Making + Community

Oct 10, 2018

A new colleague of mine, Tracy Corado, and I recently taught a workshop that integrated concepts of personalizing digital graphics via drawing software, the importance of craft in making, and community building in an integrated exercise framed by writings from Douglas Abrams' "The Book of Joy". (Notice a joy-filled blog theme, do you? Designing is joy for me.) 

Not only did we need to consider the varying skill-sets of all workshop participants, which ranged from UX/UI to carpentry to fashion to tea ritual designer, to develop a curriculum lasting no more than 2-hours, but we also chose to shroud it with relevance to a key point we were both inspired from the book. 

"We are who we are through one another". 

It was also a shared goal that we get everyone more acquainted with the laser cutter on campus, since a group survey revealed it was the most popular machine everyone wanted to use in some form or another for future projects. We had only a few days to plan this whole thing out. We chose three main categories to frame our workshop: 

intro to digital tools, 

hands-on making, 

group collaboration exercise.

Incorporating the laser cutter part was a bust. Down for maintenance. 

As an educator, I was reminded how we must remember to have a backup plan. It was a blessing in disguise. 

We realized it was more meaningful for our group to immerse themselves in a hands-on activity that connected them directly to the material they were making an object out of. We embraced analog sensibilities and everyone got the chance to test out their exacto-blade, straight-edge and paper-folding skills! We developed a workshop that tapped into this group's diverse skillsets for individuals to "each one teach one" as well as dabble in something that may be a bit out of their comfort zone. 

It is said that the best lessons we learn are the ones most uncomfortable and that we initially react to the strongest. 

Tracy and I incorporated a few different exercises in the workshop to cover different tendencies of learning, whether one learns better solo or in a group; via digital or analog tools; customizable or prescribed, etc. By building in flexibility in the lesson, achieved by giving each person a moment to customize their work as the workshop progressed, the tasks at hand seemed to be more enjoyable (just a personal observation). 

Also, we buffered the duration for each lesson to accommodate both novices and experts in each step. For example, if one were already experienced at the graphics software we were teaching, one had time to jump ahead and take time to spruce up their file while others had time to learn the fundamentals setup. We also attempted to build in a more personal, emotional aspect to the workshop that gave everyone a moment to identify something important to them, something that brings them joy, and include it in their project. Allowing the space for personal connection to the act of making lent to a beautiful outcome when everyone put their individual objects together to be a group whole.

Everyone works at different paces, not everyone has English as their native language, and everyone learns differently. As we taught the workshop, it was important to remain present to these facts to ensure everyone was able to learn what we were covering, complete the tasks desired for the final outcome (which was group dependent), and…most importantly enjoy the workshop. 

The biggest lesson I learned from teaching this workshop was the value of two key, coincidentally contradicting, aspects: 

one is setting expectation, one is having an element of surprise. 

Many students need some level of communication, a heads-up of sorts, of what they are about to do in order to have a sense of what it is they are about to accomplish. It helps to know what you are working towards to gauge whether or not you are on the right track. Yet we kept the interdependent, community end step as a surprise. No one knew that the object they were making was going to be part of a greater whole. 

The looks on everyone's faces when they saw their work all come together was priceless. Joy!