The role of a design educator is often described in terms of the skills and knowledge they “deliver”, the methods they “apply” or the “outcomes” that they achieve in the students. In this paper, I propose that defining a design educator as a certain type of “listener” can lead to insights into the specificity of design education that cannot be garnered from these other points of view.
I discern at least five distinct modes of listening involved in the role of a design educator:
– “Listening for” is the most conventional mode of educator listening, in which design educators listen to students for signs of “learning outcomes”. This mode is often applied in order to give students “feedback” on their development as part of a conversation loop.
– “Listening to” is a mode in which design educators seek to understand the reasoning and thoughts behind a student’s design decisions or their position. In this mode, the educator seeks to gain the ability to “think with” the student in coaching them through their design process.
– “Listening as” is a type of role-playing listening, in which design educators place the student in different modes of being-listened-to (or not being-listened-to) that students can expect to face as designers. This mode simulates a social situation within which students can rehearse different tactics of interaction.
– In “listening as example”, design educators provide students with a model for the type of listener a designer they believe a designer should be. For students to learn from this mode requires the educator to earn the empathy of the students – a very different relation than the deference often expected of students in learning from educator “feedback”.
– Simply “listening” is the mode in which design educators remain sensitized to the potential for new ideas and inspirations in their listening to students and others, that influence their practice as a design educator holistically. This mode of listening is the least goal-oriented, task-specific or intentional, and is necessary for sustaining creative practice in education.
In the proposed paper, I will explain and illustrate – through example scenarios from my personal experience and observation – the ways in which I perceive these different modes of listening being practiced by design educators (in both beneficial and detrimental ways) and will venture an exposition on the special type of economy of speaking-and-listening that sustains the process of design education.