Design for Regeneration

Teaching Sustainability

In order to learn how to best teach regenerative concepts I looked to how sustainability is taught at the undergraduate level (since regenerative practice is building upon the practices of sustainability) Many find merit in the ‘problem-based’ or ‘project based learning’ methods which involves hands-on learning to engage students (Brundiers & Wiek, 2013; Mindt & Rieckmann, 2017; Steinemann, 2003). Behind this method choice is a pedagogy called constructivism. With constructivism, the theory is that students construct and retain knowledge with their own interpretation through active engagement with the material, rather than passive learning methods such as lecture or textbooks (Hedden et al., 2017). 

Although the same terms are not used in various case studies, the core ideas remain the same. Some classroom case studies, using the constructivist approach resulted in tangible products, such as a chicken coup for the school farm (Hedden et al., 2017) and others, using the problem-based learning approach, centered-around presenting plans to school administrators for improving campus sustainability (Steinemann, 2003). However, the common links were working on realistic project and problems while allowing the students a large degree of freedom to build solutions and their own understandings (Hedden et al., 2017; Steinemann, 2003). Often these case studies incorporated outside stakeholders in their class projects which also may have also attributed to their success (Hedden et al., 2017; Steinemann, 2003). Overall, the consensus seems to be that sustainability is complex and does not have definite answer, making it best for students’ learning to use a hands-on approach with real issues, such as through the problem or project based learning or constructivist teaching approaches (Brundiers & Wiek, 2013).

What is Design?

Design as a set of fields and a practice is inherently constructivist. Design thinking helps take theory and put it into practice and is focused on solving difficult and complex issues. Design is the cultivated process of framing and reframing a problem (Schön, 1983) and ‘conversing’ with the ‘materials,’ subjects, venue, and medium in order to innovate (Buchanan, 1992, Suri, 2017, & Schön, 1983). A designer does not solve simple problems with simple answers (Rittel and Webber,1974). It takes distilling a certain level of chaos and managing many variables mixed with a creative, innovative mindset to design. Creativity, like any other skill, is developed through practice (Simon, 1999). Creativity enables a designer to synthesizes divergent ideas into a cohesive product. Since creativity is a skill, design can be taught. 

Connecting Design and Regeneration

Given that design methods are tailored for solving complex issues, design is very much at home in sustainable problem solving. Design is naturally about project and problem-based learning. Given that these methods have been shown as effective for teaching sustainability to undergraduates, I am proceeding with the idea that regenerative concepts can also best be taught by using design methods for project and problem-based learning. Teaching regenerative practice with a design lens will help students development an actionable practice, regardless of their field. The pedagogy of constructivist teaching will guide my design project, as I continue with my thesis and develop a tool for teaching regenerative concepts.

Works Cited:

Brundiers, K., & Wiek, A. (2013). Do We Teach What We Preach? An International Comparison of Problem- and Project-Based Learning Courses in Sustainability. Sustainability, 5(4), 1725–1746.

Buchanan, R. (1992). Wicked Problems in Design Thinking. Design Issues, 8(2), 5–21. Retrieved from JSTOR.

Hedden, M. K., Worthy, R., Akins, E., Slinger-Friedman, V., & Paul, R. C. (2017). Teaching Sustainability Using an Active Learning Constructivist Approach: Discipline-Specific Case Studies in Higher Education. Sustainability, 9(8), 1320.

Mindt, L., & Rieckmann, M. (2017). Developing competencies for sustainability-driven entrepreneurship in higher education: A literature review of teaching and learning methods. Teoría de la Educación. Revista Interuniversitaria, 29(1 (en-jun)), 129-159–159.

Rittel, H. W. J., & Webber, M. M. (1973). Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning. Policy Sciences, 4, 155–169.

Schön, D. A. (1983). From Technical Rationality to Reflection-in-Action and Design as a reflective conversation with the situation. In The Reflective Practitioner: How Professionals think in Action (pp. 21–103). Basic Books.

Simon, H. (1999). The Science of Design: Creating the Artificial. In The Sciences of the Artificial (pp. 111–138). MIT Press.

Steinemann, A. (2003). Implementing Sustainable Development through Problem-Based Learning: Pedagogy and Practice. Journal of Professional Issues in Engineering Education & Practice, 129(4), 216–224.

Suri, J. F. (2017). Jane Fulton Suri: Inspired by Life [Lecture, You Tube Video]. Retrieved from

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