College Composition Weekly: Summaries of research for college writing professionals

Read, Comment On, and Share News of the Latest from the Rhetoric and Composition Journals

Leave a comment

Wible, Scott. Design Thinking for Creative Problem Solving. CCC, Feb. 2020. Posted 04/19/2020.

Wible, Scott. “Using Design Thinking to Teach Creative Problem Solving in Writing Courses.” College Composition and Communication 71.3 (2020): 399-425. Print.

Scott Wible describes an upper-level course in a professional-writing minor in which “design thinking” is central to the course design and outcomes. In Wible’s view, the processes inherent in design thinking lead students to more creative responses to problem-solving assignments.

Wible notes that the 2011 Framework for Success in Post-Secondary Writing, by the Council of Writing Program Administrators, the National Council of Teacher of English, and the National Writing Project, includes “creativity” as one of the “habits of mind” for successful student writing, defining it as “the ability to use novel approaches for generating, investigating, and representing ideas” (399-400). Wible cites scholarship advocating creativity as an important writing outcome and advancing strategies for encouraging it (400). Adding reviews of composition scholars and others who promote design thinking, Wible presents design-thinking as “a human-centered process” that derives its effects from intensive interactions with stakeholders as well as an emphasis on learning as a way of expanding the invention phase of composing (400-01).

In the “large suburban public university in the Northeast” (403) where Wible directs the Professional Writing Program (425), students complete a “series of linked assignments” focused on identifying and proposing a solution to a problem (403). Wible became concerned that traditional assignments did not inspire students to conduct serious inquiry or to think creatively, but rather allowed them to seize on preconceived notions of the ideal solution and then, as noted by Carolyn D. Rude, “approach their remaining work as an exercise in defending that thesis” (404).

In contrast, Wible argues, design thinking uses a set of writing exercises or genres to preclude early closure and engender the kind of thinking needed to address what Richard Marback calls “wicked problems”: those that are “highly contextualized, value-laden, and solvable in more than one way” (404-05).

In Wible’s representation, design thinking encompasses five modes: Empathy Mode, Define Mode, Ideate Mode, Prototyping Mode, and Test Mode (405). These modes, embodied in written genres, provide students with templates for exploring the complexities of a problem and opening pathways to innovation, enabling them, as encouraged by Linda Flower and John Hayes, to “create ideas, not simply find them” (402).

Wible’s class was commissioned by the Office of Faculty Affairs to develop a video for new faculty at the university. Envisioned as a basic introduction to university life, the project as enriched by design thinking, in Wible’s view, recognized and addressed the needs of this group with deeper understanding and effectiveness (405).

An overriding principle behind the five modes and the genres through which they are implemented, he reports, is the need, in the words of “entrepreneur educator” Steven Blank, for students to “get out of the building,” (qtd. in Wible 407), recognizing that effective problem solving does not result from “huddling in a conference room” but rather from “empathy research” that involves firsthand engagement with stakeholders. This kind of research assumes that the inquirer is ignorant and in need of exploring the problem in unfamiliar contexts beyond traditional research (407). The genres facilitate this kind of inquiry.

In Empathy Mode, Wible reports that students present the new faculty stakeholders with a set of “User Empathy Cards” containing “activities and experiences likely common” to the new faculty; respondents sort the cards into priorities, an exercise that elicits conversations leading in unexpected directions (408). Students compose follow-up “empathy questions,” again beyond the expected, to elicit “detail-rich, value-laden stories” that encompass multiple facets of respondents’ situations (409).

The Definition Mode, Wible explains, results in “User Empathy Maps,” which students create through collaborative sharing of their notes, with salient points listed quickly and briefly on sticky notes. Emerging trends in these lists lead to the map, which includes the categories “Say,” “Think,” “Do,” and “Feel.” He gives the example of “academic loneliness” expressed by new STEM faculty trying to develop research agendas (411).

The synthesis afforded by the map leads to the POV Statement, a template in which a specific “user” is said to “need” a certain outcome based on conclusions from the mapping process. Wible contrasts these statements with project statements from a more typical course, in which a solution would often be embedded in the definition of the problem (412). The goal, he writes, is to capture “the emotional depth and breadth of a person’s experiences rather than only their material needs” (413).

