)

Let it be said again. Design and creativity are neutral tools!

© Photo: Alex on Unsplash. Designed by @punyamishra

And I write all this with a great love and respect for design and the design process. I have always considered myself as being a educator-designer and, more recently, I am proud to have been part of a range of projects that focus on educational innovation through design-based problem solving. As the website of the Office of Scholarship and Innovation (OofSI) says:

We believe the design process is a powerful approach to addressing challenges in education. We collaborate with partners across the education landscape to develop mindsets and cultures that value creativity and intrapreneurship–creating change and taking risks to improve an organization from within.

Our projects vary greatly, depending on need and context. (Click here for a complete list of projects we have been involved in.) One thing we have learned through our work, however, (and consistent with Buchanan’s quote above) is that design is more than just a process. It needs to be driven by an explicit commitment to a deeper set of values and ethical principles. At the heart of our work around educational innovation is the question: We can, but should we?

This has led us (working closely with another team in the college) to ground our design-based approach within a broader context what we call principled innovation. Principled innovation, in this context, is defined as the “ability to imagine new concepts, catalyze ideas, and form new solutions, guided by principles that create positive change for humanity.”

Over the past few months we have been working on developing a framework for design and principled innovation. This work was led, this past summer, by Melissa Warr, who worked with Jennifer Stein and myself to create short videos to explain our approach. Claire Gilbert, our in-house multimedia specialist has been working on creating more professional versions of these videos, the first of which is now available. Enjoy

Learning science with the body: New article & illustrations

Illustration by Punya Mishra

We often think and understand the world using our bodies. Our senses and movement shape how we form and process knowledge. Paul Reimer, Rohit Mehta and I explore this idea and its educational implications in a new article published in iWonder: Rediscovering School Science a journal for middle school science teachers published by the Azim Premji University. This is the latest article in a series: previous articles can be found here; the latest issue of the journal can be found here; and the link below takes you to a pdf of our article.

Reimer, P., Mehta, R. & Mishra, P. (2019). Learning science with body in mind. iWonder: Rediscovering School Science (6). p. 51-56.

Abstract: Embodied design for learning presents several unique challenges to the
ways we conceptualize thinking and learning. For science teachers, embodied design highlights the role of physical movement in how our students interact with important scientific ideas and processes. Embodied design presents opportunities for us to rethink our science teaching practices. In many ways, it offers us a pedagogy that recasts learning as a more complete, complex and human activity.

I also created the illustrations that go with the article. The banner image above was one – the others are given below.

Continue reading →

Principled innovation in hiring

Getting hiring right... banner image

We, in the Office of Scholarship and Innovation (OofSI), have never been big fans of the typical interview and hiring process. We are not sure that the process helps us identify the right people, and more importantly, we find the process to be unnecessarily opaque and stressful to the candidates. That said, as people leave organizations and work demands change, there is no choice but to hire new people.

Hiring the right person is particularly important for small-ish teams, like ours, where each person makes a significant difference to the dynamics of the group. The fact that we exist in an environment that is fast-paced, highly collaborative and laden with lots of ambiguity only makes it even more important to get it right.

Over the past year or so we have come up with a process that seems to have worked well for us. It has helped us build a committed, creative, and passionate team of people; consisting of individuals with unique quirks, strengths and weaknesses who work (wonderfully) well together. The process we have come up with, working within ASU’s HR guidelines, seeks to be respectful of the candidates and their time, attempts to minimize interview anxiety, and most importantly tries to provide them a chance to do the best job they can. And of course, in the end, lead us to the best candidate.

Our hiring approach was the subject of a recent audio-case study. We see this case study as as an example of principled innovation, that can be used as a teaching tool for individuals and/or teams who are seeking to instantiate principled innovation in their work. This is why we provide some reflective questions at the end of the case study to prompt reflection and discussion.

The case study, and the contextual information on how to use it is given below.

Continue reading →

With Gratitude

With gratitude: Image: StoryBlocks; Design: Punya Mishra

This past Monday was a special. That evening I was at Manitas School in Kyrene school district for the ribbon-cutting of the new school model we have been working on for the past two years. An important part of the evening was the reveal of the name of the new school – one selected by the students in the school. The video below is how we all got to know:

It was a wonderful evening, a culmination of untold hours of work by a dedicated team of people, both here at the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College (MLFTC)/ Office of Scholarship and Innovation (OofSI) and the Kyrene School District. (Some photos of the evening at the bottom of the post.) Below is the email I sent out to the team later that evening.

