Thursday, March 31, 2011

Communicating Design

I had the pleasure to revisit some of my old lessons from last year on the topic of photography, and have decided to add a tinge of spice and variety in my lessons this  year. Honestly I did that with a little apprehension, knowing how sometimes even with the best of plans, things might not turn out as what you would have wanted or imagined. But to my surprise, my young charges definitely superseded my expectations, and some of them even went beyond what I was asking for.

Basically the premise of my lesson was to see how photography, as a skill that combines art and technical knowhow, can be used more effectively, beyond just the mere capturing of a single, or a set of photos. I was looking at how photos can be used to communicate! (Enduring Understanding). My advice to these noobs in photography is the revelation that taking good photos is not necessarily the exclusive domain of professionals with big-sized cameras or DSLR's. What I was more interested in getting them to understand were the concepts of good photography, and then applying them. Moving on from there, my challenge for them was to get them to create a storyboard of photos, that tells a story of their own choosing, using a toy, or a set of toys.

Well, barring the fact that some of these toy stories are very boyish in nature, I do find their stories to be well-thought of, and in fact, very well executed. What surprised me even more was the amount of effort that these students have put in into their works. And mind you, the lessons were only about 9 hours long (spread across 3 weeks). I do like to showcase here some of their works here. The ones shown below were done by Jian En and Wei Qin from class of S1-07 (2011):
Storyboard 1 of 2
Storyboard 2 of 2
More of their works can be seen from their Facebook pages. For more information, do add or gmail me at irfandarian. I'd be more than happy to show them to you.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Teaching them to be hungry

Photo by Irfan Darian (2011)
In my relatively short teaching career so far, one thing that I realise is the need for a teacher to not only be just teaching content and subject mastery, but also life skills. And one challenge that I have is this idea about teaching my young charges about being hungry...and perhaps even staying so! And no it's not about being literally hungry, but rather being hungry in a constantly dynamic and evolving world.

Why do I say that? I guess sometimes we as educators, we do tend to focus on the immediacy of our actions, of our teachings, and perhaps what better way for a teacher to see the fruits of his or her labour, than to base them on the results that their charges would have gotten from tests, exams and a host of other myriad assessments. Immediate gratification much? But is it really all about that? I mean if that is the eventual aim of teaching, then I would be one of the most disappointed educators here in Singapore.

And what about this thing about being hungry? Seriously it has got everything to do with the things that we are currently inculcating into our students, this thing about not just being satisfied with their status quo, but to do their very best to do even better. And I am not particularly condoning this from a materialistic or tangible rewards angle, but more so from the angle of values. This need for our students to really do better, to always be looking at improving their own lot, to move ahead to be the best that they can be, and NOT at the expense of others. Perhaps to put it in a more correct social and moral slant, to be ethically hungry. Looking and reading about how hungry students from developed nations are, and about how even hungrier students from developed nations have become, I feel so worried about the kind of hunger that our students have, that burning-in-the-stomach feeling to really go all out to achieve their aims and goals. The irony of it is that the hunger that the previous generation have suffered and endured,  have translated to perhaps its absence from the current one, whether metaphorically or literally. I wonder whether this is just my own perception, or a really true fact that is happening amongst my young charges. Well I can't really say that all of them are demonstrating this (lack of) hunger, but certainly perhaps at times, I don't seem to be able to see that deeper desire to really satisfy their hunger either. Or perhaps we are just not making them hungry enough?

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Getting out of a sticky situation

Photo by Irfan Darian (2011)
I have always thought that eating in itself shouldn't be something too difficult an activity to do, since humans are naturally wired to be able to eat without learning how to. But when it comes to actually getting that morsel from the bowl/plate into our mouths, that is where the challenge begins. 

And with a greater variety of food at our disposal right now, it is just a matter of time before our preferences for certain foods are dictated more by how easy or difficult for it to be eaten, rather than its actual taste.

I had the (dis)pleasure of experiencing such a moment of epiphany when I had a serving of Cinnamon Melts from a McCafe branch. Well I do admit that I have a sweet tooth, but the thing about eating such stickily sweet food is that there is a high tendency for it to stick onto its container when it cools down. 

