The Random Walk and the Final Cause

A small team of researchers (Jill Fantauzzacoffin, Juan Rogers, and Jay Bolter)  based at Georgia Tech (http://www.gatech.edu) recently some completed interesting work that married an examination of STEAM processes with the development and teaching of an upper-level undergraduate/graduate course (http://ieeexplore.ieee.org/xpl/articleDetails.jsp?tp=&arnumber=6204164&queryText%3Dgeorgia).

The researchers examined the work of engineers and artists who were working to create similar technologies.  For both, innovation was born of problems and questions that the individual makers found compelling, and creativity was tied to subjectivity. The maker’s response to failure and uncertainty were significant with regard to the products of the work.

Chief green wall designers at Green over Grey - Living Walls and Design (Green Artist)

Chief green wall designers at Green over Grey – Living Walls and Design (Green Artist)

Engineers tended to use a teleological creative strategy that involved working toward a well-defined design goal. The work toward this goal begins with a body of accumulated knowledge and is tested against this knowledge throughout the process, minimizing uncertainty. Artists tended to take a “random walk”, a stochastic creative strategy, to explore a more general direction for exploration. They also work within constraints, but constraints that are in some ways less explicit. The artists were guided by an internal sense of authenticity. In comparison to the teleological approach of the engineers, the stochastic method resulted in wider exploration and the inclusion of more sociocultural concerns.

The project-based course served both art and engineering students in a studio setting where they could learn from both disciplines.  The class was small, just 13 students. Students worked through the design process three times with lots of support. They were told to follow ideas that they themselves found compelling, and they were allowed to fail, and were expected to work within both of the teleological and stochacistic creative strategies. Students made their process explicit, thereby becoming familiar with metacognition, a characteristic of expert learning.

When Jill led this work, she was a PhD candidate. I’d say that she’s one to watch.

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