September 9, 2019


Let me first start by saying, Ben, we missed you today. Very. (Note: This was one of the first projects Ben Scragg, lead design strategist took on after joining the team. Sadly due to other commitments he could not make the ceremony).

As all of you know, this evening we had the ribbon cutting for the Kyrene school of the future/imagine the possibilities/Spark school… what have you. And I tend to get a bit sentimental at moments like this.

I hope all of you will indulge me for a bit.

I have been involved in education since 1992. I have written many papers in “top notch journals.” I have been cited a lot. I have taught a lot of classes, and directed programs, to pretty decent feedback.

But what happened today was special.

We have today a school, a learning environment, that is pretty different than what we usually see. Approx. 80 children in that environment, learning, playing, and most importantly being themselves. Surrounded by adults who are energized and enthusiastic, seeking to meet these learners where they are, on their terms.

This is not to say that everything is prefect. Or that we have it all figured out. Not at all.

But this much I know. All the journal articles, all the citations do not mean much compared to what I saw today.

And this is something we all should be proud of. Jeanne recently shared a story of a district that attempted something similar – only to heart-breakingly fall apart. So, we know this work is not easy. Which makes today all the more special. 

There are lots of people to thank. Personally, Soham & Shreya, who both taught me in so many ways that school was failing them. Danah Henriksen who shared a job posting with me when I was at MSU and encouraged me to apply to ASU. This place is different she said. (Sure, I muttered under my breath…).

To Dean Carole Basile who provided a bold vision and the freedom to play and try new things. 

And the team: Jennifer Stein (on that first phone meeting with Kyrene admin, seems like yesterday and yet years ago); Ben Scragg (our first and lead design strategist who crafted our sessions despite all kinds of hurdles); Lisa Wyatt (where would be without her engagement and counsel); Paul Gediman (helping us navigate the rough waters); Elizabeth (for her scheduling skills); Claire (for her mad multimedia skills), Jan Vseley and Laura Toenjes (at Kyrene for their vision and persistence).. and so many more both within MLFTC and outside of it. I know I am missing so many people – people still here at and others who have moved on to other better futures.  

I am proud and thrilled to be part of this team. I know we are pivoting here within OofSI, seeking new ways and approaches, facing new challenges. But irrespective of which way things go, I know this, we have made a difference to the lives of a bunch of kids. Provided them a space where they can be themselves—vibrant, enthusiastic learners. Provided teachers and our MLFTC students new pathways.

I am grateful to all of you. This is the high point of my career as an educator. There is lots more to be done. But I want to just thank each and every one of you for being partners in this journey together. And I look forward to more amazing things to achieve. 

~ punya

A collage of photos from the evening:

Photos & collage by Punya Mishra

You can learn more about this project by going to

  1. The school’s own website:  www.kyrene.org/sparkschool
  2. Stories on the College of Education website about the new design (1 & 2)
  3. Project page on the OofSI website
  4. lay the School Design Game that was inspired by our work in Kyrene. 

Perfect Vacuum (OR who wrote this poem?)

Perfect Vacuum design by Punya Mishra. Background photo: NASA/Hubble

I was cleaning out my drafts folder and came across this poem. I liked it. A lot. It has my sensibility. My sense of whimsy.

But I DO NOT remember writing it. Nor do I remember finding it somewhere and copying it into an email. There is no author attributed – which makes me think that maybe I did write it. But I really have no memory of doing so. Google searches haven’t helped. So I am posting it here. If you know the source or author please drop me a comment below. I really do want to know. But for now, here it is: Perfect Vacuum.


Perfect vacuum

What do we mean
When we say, that
Emptiness has achieved

That it has reached
The pristine peak
Of nothingness?

They say that a perfect vacuum
is impossible to achieve

I disagree
Achieving nothing
Is easy, though I must add

It sucks.


Note: Incidentally Perfect Vacuum: Perfect reviews of non-existent books is the title of one of my favorite books by Stanislaw Lem. More about the book here. The first chapter is a review of the book itself :-)

3 super-short stories

55 fiction Photo: Storyblocks | Design © punyamishra

Students in my EDT180 class spent some time yesterday writing short stories. Super short stories, trying to tell a complete story in just 55 words! As it turns this (55 Fiction) is actually a thing – as a simple google search will reveal.

Seeing my students engage in this task reminded me that I had, a bunch of years ago, written a few such stories myself. But finding them wasn’t easy. Files and documents have fallen through the cracks as I switched jobs and computers over the years. It took a while, but I managed to dig them out. Enjoy.  