Now this is where DESIGN can take centrestage; the idea here is to design an eating container that caters to such differing and customised eating experience. I mean shouldn't there be different containers for different types of food, or at least taking into account the overall eating experience of the customers from the first spoonful, to the final morsel. Take for instance eating ice-cream, wouldn't it be good if the container that contains our ice-cream takes into account the higher liquefied form of the ice-cream towards the end of our eating experience. Or how about eating 'satay' (barbequed meat on sticks), the perennial favorite for many of us. Trying to dip the portions of meat located at the centre of the stick into a small shallow bowl of peanut gravy is definitely a challenge for most of us, so shouldn't there be a change at least in how the eating utensils are designed? But then again, some purists might argue that having those 'inconveniences' are themselves part and parcel of 'experiencing' the dish! I guess it boils down to what makes one happy with a dish, some like it clean and easy, and some like it a little messy. To each his/her own I guess.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Designing for the constrained spaces of an airplane

It is interesting that in my plane trips, I tend to look at how the the overall designs of the spaces centring around the customers' experiences tend to be rather ingenius. Ingenius in the sort of way that they are still functional, but yet not necessarily lacking in its availability to pander to (almost) most of the usual needs that a passenger would want on a flight...and maybe more! Space constraits aside, I am always amused at firstly, the design of the aisle and the seats, of how a high degree of optimisation must have gone through the minds of the seat designers when they were conceptualising its designs. It certainly brought me back to the good old days during my post-graduate studies, when optimisation studies and operations research were 2 of my specialisation areas.

And who can forget the swiss-army-like concept in the toilets. The kind that perhaps would put some of our pulic toilets to shame. Barring the squeezy nature, what surprises me from an ergonomical and anthropometrical points of view is how everything seems to be within reach and arranged in a certain orderly yet logical way. However i would love it even more if they could just make the toilet roll a little more to the front of the seats, rather than at the back.

And who can forget meal-times, the sight of the stewardesses sashaying down the aisle to hand out the airline's version of MRE's (meals ready-to-eat) is usually a welcoming one to most (hungry) passengers, unless of course you were beginning to think that they must have been cooked by your evil mother-in-law from your previous live/marriage! And what surprises me about these meals was also about how some of the small design details that must have taken place back in the design studios. Two examples that I have managed to capture in my recent trips are as shown below.
The first picture shows how a portion of a cornflake meal is also packaged with enough milk at its top. Hence instead of having the flakes and milk as separate entities, they are combined in a single packaging.

The second one is a little easier to see, but what surprises me is the non-necessity of such design, but then it might just be my opinion. They perhaps dipped one end of the 2-pointed toothpick into a green dye, to allow its users to differentiate the different ends. Perhaps its a small gesture of design thinking, but it certainly was enough to make me wonder whether I might have missed out on anything else!

And perhaps I have....!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The power of collective cognition

Taken from:
I am almost at the tail-end of Clay Shirky's Cognitive Surplus and I must say that this is one of the most enlightening books that I have read on the topic of the power of the social media, and what average minds can do and achieve through a social media platform. And no, it is NOT just about Facebook. In fact to my surprise the idea of social and collaborative efforts predates even Facebook, and have been traced to the 17th century, when the idea of 'the Invisible College' was put together by a few of the great minds of that era, who chose to remain independent of any particular (great) institutions in their intellectual pursuits.

Definitely a must-read for those who are serious in delving into the (recent?) phenomena of the social media and what it can (and perhaps can't) do, the book also looks at the emergence of the free and passionate lobbyist, those who are willing and are actually doing a good job, producing good quality works and dedicating themselves to it....and all this without being paid! The examples given such as the Grobanites and the Linux operating system are cases in point. The latter also made it as a special mention due to not only the foresight of the developers of making the original codes freely available, but ALSO dictating the license of how it should be used and distributed by secondary and 3rd party developers afterwards.

