Mission Education

My name is Manon Mostert – van der Sar, creative catalyst on a mission to change education (from the inside). I am observing the world with a designer-maker perspective. In 2012 I started the Stadslab Rotterdam, a Fablab originated in the Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences. In this context-rich learning environment, I discovered that learning occurs in another way than normal in education. This paradigm-shift in learning is driving me to change the way we ‘normally’ educate because I believe that education, where we prep students for society, does no longer fit the changed world.

In the fragmented landscape of education (in the Netherlands), I notice several (other) initiatives to innovate education. One of these innovations fits the way we work and learn in labs: Maker Education. In this area of expertise, more and more (successful) experiments turn up. Unfortunately, a lot of these experiments take place outside regular education which is creating a sort of upper class. With that, a lot of students do not get access to this learning style, skills, and knowledge. With my research I hope to find a way to innovate (regular) education from the inside, fitting the bottom-up approach of the Maker Movement.

A few years back a research professor reflected upon my way of teaching as ‘naturally iterative designed’. By approaching my teaching profession as a designer I am not only able to improve my education but also to implement these innovations. I am justifying my actions with a form of action research, where I follow the design cycle with extra attention for reflection (of mistakes and successes), for I believe that the answer of iterating in education lies in the mistake (and success).

I believe that if teachers act more like designers (instead of instructors or coaches only) education will become (more) future proof. I also believe that teachers already possess designer abilities.

Hey teachers, find your inner designer!

My research is divided into two trails:

  1. Room for Error
    in which I conduct research into a specific part of designing: ‘making mistakes’, to help teachers reinvent education within the current ‘system’.
    I think this important step of the design cycle holds the key to iterate more (often) in education.
  2. Landscape of Education
    where I try to design the current landscape of education so innovators can find other (potential) ‘partners in crime’ and early-adopters can find a trajectory to follow

To create focus in the massive amount of educational institutes, methods, paths, and levels I designed my case around secondary education in the domain of Maker Education. I am mostly interested in this (somehow new) way of education where there seems to be space for design and making mistakes.

I am getting ready for an action manifest on Making Mistakes. How mistakes mishaps can change education from the inside.  A summary of my first part of my research is shown at the Research Days at the Willem de Kooning Academy last September. You can find this poster (and conversation piece) here.



Method Lexicon
In my search for answers, I designed a set of methods, maybe even instruments, to deepen the conversation.

Guided Rides
This method is a combination of a Subject Matter Experts Interview (as described in 101 Design Methods), Explore Concepts and an Ideation Session. These conversations are not only about existing knowledge (which is common in interviews) but also about possible futures (in a specific area: education). By preparing not only questions but also concepts at forehand I found a way to extract more knowledge from experts. This technique thanks his name to the comparison with a ride through a landscape with hills and valleys (for ups & downs) with a local, who knows everything (also the funny bits) about the place, taking the role as an unexpected and unplanned guide. These rides often start with some questions at a conversation/interview level (the small talk on the (train)platform) and really leaves when the concept/ideation is introduced. This can also contain a future-backward element in which the expert describes the future and history of their area of expertise.

Landscape Sessions
In these sessions, I appoint myself as the facilitator (and researcher) of a conversation around the future of education. For these sessions, I designed several physical objects (schools, teachers,..) that participants can place on a model. Before they do so they fill in a sheet with these axes on their own. The answers on these sheets are transferred to data by me after the session and digitalized in a visualization. These sessions contain elements from the methods: Entities Position Map, Activity network and a Solution prototype as described by Vijay Kumar in 101 Design Methods.

Cultural Probes
To gain more insights into the value (and feeling) around mistakes I conduct several probes.

Cultural probes use a collection of tools, artefacts and tasks intended to provoke the user to look and think about their environment in new ways. Responses from these probes initiate a dialogue between the designer and group. With minimal intrusion, researchers can glean insights into participants’ environments that can help to identify problem statements, uncover new opportunities, and inspire the designer with new ideas and novel solutions. – (Gaver, Dunne & Pacenti, 1999)


Tour agenda 

June: Demo at Fablearn ’18 Trondheim
June: Reading Making in Education
September: Contribution at MakerFaire Eindhoven (with Fablearn trail)

I am planning a seminar around design in education at January / February ’19 to finalize my research.


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