Liquid Strelka at Falling Walls Lab

25.09.2013, 17:04
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On the 8th November, Strelka graduate Liya Safina is going to Berlin to present the research based on her educational experiment Liquid Strelka, to a team of international experts at the competition finale of Falling Walls Lab.

Falling Walls Lab

The qualifying rounds for the Falling Walls competition were held in Moscow on the 11th September. The coming Berlin conference will follow a pattern similar to TED in format, with representatives of various fields gathering to present their projects, ideas and research to each other.

In the qualifying rounds, it was required that not only the problems researched be presented, but also that participants suggest possible solutions. Each presentation thus had to demonstrate an ability to tackle not just the more immediate issues, but show how they had anticipated those further into the future, beyond the horizon.

Problems of control

For six months at Strelka, I researched education from the point of view of adaptability. By this I mean the possibility of adapting an educational programme to fit the needs of very different individuals within a single group. I defined the problem as “Resolving problems of control in education”.

Usually, the lack of independence in graduates is explained in terms of our being used to being controlled and adjusting solutions to fit the answers our teachers expecting from us. Naturally, this does not prepare us to take on any responsibility for our actions. If we have done something wrong, it is because the textbook told us to do it like that or the programme was designed in particular way and “I worked within the given framework”.

A student can become responsible for his actions only when he can independently find for himself the necessary resources, methods, and people to consult with for his projects. Our lived experiences can sometimes be transferred into solution-finding process and innovations can stem from that.

I conducted a two-week educational experiment called Liquid Strelka during the Institute’s summer programme. Its main objective was to investigate the opportunities for absolutely independent work given to students and young professionals . I wanted to understand the ways in which the education programme limits those taking part and, conversely, where it doesn’t.

Methods

Emphasis was placed upon peer to peer learning for representatives of different professions, since each discipline has its own way of dealing with problems. I was more of a coordinator, and the project was called “Learning Without Teachers”.

The participants were given complete freedom in the problem solving process. Four briefs from real clients were set as the main tasks. Two of them were “open” and the other two – “closed”.

Learning on “closed” briefs can be called problem-based learning. In this case participants had to proceed from the problem that had to be solved.

A completely different approach was implemented for “open” briefs. This is discovery learning, where one is not restricted by structural limitations and there is no particular expected result. In this case, you make discoveries during the process and a project can move in quite unexpected directions.

The method I used to answer the participants’ questions is usually referred to as coyote teaching. This meant not giving a ready answer, but, rather, asking a counter-question to make the participants look at their inquiries from a different angle and find the solution by themselves. Some people didn’t feel comfortable in a situation without any direct answers, but everything turned out fine in the end, with all clients quite satisfied.

I mentioned participants in the experiments learning from each other. This method is called peer to peer, whereby people of the same age group teach various things to one another. This is not necessarily an obvious learning process – anything can happen in the course of a conversation when you’re listening to the opinions of others.

Another approach I would like to mention is that of resource based learning. This implies not only using information available on the Internet or in libraries, but everything you can see around you. One of the tasks set for the participants, was to get in touch with an expert capable of stretching their minds, to get them out of their comfort zone and have them come up with a solution. This expert could even be a potential user of a product, somebody sitting on a bench in the yard.