"Making Publics" By and With Students


Lab Atlanta faculty had the pleasure of hosting two phenomenal educators to work with us this past week: Diana Laufenberg, Executive Director of Inquiry Schools, and Carl Di Salvo, from Georgia Tech’s Public Design Workshop. Each week as we proceed, the pieces of the puzzles that make up Lab Atlanta continue to fall more auspiciously into place. Ms. Laufenberg issued a wonderful reminder to us in the design process to prioritize student learning over merely "schooling." In other words: to design units of learning to be done “by and with students” instead of “to and for students.”

Dr. Di Salvo visited us next to explicate the intricate process of public design, emphasizing the importance of creating and empowering “publics”--or communities of common interest formed around salient issues. He also shared his vision of a more grounded, circumscribed expectation for the outputs of public designers. Public designers work to uncover vexing issues, propose solutions, and create prototypes to solve “wicked problems.” But designers are not necessarily obliged to actually carry out those plans, DiSalvo notes. To illustrate, he used the instructive analogy of the process of designing a cup. Each physical characteristic of the cup (size, shape, color, etc.) would be the responsibility of the designer, but the actual fabrication of the cup would be left to a manufacturer. We often expect too much from public designers and their blueprints, he observes, while the construction of products and execution of ideas is often better left to others later on in the creative process.

As we move forward with our own instructional design processes, we enjoy a great deal of support and enthusiasm for our program from our national and local community partners, like Diana and Carl. This encouragement has helped us to craft the Lab Atlanta semester as an innovative and creative set of interdisciplinary modules, alternating between experiential projects and inquiry-based seminars. As Diana put it, we are in the enviable position to really think outside the box. Coming mostly from traditional classrooms and conventional methods of planning and preparing ourselves, we are all looking forward to envisioning new ways of doing things. By maximizing the learning opportunities of our being in the heart of Midtown Atlanta, we can design experiential modules immersed in the issues pervading our city. To really get “outside the box” in these ways, we need to continue finding this sweet spot between learning and school. As each week goes by, we remain inspired by the abundant instructional resources we share, our talented faculty colleagues, and the generous runway we have, in the words of Sir Ken Robinson, “to create a culture for valuable learning.”