KBL Studio / Brandway
We really enjoyed the energy and purpose behind this project. Your ability to ask really focused and qualified central questions as the point of departure for this project was great. We hope that you will develop the learning environment and process around this tool and unfold the potential of this Trans-disciplinary opportunity.¨
We appreciate your approach to system level investigation as a teaching method allowing students to stay in the explorative stage of the creative and prototyping process rather than the goals or solution stage.
Thinklab, unveiled in January 2012, is an institution-level experimental learning environment, kit of structured creative thinking tools, and technology-rich platform for participatory, interdisciplinary and/or community-engaged learning in education. It was created both to host design courses and university-community learning initiatives as well as to serve as a model for future learning spaces in higher education. The lab is currently exploring, using and integrating the following types of media tools: video conferencing; interactive conference table, wall, and multi-touch presentation surfaces; mind-mapping and collaborative brainstorming tools; systems modeling software; assessment tools; diagramming, mapping, and visual modeling tools; programming and (Kinect) development tools.2. The Brief: Summarize the problem you set out to solve. What was the context for the project, and what was the challenge posed to you?
The problem: The two applicants for this award were involved in a cross-disciplinary university-community teaching collaboration on the subject of food system sustainability. During this effort, a number of problems were discovered that led to the foundation of Thinklab.
1. Methodologies, languages, and perspectives vary tremendously among academic disciplines, impacting the ease of conversation around common themes.
2. Community groups represent strong stakeholder positions that often are quite divergent, even conflictual, even as they focus on shared problems.
3. For projects that have long-term implications, and have been worked on by various stakeholders for a long time, very little collective memory exists. Building a collective archive of work would help decrease project duplication, and increase the capacity for projects to build accretively and intelligently over time.
4, Technology-based collaboration, visualization, and archiving systems are plentiful and offer great benefits to brainstorming, collaboration, and learning, but are difficult to access by many, financially and interactively.
The context: The context for this project is higher-education, where learning opportunities for community-engaged collaboration are encouraged, but are siloed by disciplinary academic departments.
The challenge: The challenge was to support transdisciplinary approaches to creative exchange among students, faculty, and community stakeholders outside of the university, in a technology-rich setting, to foster co-learning around complex issues. As a part of this process, the brief was defined to make technology-based learning and collaboration systems available to multiple stakeholders, and to provide a structured yet experimental laboratory for engaged learning through creative applications of technology, technique, and tools.
By reconceptualizing the media and modalities of the design environment, Thinklab creates a venue for interaction among faculty, students, external experts, and community members outside of academia. These connections within and beyond the university generate not only new knowledge but also new networks of expertise and innovation. As a transdisciplinary space for critical exchange and curricular practices, Thinklab strategically foregrounds subjective difference through visual techniques and natural user interfaces as a way of producing greater collective knowledge about a given concern, its background, and the potential trajectories of creatively engaging it.
Deep transdisciplinary thinking challenges many presumptions of straightforward multi-disciplinary collaboration. Situations are mapped in lieu of problems being formed, expertise is networked in lieu of collaborative teams being defined, and systemic interventions are proposed in lieu of solutions being offered. This requires unique collaborative methods, techniques of creative and critical thinking, and tools and systems for visualization and intervention. Thinklab is designed to provide a space and collaborative structure for experimenting with these methods, techniques, tools, and systems in interactive and intuitive ways.
Our position on this challenge was fivefold:
1. the archive/repository is a great tool for improving long-term collective memory of past and present efforts, as well as to collect the multi-vocality of divergent stakeholder positions,
2. creative visualization and search/access methods could enable amore intuitive access to such an archive,
3. technology, while enabling, is also off-putting and outside familiar zones of many in and out of academia, and must be addressed as a central theme,
4. interface – and participant-engaged experimentation with various forms of it – is a necessary area for improvement,
5. the connection of physical learning environment, thinking and collaboration technique, and technology is essential to accomplishing this.
This position is based on 15 years of creative work in design and the visual arts around technology-centered environments and new (i.e., digital) media. Through this work, we have been able to see the benefits of thinking fluidly about what is now called the “phygital” (physical + digital) condition as a new design reality. Thinklab, as both experimental lab and model for alternative learning environments, is intended to address our challenge by acknowledging this reality as paramount. This was accomplished through two means: rigorous investigation of technological alternatives – off-the shelf systems that can be integrated easily and intuitively and iterative evaluation of the success of technological integration through qualitative assessment of faculty who taught in Thinklab.
During 2012, Thinklab hosted three courses, three university-community collaborative efforts, and spawned two next-generation learning environments across our campus. The focus has been to utilize off-the-shelf technologies in a creative and inventive way such that the "cloning" of such spaces is possible throughout the University campus and collaborating community partnerships. It has also recently explored the potential to go mobile with its interface and archiving technologies, building again on existing technologies to enrich collaboration in spaces beyond the university walls.6. Did the context of your project change throughout its development? If so, how did your understanding of the project change?
Designers routinely encounter the need to engage expertise from outside their disciplinary knowledge bases. The subjects of their practices – things in the world – do not exist within disciplinary boundaries. Today's design challenges are manifestations of expertise and technique drawn from an array of disciplinary foundations, yet our professional and academic frameworks for addressing them require us to filter our responses through disciplinary lenses. The ecological foundations of transdisciplinarity propose that problems be addressed by bringing disciplinary expertise to bear on systems-level investigations rather than goal-oriented problem-solving. Rather than collaboratively working towards an assumed goal, a transdisciplinary process entails models of group thinking that produce maps of possible goals and diagrams of systemic behaviors against which solutions can be tested.
Thinklab was developed not only to contribute creative to this process, but embrace it in its own evolution. As such, the trajectory of the research on Thinklab and the design projects that branch from it, shifts locally to respond to the evolving nature of its multiple contexts: it collaborative team, the university, and the situations that it engages. The benefits of a this approach have been significant: the multiple affiliations of Thinklab have strengthened and diversified its potentials to areas of inquiry we did not foresee.
Funded originally by Syracuse University, Thinklab has operated to advance curricular and research efforts tied to university-based initiatives. At the time of receiving this award, we are currently formalizing an interdisciplinary working group and global affiliate program for rooting the efforts into a larger network of projects. We have worked closely with the university information technology/learning environments division to provide a long-term home and technological support network for the on-campus Thinklab environments. And finally, we will be spawning an open-source initiative to document and build upon the work done within Thinklab to promote its integrative approach to transdisciplinary work.