31 January 2019 • Gideon Wille
Failure is a step towards success
Letting students fiddle around without any clear purpose goes against the grain of all educational wisdom. Nevertheless, this was the approach that enabled lecturers on Communication & Multimedia Design to win the Olive Award – the prize for the best team of lecturers at THAUS. What makes their method of working, tinkering, a success?
“You start without a clear purpose”, said ITD lecturer Chris Heydra about the winning approach. “As a child, you’d tip over a box of Lego and just start to play. You didn’t set out with the purpose of building something. You’d pick up a block, then another block and then another and all of a sudden think: I can turn this into a racing car. From that moment, you would build the most stunning racing car that you could imagine. The purpose came while you were playing.”
The first six weeks of the Tinkering subject proceed as usual. Students explore four designs. Each year the designs change. Last year it was augmented and virtual reality, exertion gaming (using the entire body), wearable technology and artificial creatures. Students choose a design during the final two weeks and work together in groups on making something in a workshop. What it will be, they can decide for themselves. The only assignment is the exhibition at the end of the module where they have to show something.
Sawing planks of wood
It’s important to have a good workshop. Last time, the students were holed up in an old factory building in Zoetermeer. It needs to be a kind of black box where you can do a lot of things, an empty space with only a few pieces of equipment, such as a jigsaw, soldering irons and sewing machines. Chris: “However, it’s all relatively makeshift. We don’t want any 3D printers or laser cutters, because then it becomes all about that device, which will heavily guide the concept development. I’d rather they saw a plank of wood by hand.”
During the first days, the students don’t understand it at all. Chris: “They ask what they should do next. We tell them that we don’t know either: they themselves have chosen this design. Some students sit with their arms crossed or spend the whole day on Facebook. We don’t respond to this recalcitrant attitude of doing nothing. After all, how long can you stay on Facebook in a bare factory space while other students are working on things such as VR goggles? The students who are obviously doing nothing then become green with envy. There always comes a moment when they get to work.”
“We are constantly walking back and forth. When they come up with ideas, we help them along. You give them a couple of tips. However, one question is forbidden, namely, is it good like that? That’s because it’s not our role to validate the students. They have to get out of the mindset of ‘I’m doing this for you because it is your subject’. We want to encourage ownership. They make the decisions about what they make. They have to say when it is good.”
Mistakes are allowed
Of course, we do give them some guidance. “You don’t want them to get stuck when they put a piece of hardware together the wrong way. Then we’ll give them a hand. However, we allow them to make mistakes, as long as it is safe. After all, a mistake is also a learning experience. Then they will think about it and wonder why it went wrong. There comes a moment that they realise that it has gone wrong and that is the learning moment. Then you have an appraisal interview with them. Failure is a step towards success.”
There have even been times when students got top marks from Chris even when they didn’t have a product.. “They had a strong concept. They wanted to build a smart electronic stingray/hovercraft. They had thought about the technical side and how they should build it, but they didn’t manage to get all the elements to work. Ultimately, they did build the hovercraft, but it didn’t have the intelligence. I thought that was a brilliant failure.”
This is the final article in a short series about the nominees of the Olive Award, the award for stimulating, challenging and engaging education at THUAS. The first article was about challenged based learning at Nutrition & Dietetics and the second article was about the Spatial Development Team.
In the film below, the lecturers explain more about their approach.
From left to right: Tim van den Bosch, William Beekhuis, Danica Mast, Joël Plas and Chris Heydra. Chris: ‘Failure is a step towards success.’