In the beginning was nothingness.
And then there was light. Designing a world, seeking order from chaos. Form and meaning intertwined. Traveling from alpha to omega.
At the end, he looked at what he had brought about, (in exactly in 55 words, no more no less) and he was pleased.
And then he rested.

Note: A self-referential piece on the act of writing 55 fiction.

Declaration of Independence
They argued late into the night, as they often did. Seemingly pointless ruminations on the meaning of life. What was the point of it all? At daybreak, suddenly someone wrote down the magic words. They were silent because they knew this was it. In hushed voices they read: “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Note: A fictionalized account of the drafting of the declaration of Independence.

A Twist in Time
The end: He lived happily ever after.
The middle: Pain. A metallic taste. And always, the screaming in the head.
The beginning: “Are these the books you give your students?” The judge asked, his voice shaking with anger. The verdict, guilty of subverting children’s minds, was no surprise. Neither was the punishment: Permanent cognitive reformatting.

Note: An upside-down narrative, in which the story starts with the ending; moves through the middle and ends with the beginning.

Game of Thrones meets Toyota: 2 examples of Systems Thinking

Systems Thinking
(Image credit: Profile & pattern from StoryBlocks; Photo of gears and overall design by Punya Mishra

Anyone who works in the area of social design knows how important it is to develop a systems-oriented mindset and how difficult it is to do so. One one hand, we know that sustained change is possible only when we work at the level of systems not individuals and one-off projects. One the other hand, systems thinking is complex, and often difficult to grasp and explain. This is a challenge we face on a regular basis at the Teachers College and the Office of Scholarship and Innovation (OofSI) as we seek to instantiate principled innovation in educational contexts.

Aside: For some examples of the kind of work we are engaged in see this post by my colleague Brent Maddin: Field of Teams and my earlier post about our work in the Kyrene School District or read this series from our Dean, Carole Basile).

So I am always on the lookout for good accessible examples that can help me and others understand the value of systems thinking. I recently came across two examples that do the job really well.

The first one is a blog post by Aaron Swartz published back in 2012, titled: Fix the machine not the person. In this post Aaron describes an unique experiment where GM and Toyota collaborated on rejuvenating a failing car factory in Fremont. What is amazing about this story is not just what changed (a factory went from being a disaster to being a success) but what did not. What did not change were the people who were working at the factory. This is a must read story that speaks to how a change in systems and values can transform how people connect and work together.

Fix the machine not the person

Aaron bases his post on an This American Life episode (here) but also adds to it by speaking to an important psychological idea, a blind-spot that we all suffer from, what is known as the Fundamental Attribution Error. The Fundamental Attribution Error posits that, we, humans, attribute other people’s errors or mistakes to their personality, not their situation. Of course in our own case, any errors we make are attributed to contextual factors not our inherent personality. Here are some key paragraphs from his post

Our natural reaction when someone screws up is to get mad at them. This is what happened at the old GM plant: workers would make a mistake and management would yell and scream. If asked to explain the yelling, they’d probably say that since people don’t like getting yelled at, it’d teach them be more careful next time.

But this explanation doesn’t really add up. Do you think the workers liked screwing up? Do you think they enjoyed making crappy cars? Well, we don’t have to speculate: we know the very same workers, when given the chance to do good work, took pride in it and started actually enjoying their jobs….What worked wasn’t yelling, but changing the system around you so that it was easier to do what you already wanted to do.

The second blog post is more recent and by one of the most influential scholars about the new world of the Internet and social media: Zeynep Tufekci, associate professor at the University of North Carolina School of Information and Library Science. In a post dated May 2019, Tufekci connects TV shows like Game of Thrones and The Wire with the fundamental attribution error (without naming it directly), the importance of thinking sociologically to how we should be thinking about modern technology and its discontents.

Game of Thrones Network. Image created by Network of Thrones

The post is titled: The Real Reason Fans Hate the Last Season of Game of Thrones and the subtitle “It’s not just bad storytelling—it’s because the storytelling style changed from sociological to psychological” alludes to the argument she is making. But don’t take my word for it, the post is worth reading in its entirety. Here are some key quotes, but again, read the entire post for yourself:

When someone wrongs us, we tend to think they are evil, misguided or selfish: a personalized explanation. But when we misbehave, we are better at recognizing the external pressures on us that shape our actions: a situational understanding. If you snap at a coworker, for example, you may rationalize your behavior by remembering that you had difficulty sleeping last night and had financial struggles this month. You’re not evil, just stressed! The coworker who snaps at you, however, is more likely to be interpreted as a jerk, without going through the same kind of rationalization. This is convenient for our peace of mind, and fits with our domain of knowledge, too. We know what pressures us, but not necessarily others.

