Thursday, February 05, 2009

Introducing the critique to an MBA class

When Dick Boland visited us last term, one of the things he talked about was a paper by his Managing as Designing collaborator Fred Collopy (whose Fast Company blog is worth reading). As I recall, the idea was to apply an aspect of design practice - the crit (or critique) - to artefacts such as financial instruments. Inspired by their use of the crit, I decided to make explicit this way of approaching idea generation and development within our MBA Entrepreneurship Project this term.

I first experienced crits as part of my MA in what would now be called digital arts at Middlesex University's art school, a strange and wonderful course where they taught artists and designers to program in C so we could write our own software. Then later I taught in art and design colleges, where the crit is a standard part of the teaching and learning environment, mostly at the RCA in London on the MA Interaction Design which is also rooted in that art school tradition.

I can't cite any papers on this yet. What I know about crits is all tacit knowledge and reflection in practice - but the main features were as follows:
- the student presents to a group (faculty, possibly other students) their work to date
- they actually have to show artefacts (a model, a sketch, a set of photos from research, ideally several things)
- they have to explain what the artefact is, how they got to it, and why they did what they did so far (their reasoning)
- and what they plan to do next and why.
And then the people present, both teachers and other students, ask lots of incredibly difficult questions ranging from the nature of the enquiry, the method, the tools, but also the reasons. And also may suggest very concrete ideas too like what other materials or tools to try or other people's work to look at.

Viewed through the lens of practice theory, this is activity in which learning is embodied and situated, in which artefacts play key roles, in which habits and routines develop, in which there is thinking, and doing, and saying. It is therefore not something that can easily be ported to another context, such as the one I am now in, a business school.

But I thought I'd try. Having already introduced the idea to students taking my MBA elective in Design Leadership (in which we do a crit of the Said Business School), I decided to bring in a crit to this year's Entrepreneurship Project. Still at an early stage of their project development, the MBA teams presented along the lines described above, and received a lot of feedback from the people present - members of faculty and my guest designer/researcher Bas Raijmakers of STBY. Doing this prototyped a way of teaching that seemed to work but was novel in our school, where lectures and supervision are the dominant modes of learning and teaching. Oxford (and Cambridge) pride themselves on their tutorial system which has turned out great thinkers and doers, for many many years. Art and design schools have also turned out great thinkers and doers using the crit. The artefacts produced in each case vary (essays v anything at all that an art or design student might create) but the underlying method has some simliarities. But the crit offers something special in a context in which uncertainty about the problem space is high. For students generating ideas for a new business in the EP, it is not even clear what the problem or opportunity is, and it is here that art and design approaches are of value.

Photo by Alice Wang from workshop/crit during project involving MA and MBA students, Said Business Schooll 2007

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