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Intuitive ‘instruction design’

It’s third season of the workshops for homeschoolers that we organise together with Wout Zweers, who works at an intersection of art, design and making. Today is another workshop and, being up early, I started to think about my role in the process.

The first part is logistical. I sort out the dates, write announcements, communicate with the participants and make sure that contributions get collected.

The second one is educational. It is a sort of intuitive ‘instruction design’ for something where you can’t really fix the sequence of steps. A workshop is a discovery environment around a theme, where exploring materials, learning techniques to work with them, producing an outcome and playing with it are mixed in different proportions for everyone.

I guess what I’m trying to do when we are preparing a workshop is something about boundaries, attractors and fitting facilitation.

Attractors are usually there – an interesting theme, materials, methods, tools, machines, Wout himself with all knowledge, skills and inspiration that he easily shares. The challenge here is to stay as open as possible without getting into a chaos (which is easy, given a multi-age group of kids that we usually have). So in a conversation with each other and tryouts with my kids we are sharpening the focus: what is essential for this particular workshop and what can be left for the others. Finding the attractors usually means removing distractors – materials, methods, tools and machines that are likely to result in too much diverging.

This is where the boundaries come into play. Time has to be set and managed, space needs to be organised in a way which helps us and the participants to stay focused, where what is needed can be easily accessed and put back, where the chances of an injury are minimised and the chances of learning and discovery are maximised.

And then comes the facilitation. For me a lot in these workshops is about a sort of apprenticeship – letting the participants to explore while being inspired by Wout and being able to learn “tricks of the trade” from him. So part of the process is creating an opportunity for everyone to “unpack” Wout’s expertise while freeing him from explaining the same thing again and again where it is not essential. The other part is creating conditions for a legitimate peripheral participation, so even smaller kids, who can’t easily do complex tasks (operate a laser cutter or use woodworking tool independently), can feel part of the group and create something meaningful within a theme. The same goes for the parents – we try to make sure that they have a chance to explore, create and learn and next to supporting their own kids.

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