That tension between internal stories and desires, psychology and external pressures, institutions, norms and events was exactly what Game of Thrones showed us for many of its characters, creating rich tapestries of psychology but also behavior that was neither saintly nor fully evil at any one point. It was something more than that: you could understand why even the characters undertaking evil acts were doing what they did, how their good intentions got subverted, and how incentives structured behavior. The complexity made it much richer than a simplistic morality tale…

Another example of sociological TV drama with a similarly enthusiastic fan following is David Simon’s The Wire, which followed the trajectory of a variety of actors in Baltimore, ranging from African-Americans in the impoverished and neglected inner city trying to survive, to police officers to journalists to unionized dock workers to city officials and teachers… Interestingly, the star of each season was an institution more than a person. The second season, for example, focused on the demise of the unionized working class in the U.S.; the fourth highlighted schools; and the final season focused on the role of journalism and mass media.

In my own area of research and writing, the impact of digital technology and machine intelligence on society, I encounter this obstacle all the time. There are a significant number of stories, books, narratives and journalistic accounts that focus on the personalities of key players such as Mark Zuckerberg, Sheryl Sandberg, Jack Dorsey and Jeff Bezos. Of course, their personalities matter, but only in the context of business models, technological advances, the political environment, (lack of) meaningful regulation, the existing economic and political forces that fuel wealth inequality and lack of accountability for powerful actors, geopolitical dynamics, societal characteristics and more.

These two posts brought home to me just how complex these issues but yet, how taking a systems approach allows us to not just ask the right questions but also to come up with nuanced and thoughtful answers to the challenges we face as educators. That as educational designers we need to take a systems view, not focusing as much on the individuals within the system as being good or bad actors, but rather at the way the system is designed (the contexts and influences, the culture and incentives) that more than anything else determine the outcomes.

School design in MLFTC News

Education by Design, Photo © punyamishra

One of the most exciting projects we have been involved with in the Office of Scholarship and Innovation (OofSI) has been our partnership with the Kyrene School District. We have written about it previously (on the OofSI site as well as on my website), and just today there were two stories on the Teachers College News page about this project.

Image © Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College

The first story: Improving education from the ground up starts as follows:

This fall, nearly 100 third and fourth grade students in the Kyrene School District in Phoenix, Arizona, will experience the start of a school year different from any other. They will be the first student body of a new program that combines their two grade levels in an innovative learning space at Kyrene de las Manitas Elementary School.

The second story Q-and-A with the T-E-D is an interview with Mary Brown, the lead Teacher Executive Designer.

Image © Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College

Mary will be one of the key leaders in this new reimagined classroom. Her interview is worth reading just for the sheer breadth of thought and innovation that is being brought into the lives of the students in this new learning space. Learning in this new school, she says, will still be content and standards-aligned but with driving questions that the students will explore through a range of projects. And most importantly, she says, the students… 

… have to come up with the questions, then seek out the answers. That’s something we miss sometimes in traditional curriculum design. We ask questions that have one answer. But these kids will be coming up with questions that might have different answers, finding different solutions and critiquing them.

It is invigorating to see the work put in by our team, the team from Kyrene and countless others come to fruition. There is still a lot we have to do and a lot that we will learn through this process but I could not be more excited, and proud. 

Take a moment to read both the stories (link 1 & 2), check out the project page on our website or play the School Design Game that was inspired by our work in Kyrene. 

Words in 3 Dimensions

A few weeks ago I started doodling words in 3 dimensions, for no particular reason, and before I knew it I had a bunch of interesting designs. Here is a sample:

A bit of goofing around with Keynote and some royalty free music from Kevin McLeod, and I had a little video to share. Enjoy.

These designs are sketched first by hand on paper (usually during meetings) and then traced / de-designed on my iPad using the Adobe Creative Suite Illustrator App. What I didn’t realized at first is that the app lets you create a movie as well, tracking your moves as you sketch. Here are a few that I saved.

4 AM: A poem

Photo ©punyamishra

4 AM
July 17, 2019

The stupid smoke detectors

There are two of them
Running this conversation
With each other
Through the night

Their batteries dying
Or dead

Funnily enough
They fall silent during
The day
Lull you into thinking
It is ok
It was just a glitch

But as night falls
And you walk
Around the house
Switching off lights
Doing the routine
You hear them start

First it is one
Then the second
Joins in
Soon after

Reaching out
To the other
Across the darkness

Their batteries dying
Or dead.