Instead of proposing “import[ed]” solutions in the Ideation Mode, students use their POV Statements to compose “How Might We” statements that define the needs, then move on to an intensive collaborative brainstorming session. Wible emphasizes what he considers effective brainstorming, in his case, characterized in part by using the limited space afforded by sticky notes to capture ideas without getting bogged down in developing each one (415).

This process leads to “Idea Selection.” Wible urges moving beyond the commonly applied criterion of “feasibility,” which he argues results in “many imaginative yet undeveloped ideas get[ting] lost” (415). His students broke into teams charged with producing videos, with one considering feasibility, but two others looking for the idea “most likely to delight the user” and another considering the “potentially ‘biggest breakthrough’” (416).

In the Prototyping and Testing Modes, students presented possible “rough” solutions to their respondents and gathered feedback. This step, offered in multimodal genres, led to further revision. Genres included “[a]nnotated sketches,” and “role playing.” Because they had been asked to create a video, the students chose to create “eight-panel storyboards” (418). Wible continues to emphasize how the design process results in deeper knowledge and creative insights about context and needs:

The aim of creating and testing prototypes . . . is not to seek confirmation about a solution idea but rather to bring designers together with users to think with and through the prototype-as-tentative solution. . . . (418)

Students finally “pitch” their solutions, but Wible argues for moving them away from foregrounding their product to foregrounding their learning. They synthesize an “Innovation Story” and a “Learning Story” that detail how they created their solutions through the design modes (419-20).

Wible promotes the value of writing as a means to explore and focus the learning resulting from the use of design thinking and advocates integrating the methodologies students encounter in their varied majors with design processes (422). He reports critique that, unless specifically structured to include it, design thinking can overlook learning from past cultural moments, including “humanistic and social research that happen through reading” (423). He notes that design principles should not be seen as monolithic solutions for better writing outcomes but rather as part of a pedagogical strategy to inspire deeper, more creative engagement in problem-solving methods.

1 Comment

Boyle, Casey. Rhetoric and/as Posthuman Practice. CE, July 2016. Posted 08/06/2016.

Boyle, Casey. “Writing and Rhetoric and/as Posthuman Practice.” College English 78.6 (2016): 532-54. Print.

Casey Boyle examines the Framework for Success in Postsecondary Writing, issued by the Council of Writing Program Administrators, the National Council of Teachers of English, and the National Writing Project, in light of its recommendation that writing instruction encourage the development of “habits of mind” that result in enhanced learning.

Boyle focuses especially on the Framework‘s attention to “metacognition,” which he finds to be largely related to “reflection” (533). In Boyle’s view, when writing studies locates reflection at the center of writing pedagogy, as he argues it does, the field endorses a set of “bad habits” that he relates to a humanist mindset (533). Boyle proposes instead a view of writing and writing pedagogy that is “ecological” and “posthuman” (538). Taking up Kristine Johnson’s claim that the Framework opens the door to a revitalization of “ancient rhetorical training.” Boyle challenges the equation of such training with a central mission of social and political critique (534).

Boyle recounts a history of writing pedagogy beginning with “current-traditional rhetoric” as described by Sharon Crowley and others as the repetitive practice of form (535). Rejection of this pedagogy resulted in a shift toward rhetorical and writing education as a means of engaging students with their social and political surroundings. Boyle terms this focus “current-critical rhetoric” (536). Its primary aim, he argues, is to increase an individual’s agency in that person’s dealings with his or her cultural milieu, enhancing the individual’s role as a citizen in a democratic polity (536).

Boyle critiques current-critical rhetoric, both in its approach to the self and in its insistence on the importance of reflection as a route to critical awareness, for its determination to value the individual’s agency over the object, which is viewed as separate from the acting self (547). Boyle cites Peter Sloterdijk’s view that the humanist sense of a writing self manifests itself in the “epistle or the letter to a friend” that demonstrates the existence of a coherent identity represented by the text (537). Boyle further locates a humanist approach in the “reflective letter assignments” that ask students to demonstrate their individual agency in choosing among many options as they engage in rhetorical situations (537).

