Researching with NoTosh

April 6 to 9 2018 marked the start of our 2018 Mayfield Project journey.

I spent the last weekend at a workshop in Sydney investigating current thinking around learners and the spaces they inhabit, facilitated by NoTosh, supported by JDH Architects, and attended by 11 of Australasia’s most enthusiastic, passionate and creative young architects, teachers and planners. As usual with NoTosh, it was a wild, emotional, exciting and inspiring ride. Sixteen strangers diverged, converged, twisted and fortified their thinking and left three days later exhausted, but ultimately happy, as friends and collaborators.

We started our exploration into learning space by looking at how and where teachers learn. The Mayfielders conducted research prior to the conference and shared their findings about space, pedagogy and education. Straight away common threads started to emerge, particularly around regulations/pedagogy/curriculum, time and ownership/enfranchisement. It was interesting for me to watch the workshop process this time as a mentor and bystander with an overview of where they were heading in my mind, while allowing them freedom to move forward as they needed to, to set their own learning journey.

NoTosh took the Mayfielders through quite a number of innovative and thought-provoking exercises (some of which I’d love to steal!), and one of the ones I found really interesting was drawing personas. Drawing and describing what an educator or architect looks like, thinks about and relates to was an interesting way to think about our perceptions and assumptions about others, and ourselves. Are all architects good at math? Do we not listen, or consult? Do we all wear cool glasses? And do all teachers have a desk, ban technology and own a cat? It’s really interesting to question and consider our biases and beliefs, especially subconscious ones. I know lots of teachers, but sometimes the stereotype still springs to mind. It’s important for us all to remember that there is often not much difference between us, and this is especially true of the teachers I have worked with, who just want to create the best learning environment for their students, however that may turn out.

With all the data the team collected, and with the help of hundreds of Post-It notes (note to self: buy shares in Post-It notes in places where NoTosh works!), some strong threads started to pull through. The word ‘community’ kept popping up as a strong theme, with the challenge of recognising that everyone (teachers included) is a learner and we can all contribute to share learning. It was really interesting to see this concept coming through clearly from all three groups, even though each of them started off on different paths, each investigating 100 ideas in ten minutes. So from over twenty different interviews and three hundred ideas, somehow they all ended up with the same concern – how do we force connections between community and learning spaces to bring about more authentic learning and real world understanding?

I wonder why this concept of connection to community keeps coming up. We’ve looked at this concept in some iteration in nearly every Mayfield Project we’ve done, from the very first one over twelve years ago. We have generally never set the theme to start with, other than an overarching statement, to allow the Project to form organically. But somehow it keeps getting tied inexplicably to community. Why is this? A reflection of our modern-day lifestyle? External influences on educational theory? A desire for more connection in our lives? It’s an interesting confluence.

The process of developing our Design Thinking skills/mindset was extraordinary. I haven’t been through an intense program like this before, where we are seeing connections and patterns on both a large and small scale, all at once. It really developed my exploration attitude into how we look at, assess and (hopefully!) improve the world around us, in any field. I expected to feel exhausted the day after the workshop, as it was an incredibly intense experience. But I feel lighter, with more clarity, and energised to continue my learning.

These very clever young professionals are now taking their ideas out in to the wider community, with workplace peers and colleagues and others working within the educational sphere. They have six weeks to refine, test, prototype and develop their ideas before presenting at this year’s Learning Environments Australasia Regional Conference. I am so looking forward to see what they come up with. With their enthusiasm and newly acquired design thinking skills, I already know it will be amazing.

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