And who can miss the emergence of platforms such as blogs and others, that not only allows for the creation of new content from these passionate 'few', but also the game-changing idea that they CAN and did dictate public opinion. One such example was the  People's magazine 1998 online poll for the '50 Most Beautiful People' in the world, and the surprising results that was finally announced.

Indeed it was enlightening to read about the normalcy and evolution of some aspects of human behaviour, and especially so when a few case studies were mentioned.  One  case that I found interesting was the idea of how people with handphones are no longer able to remember their contacts' phone numbers, since the function of memorizing such information has been delegated to the memory-banks of their phones. Hence when such functions are no longer required, our behaviourial pattern would also change to evolve correspondingly.

Lastly, what I do find refreshing is about the possible clash of the digital natives and digital migrants on such issues as intellectual property, and of the idea of sharing. One case in point was that of Napster. Created originally as a platform for sharing music files, her growth has brought along with it a whole slew of legal quagmire, which did contributed to her demise. But is it correct for us to judge that such a platform is illegal? Clay argues that such (sharing) practices was perhaps the default behaviour of these digital natives. They are after all living in an era where the marginal cost of producing  an exact digital copy is zero or almost nothing! Could then the preponderence of these collaborative efforts in itself be a precursor to a society where things are indeed produced for free? My digital immigrant mind goes into hyperdrive mode thinking about these, but then again, that ideal was what makes the Star Trek series interesting...the idea that Man would finally live in an Utopian ideal where they are no longer working for money, but for their own self-satisfaction and self-actualisation.

Reflections from Saigon...

I was privileged to be part of the team that went to Saigon (Ho Chin Minh City), Vietnam, for a recce trip a few days ago. Oh my, what a culture-shock it was for me. But in between the 2 taxi-service breakdowns that I had at the beginning and end of the trip, being accosted by ladies of the night, trying out new food that seems unmentionable at first, but was so seemingly wonderful when it touches my tastebuds...and amidst all the organised chaos of Saigon's road traffic, one thing that stood out in all that noise, was the warmth of the people there. The kind of warmth that was so honest, simple, yet touched my raw nerves on more than one occasion. Even in the humblest of huts, even in the most busies of traffic, and even in the 'busyness' of sacrificing their own personal time, the Vietnameses' warmth and sincerity in helping my partner and I, in trying to negotiate and make sense of things, was indeed a beacon of light in all that is chaotic. And to the 2 guides who untiringly help my partner and I chart a credible program outline for my students, this picture is a tribute to your beauty, on both the inside and the outside! Thanks once again...and hope to see you in a few months time!
Thao (Left) and Tram (Right).
Photo by Irfan Darian (2011)

Signing off...the Cynical Idealist

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Going back to basics...

Perhaps the digital medium is one way forward, but the basic concepts on a more traditional medium must still not be forgotten.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The story of the bottle...

THE bottle in my hand...
Photo by Irfan Darian (2011)
It is weird for me to be reflecting on things that are outside the domain areas of the recently concluded Apple Leadership Summit 2011 in Singapore, but I guess that is just me being me. The story of the black bottle that I got as a souvenir shown above was one such example.

As I was sitting and listening intently to one of the keynote speech, a participant member, whom I was later introduced as one of the organising team member of the summit, came to sit beside me. Well it wasn't that I was the lucky one that she chose to sit beside...but rather, since I was rather late in joining the seminar (due to my prepping the student presenters), and had to sit waaaaay back in the last row, and she was busy walking in and out of the auditorium, fate had it that she ended up sitting beside me.

