I recently read A Whole New Mind (Pink), which explains the importance of right-brained thinking to success in the new economy. Two of the principles Pink explores rang particularly true for me: Design and Creativity.
Pink helped me understand the rising importance of good design in the marketplace. In a world of plenty, consumers are increasingly choosing products with better design, and mainstream stores offer well-designed products at affordable prices.
This change in the marketplace may help explain some changes at our school. Over the past few years, our students have expressed a clear preference for Apple laptops over Lenovo. We used to purchase twice as many ThinkPads s iBooks. Now, the ratio is 5:1 in favor of Apple. Could a preference for good design in part explain this shift?
Students are rapidly adopting smart phones, starting with the iPhone but also including Blackberry, Sidekick and other popular devices. In part, the falling cost of the devices combined with the need of kids to stay in touch with each other may explain the trend. However, good design is critical to the students’ mobile experience, since they use the devices so intensively. The ability to merge entertainment and communication into one device is also a strong draw. We see almost no Windows Mobile-based phones, especially when compared with a corporate environment.
Students and teachers have expressed pretty high standards for the immediate usability of our IT services. “Intuitive” is a popular expectation. If a tool we roll out is not very usable, such as Outlook Web Access or our parent email lists, people tend to seek an alternative, such as GMail or Yahoo! Groups. Our IT staff has to devote more time to planning and design of the community’s tech resources. When we have the time, higher expectations compel us to produce better services. When our plates are already full, it causes workload anxiety.
Pink builds a case that creativity will be essential to success in the modern economy. Catlin Gabel prides itself on teaching creativity and has launched initiatives to improve our work in this area. The school launched a capital campaign to raise funds for three initiatives, including the construction of a new creative arts center.
We have seen rapid change in the arts curriculum in recent years. Digital photography, film, and animation classes take full advantage of the ability of students to rapidly create, review, and experiment with their work in digital form. Film students self-publish on YouTube, and independent study kids are preparing submit Flickr slideshows of portfolio work as part of their college applications. Even extremely physical classes such as ceramics and woodshop capture digital images of work for recordkeeping and communication.
We recently held an event to celebrate the school’s rich history of excellent science instruction. Three guests delivered speeches via prerecorded online video. All underscored the importance of asking good questions and creative thinking to their professional successes.
To what extent have these concepts of design and creativity penetrated the minds of the teachers and parents in our community, critical stakeholders whose support is essential to effect change? I feel lucky to work at an institution with a critical mass of tech-aware professionals, yet every institution I know is partway along the process of transformation.
I repeatedly face the same challenge: how to act as an effective change agent so that teachers and parents in particular will come to understand new media: its importance, how it works, and what it means to schools. I make progress but also seek better ways to communicate the message, structure learning experiences for others, and increase reach.