Due to an airport drop-off, I got into Design, Cognition, and Learning class mid-exercise today and got to join in halfway through a design activity as an observer. (Disclaimer: the rest of this post may jump between tenses, since I was typing as I watched and thought.)

I entered the room not knowing what the exercise was, but quickly figured out that there were three groups, plus some observers (though it is initially difficult to tell observers from Very Quiet Group Members, although one litmus test I realized I could have used in retrospect was that observers were the only ones who noticed and waved to me when I walked in). Each group seems to have been given an identical assignment sheet to design a neighborhood playground, and a page that might be a map of the area they can build in. It's fun to only watch the external interactions; I cannot hear what they are saying.

  • One group (Nick's) seems to be working on a single list, for which Nick is the notetaker; it's a single-stream conversation with a single keyholder. There are also post-its, but I don't know where they came from other than they seem to be all in the same handwriting.
  • The second group seems to also have a single list (Nikitha is writing) but unlike Nick's list, which is large and in the center of the table (presumably so everyone can see?) Nikitha seems to be taking notes that only she can read; I wonder what effect that has on the discussion? This group seems to have produced the fewest externally-understandable artifacts.
  • The third group (I'll call it Dana's group, because she is closest to me) has sketches on the table, one list in the middle -- and the sketches seem to have been drawn by everyone, one sketch to each person, with the sketch still near that person (does each idea have an "owner" here?)I do not see a central notetaker.

My framing here seems to be coming up as "design as accessible activity" -- which group would have been the easiest for me to jump into, if I'd taken Robin's other suggestion of being a "disruptive influence" in one? Ignoring individuals in each group that I know and have varying levels of knowledge of how to work with, I think...

  • Nikitha's group would have been the hardest. So much context is hidden, because they've been having this unrecorded conversation I have no clue about, and I'd have to disrupt the conversation (or at least Nikitha's note-taking) in order to read it and catch up.
  • Nick's group and Dana's group would have been easier, but in different ways. Nick's group seemed like they were all on the same page (literally; the Canonical Sheet o' Notes in the center of the table) and would have been able to work together to get me to that same spot everyone else was on. I wouldn't necessarily know how they had gotten there, and what the personalities and dynamics were like, though -- I'd have a good grasp of position, but perhaps not velocity
  • Dana's group, on the other hand, had exposed more of their individual thinking; I could get a litle of the individual velocities, though it might take longer to catch up on a unified group position (if they had one).

Another framing for me is "boundaries of participation." At first I thought James was an observer, but then I saw him talking with the group he was watching. I ended up deciding that he was an observer (which is something he did confirm after class), but I could have also labeled him as part of Nikitha's group -- he stayed with them the whole time and seemed to have some input and influence into their discussion. But wait; even if he hadn't stayed with the group the whole time -- or if I'd jumped in late -- would I have been "not a part of the group"? Yes and no. Group membership isn't binary, or doesn't have to be.

Two interesting things to ponder as I step forward on our first project some more -- I guess these are things I should find a reading on, or ask Robin about.