To develop the concept of the “ecological orientation” (538) that is consistent with a posthumanist mindset, Boyle explores a range of iterations of posthumanism, which he stresses is not be understood as “after the human” (539). Rather, quoting N. Katherine Hayles, Boyle characterizes posthumanism as “the end of a certain conception of the human” (qtd. in Boyle 539). Central posthumanism is the idea of human practices as one component of a “mangled assemblage” of interactions among both human and nonhuman entities (541) in which separation of subject and object become impossible. In this view, “rhetorical training” would become “an orchestration of ecological relations” (539), in which practices within a complex of technologies and environments, some of them not consciously summoned, would emerge from the relations and shape future practices and relations.

Boyle characterizes this understanding of practice as a relation of “betweenness among what was previously considered the human and the nonhuman” (540; emphasis in original). He applies Andrew Pickering’s metaphor of practice as a “reciprocal tuning of people and things” (541). In such an orientation, “[t]heory is a practice” that “is continuous with and not separate from the mediation of material ecologies” (542). Practice becomes an “ongoing tuning” (542) that functions as a “way of becoming” (Robert Yagelski, qtd. in Boyle 538; emphasis in original).

In Boyle’s view, the Framework points toward this ecological orientation in stressing the habit of “openness” to “new ways of being” (qtd. in Boyle 541). In addition, the Framework envisions students “writing in multiple environments” (543; emphasis in Boyle). Seen in a posthuman light, such multiple exposures redirect writers from the development of critical awareness to, in Pickering’s formulation, knowledge understood as a “sensitivity” to the interactions of ecological components in which actors both human and nonhuman are reciprocally generative of new forms and understandings (542). Quoting Isabelle Stengers, Boyle argues that “an ecology of practices does not have any ambition to describe things ‘as they are’ . . . but as they may become” (qtd. in Boyle 541).

In Boyle’s formulation, agency becomes “capacity,” which is developed through repeated practice that then “accumulates prior experience” to construct a “database of experience” that establishes the habits we draw on to engage productively with future environments (545). Such an accumulation comes to encompass, in the words of Collin Brooke, “all of the ‘available means'” (qtd. in Boyle 549), not all of them visible to conscious reflection, (544) through which we can affect and be affected by ongoing relations in rhetorical situations.

Boyle embodies such practice in the figure of the archivist “whose chief task is to generate an abundance of relations” rather than that of the letter writer (550), thus expanding options for being in the world. Boyle emphasizes that the use of practice in this way is “serial” in that each reiteration is both “continuous” and “distinct,” with the components of the series “a part of, but also apart from, any linear logic that might be imposed” (547): “Practice is the repetitive production of difference” (547). Practice also becomes an ethics that does not seek to impose moral strictures (548) but rather to enlarge and enable “perception” and “sensitivities” (546) that coalesce, in the words of Rosi Braidotti, in a “pragmatic task of self-transformation through humble experimentation” (qtd. in Boyle 539).

Boyle connects these endeavors to rhetoric’s historical allegiance to repetition through sharing “common notions” (Giles Deleuze, qtd. in Boyle 550). Persuasion, he writes, “occurs . . . not as much through rational appeals to claims but through an exercise of material and discursive forms” (550), that is, through relations enlarged by habits of practice.

Related to this departure from conscious rational analysis is Boyle’s proposed posthuman recuperation of “metacognition,” which he states has generally been perceived to involve analysis from a “distance or remove from an object to which one looks” (551). In Boyle’s view, metacognition can be understood more productively through a secondary meaning that connotes “after” and “among” (551). Similarly, rhetoric operates not in the particular perception arising from a situated moments but “in between” the individual moment and the sensitivities acquired from experience in a broader context (550; emphasis original):

[R]hetoric, by attending more closely to practice and its nonconscious and nonreflective activity, reframes itself by considering its operations as exercises within a more expansive body of relations than can be reduced to any individual human. (552).

Such a sensibility, for Boyle, should refigure writing instruction, transforming it into “a practice that enacts a self” (537) in an ecological relation to that self’s world.