Designing a research practice

The original text was written the week prior to the WonderLab intensive in May 2019 and the edits occurred post-intensive. The text strikethroughs imply a change to my thinking. A clean revised post will be uploaded shortly.

Designing multi-modal learning experiences
Visual research as a means of research
Design as a research practice
Designing a research practice
Design as research

Through visualisation, what can we learn about multi-modal communication in pedagogy?
How can one learn through visualisation?
Through designing and with the designed

Design as a research practice
Through designing and with the designed

What?
The research looks to build an understanding of multi-modal communication in practice by/with/through developing an accessible visual language that can replace or supplement speech and writing in teaching practice. The language will create a visual record of one’s current pedagogical practice, helping to provide perspective on the delivery modes [maybe something about learning / deep learning?]. The documented visual scenarios provide one with the possibility to objectively review and reshape their practice through making.  The formal visual language will be future-thinking and use digital technology to move beyond the static nature of current ideographic languages.

Why?
The study seeks to deliberately adopt alternative ways of conducting, publishing and valuing research by moving beyond the text-centric approach common to academia. It appeals to my interest in subordinate ways of knowing by focusing on non-discursive processing. Additionally, the study seeks to develop inclusive learning experiences that speak to varied personalities and learning style preferences. 

I hope a design research lens will reveal blind spots in practice and help develop facilitator/learner competency in multi-modal communication. Insights from the research should help facilitators integrate different modes forms of research communication more meaningfully into the curricular and their practice. Additionally, the knowledge gained reinforces the urgency to form multi-literacy collaborative partnerships that can communicate across a spectrum of channels.  more broadly.

How?
The research will be practice-led and multi-method. Data will be expressed non-numerically and represented in forms other than words — this may include ideographic writing systems, data visualisation, animations, digital interactions and live action etc. (B. Haseman, 2006). The practice-led process will use design thinking methods and visual communication to disseminate research that is both accessible and engaging for communities beyond and within academia (Conquergood, 2002). 

Who?
The investigation will be rooted in design pedagogy; however, the knowledge generated may be transferrable to other disciplines and professional practice.

Patterns & Collaboration

What might I notice if I were to visually track the moves I make as a participant and facilitator in a collaborative process? Would a pattern emerge? How might this visual representation help me to better understand my practice and the practice of others?

Collaborative Teams

How do we come together and break apart to form collaborative teams?  Is it the role of the facilitator or the participants to decide on the number of participants a team? Or, should/do these decisions emerge through conversation and negotiation between participants and facilitators?

Uncertainty

Two research topics run in tandem, and I see value in playing with both.

It is fraught with uncertainty and runs against the grain.

Immerse yourself in unknown, and trust something will emerge.

Let me stay with the murky, and avoid the lure of clarity.

A story about the Blind Spot presentation

The Blind Spot presentation I prepared for Research Methods 1 demonstrates a version of my practice. I didn’t have an object or a thing to discuss, but I was interested in blinds spots within one’s practice, life and research. It made sense to show the hypnotic motion piece called Blind Spot by Roland Schimmel, while talking about how we explore, learn and experience the unknown. The project drew upon memories, conversations, associations, experiences, but ultimately the story materialised through journaling. Reading the journal entry aloud as though it were a script was not something I had previously done. However, adopting different methods and strategies is part of my everyday practice.

The Blind Spot presentation didn’t start when the task was set, as related ideas were being discussed and experienced well before. The work didn’t finish once it was delivered as the ideas it captured continue to grow and form a base for further exploration. This approach makes for a messy process and question why I continue to muddy the waters when clarity is what I pursue.

Thinking about this predicament through James Turrell’s work Backside of the Moon helps me to understand as the artwork wouldn’t exist if the lights were switched on — the work requires you to settle into the darkness and only as time passes things begin to appear. If you look at anything closely over the course of time the story is bound to change — this is the message I take from experiencing the James Turrell piece Backside of the Moon.

Having no clear approach to generating solutions does leave you feeling vulnerable and means accepting uncertainty seems a vital component of the design process. Society is not comfortable with uncertainty and frankly, neither am I. We crave clarity, feel safe with clear labels, and seek explicit knowledge, despite the fact much doesn’t conform.

I’m not claiming anything about the Blind Spot presentation was of great importance; I am merely looking at what is already there. I will continue to reflect on what has already past — constantly changing the way in which I view it — trying to adjust my proximately and the lens I view it through. I hope this process will deepen my understanding of my practice and help me better understand how we can work with uncertainty.

Uncertainty in practice

My mind is easily distracted when uncertainty is at play.

I place the words ‘Creative — Research — Methods’ on a page and question what they mean. They are perplexing. They are commonly used and misused. They hold surface meaning, deep meaning and can be contextually nuanced. My mind wonders before I can catch it, and begins to contemplate how a satirical text message can easily be misinterpreted because it isn’t accompanied by visual cues, eg. body language and tone of voice.

My lack of confidence in knowing what precisely constitutes a ‘Creative Research Method’ leads me to see what others have to say. Maybe it is safest to say what has been said before. I could easily list the methods in Carole Gray’s book Visualizing Research: A Guide to the Research Process in Art and Design — but this wouldn’t be an accurate representation of my mixed method approach. Repackaging Gray’s list would in some respects answer the brief, but for me, it is more interesting to use practice to explore alternatives ways of knowing. So, I decide to show and tell A story about the Blind Spot presentation not knowing where it will lead.

Developing a narrative

The verbal and visual narrative act like a duet — at times one mode leads the communication and other times it is the union of the visual and verbal that produces clarity. Dependant on the day each mode reaches and resonates differently with viewers. There is never a perfect way — it is simply about creating space for different connections. When I develop a visual and verbal narrative there is a constant dialogue between the two — sometimes the presentation inspires the narrative and other times it acts in reverse.

Planning an uncomfortable journey

My experience as a designer, learner, educator and researcher shows me that a linear process can be an indication you are treading a path travelled before. Travelling the same path can be reassuring. So how can we walk the path with fresh eyes, always curious, alertly watching for a different image to emerge? How can we build confidence and trust to embrace what is unfamiliar and see what we’ve previously overlooked?

My aim on this research journey is to ensure it is playfully uncomfortable, avoid predefined paths and do everything to ensure the journey isn’t boringly linear. It is to see the relationship between process and outcome as cyclical.

This means with each new task I set I aim to consciously incorporate methods, tools and techniques which are unfamiliar and aim to embrace them with like an improviser does on stage.

Awareness

If we look long enough the story is always bound to change — that’s just one message I take from experiencing the James Turrell piece Backside of the Moon — this experience was discussed in the original Blind Spot presentation.

Working with the unknown

To consciously keep the research journey uncomfortable I seek out new ways to explore ideas. For example, The Balance as Bias post looks to disrupt the way I approach diagrammatic sketching by adding time to the equation — it also reminds me vividly of how challenging the learning process can be when everything feels unfamiliar. Additionally, I am experimenting with different writing styles to see how my ideas are best articulated.

It requires trust, patience, perseverance and time to travel paths not traversed before.