As we were talking and having a great conversation, the topic of the water bottle came into the picture. She revealed that the bottle was specially ordered from the U.S. just for the summit, and they were specially made, with great quality control, to ensure that the gifts were decent and fit to be given as a special gift to the participants of the summit. She further related the story of how when the whole shipment arrived, the first immediate thought that came to most of them was to just pass these bottles to the participants, as-it-is. But somehow, someone (I think it was the manager or someone), had this idea that to be giving them away just as-it-is was not something that Apple was known for. Hence, what they continued to do, as she was relating to me, just amazes me! The whole team decided to unpack all the 500-over bottles, and wash them, ONE-BY-ONE! And I am not talking about just washing the outside, but also the insides of each and every bottle, using the sort of small long brush that one would use to wash baby-bottles. I mean the seminar was barely a week away and they decided to do something, perhaps even unnecessary to most people, that was totally out of sync with the whole grand scheme of things, where the organisation of the event was concerned. And then to top it off, knowing the humid and warm weather that Singapore had been experiencing for the last few days, the team decided to fill up EACH bottle with mineral water. And I mean real mineral water, and NOT the tap water that came out from the taps here in Singapore (and doing this even though WHO has certified that Singapore's tap water was fit to be drunk straight off the tap! By the way I do know how tap water in Singapore tastes like. :D ) How is that for details and great service!

Now I know some of you might be wondering why in the world were the organisers fretting over all these seemingly small little stuffs? Weren't there any other bigger things to worry about? But then again, these 'fretting' over the little stuffs might be that one small thing that differentiates Apple, or in this case even, the organising committee, from others. I mean it just makes me think about all those small little things that sometimes, we as leaders in the educational arena, or for that matter, leaders in general, seemed to be overlooking. And its not about micromanaging in this context, but more of seeing to it that there ought to be things that would set us apart from others. It is about having the foresight, the thought, the wherewithal, to invest in the small details that would would make the experience that much more value-adding.

Seeing the bottle these past few days and reflecting on the story behind its existence, makes me realise about how then can I make my teaching and learning experiences that much more different and value-adding to my charges. It might not necessarily be something overly vulgar, but perhaps something subtle, something small, something that would set the learning experiences I am providing after the summit that slightly more different than from previous lessons. And perhaps as I continue to work on those small little things, my last statement in this blog post, and my challenge to the readers reading this post is:

What is your bottle (story)?

Signing off,
...the cynical idealist

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Monday, March 7, 2011

Reflections of the cynic...

The team posing for a picture with Janet Wozniak (front row, extreme right).
I'm just behind her.
Photo by Irfan Darian (2011)
The end of the Apple Leadership Summit 2011 in Singapore yesterday was somewhat of a homecoming of sorts for me. Although I was not the lead person managing the students, but having spent the last month or so working very closely with the student presenters, and then seeing them truly 'blossom' on the world's stage when it mattered, has truly given me a whole new meaning to the term 'satisfaction'.

The irony of it, as a teacher, was that I had always had this believe that only students who were less able in their academic studies would be able to show true appreciation to what their teachers had done, especially when they had made it after their studies. But I was so totally wrong in that department!

What I saw was the true manifestation of what education was about. It didn't matter to me that some of them were not perfect in their presentations, or that their presentation boards were less than professionally done, or that they didn't look perfectly fitting in their somewhat oversized blazers (well at least for some of them), but what I did totally feel good about was in seeing how they had truly risen up to the occasion, when that much more was demanded out of them. And add to pull all this off at a world stage when they were barely 2 years into their high-school education was truly a remarkable achievement indeed!

On another note, I was also mindful about this feeling of letting go. That 'butterfly-in-your-stomach' feeling that usually pervades in the minds, and bellies, of parents and teachers, and especially when they worry incessantly about how their charges were going to perform at THE event! I guess this feeling is natural indeed, and I am glad to say that my worries were totally unfounded. But then again, we can never ever let go completely...can we?

Alas, the event has come and gone, and what's left right now are the memories, and reflections. I am still reeling from the satisfaction, and to answer the question that Dan Pink had posed to the audience, about asking the 'Why's' instead of the 'How's' and the 'What's', to me at least, the 'why' of doing all of this, the stress and tiredness of getting all of them ready, all these was really and truly...about and for the students!

Signing off...the cynical idealist

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Featured in IN publication

Just to blow a small trumpet! The 'Elderly Challenge' was featured in the 21st January edition of IN, a Straits Times publication especially catered to students. Here's Page 4!

Shawn (topmost) and Benz, posing with their artefacts