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Singapore University Of Technology & Design Open House aftermath thoughts – Part 2 April 14, 2012

Posted by @Karen_Fu in change, creativity, design, education, Singapore, USA.
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Our colleges here grow quick in terms of grades. In no time, SUTD (Singapore University Of Technology and Design)will get almost all their students in the band of straight A-s. A global sign seems to be similar throughout all colleges alike, that a great education is one that not only engineers but also focuses on plenty of soft skills as well.

When I read about graduates pay at TODAYonline I cannot help but to think the education sector here is off. SMU (Singapore Management University) and indeed SUTD may overtake the other 2 local universities in 20 years given the current state of development. It goes to show something: we are no longer a place where traditional learning will see you through at work. That’s a good thing. But on the other hand, it shows another trend and that is our local born bred colleges are short of great networks that SMU and SUTD are enjoying. The former with the lead college from the U of Penn. The latter, with MIT. These are top of the world insitutions whose network are unmatched. If our NUS (National University Of Singapore) and NTU (Nanyang Technological University) are going to remain at top 2 here, they have to adapt to a new curriculum that entails invention and creativity. If we look at SMU and SUTD carefully, their curriculums are not 100% original. But what they are smart at is their way of branding themselves by implementing structure with a huge private sector appeal. Overall academic quality is definitely there but our students are short of real life experience ( as in experiencing hard life, trying situations that require them to problem solve. In short they are not street smart enough)

I am always keen in anything that concerns education. It changes minds, and it has a profound impact on the way a society would run. It has always been and it will always be.  When I saw the open house at SUTD, and when it happen to land on a semi free Saturday, I seized the day to go and visit. I should have actually stayed at home for a good nap due to a prolonged period of late nights without much sleep. But the course structure has an unique engineering and technology education.   And after reading heaps of it in the media for so long, and having met the associate provost and his secretary before, I thought I must see it myself. I am by nature too curious.  Usually people love inquisitive students/people, that’s how discoveries are found. And thats learning. (But I think some people may not like it somehow.) On with the post:

The college imprints the mark by saying it will change the world.

Quote: ‘In his remarks, Magnanti, president of SUTD and Institute Professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management, noted: “Like all the great universities of the world, SUTD will be research-intensive and bring the fruits of research into the classroom and into the marketplace. As the largest technically intensive design center in the world, in both scope and size, the IDC aims [for] no less than to change the world.’
‘Change’ has been the buzz word since President Obama has used it in his presidential campaign 4 years back.  We need change.  Change really means to be different. It has a completely different tone to ‘modify’ which means alter by moderation. If we need ‘Change’, it refers to a different character and intellectual set. Many students here in Singapore have the latter part.  You could find straight A scorers in the so-called 30 percentile, and thats not a rare scenario here. Getting A-s today is probably a global trend. Better grades achieved than what their predecessors have gotten decades ago. But the quality of problem solving in dire / trying times may not be an easy feat to many, if not most of the academically brilliant people. I attribute this to 2 main factors: complexity and the egoism in the way of thought. The kind that pretends to be great but small in the minds to admit we need ruthless change. I love the way Prof Ken Robinson has made his TED speech on creativity. It is the point of a truly receptive mind that makes the mark. Our Singapore colleges here could define the moment if and only if we earnestly want to make the change away from being obsessed in grades and prestige, and learn for the sole sake of learning.

But often we do not see the kind of thinking that includes the guts to just ask about doubts that linger in our minds. We have lost guts to challenge the norm. The emaphasis on arts is important. Hard core and soft core subjects need to be inclusive in any education. The emphasis shouldn’t be just on pragmatic interests.

When I was looking at the kind of support they have, and the way they could even let new students put up work at Chinatown and make it so huge, shows the kind of  support they have to grow a school almost instantly. (More of this later in the next part.) As I was looking on, I was thinking what they have set out to do.

When they declare they want to change the world,that change  must be modest to include the commoners at the base level. No one’s a great leader without this inclusion. Period.

First off, I think that the defined leader is one who knows how to handle social economic woes in favour of the commoner. This is a global call. But it didn’t come clearly evident to me in that respect. It appears to have more academic pride that it is already in sync to take over the world without much feat on how one could get on with all for any design contribution. I was further alarmed when I was snoopying around. It is evident many of their students think they are everything. When we want leaders to change the world, we want a positive change that includes earnest empathy of what needs to be done. Though the school emphasizes on the candidates themselves more than grades, I suspect this is hard to achieve given the intended small quota for their first intake to ensure the entry grades are superior. It is understandable they need to keep the grades up. No one wants to take a academic laggard in. While grades are important, they are often not the true testament of genuine intelligence and wisdom. Creativity cannot be seen in grades either. It is seen through the way they handle problems.

I wasn’t impressed by their students way of presenting the methodology, in particular with one of their students. To me, it was rather impolite with his arms swinging all over apart from failing to briefly describe what it was. It was only after I started talking about the story behind the creative process that he seemed to really talk properly. My impression was he thought he knew it all until he realised someone knew just as much or even more.

I went on talking to another student at the Robotics section, which  was a pleasure though. He clearly was aware of many of the ideas behind. The atmosphere of the school looked fun and casual, but somewhere behind the back of my mind says the work of the true mind is still elitist in style from the way the people who answered my questions. If they were to promote lifelong learning, which means you learn from 18 to 80, they should not have such mindset. I had asked if I should do an undergrad because I see the Bachelors as a perfect recipe. I had that idea when I was an undergrad and grossly thought I was not educated in the right way. Hence I did the spare on my own by visiting other schools and see what they we’re doing. Not that it wasn’t multidisciplinary at my school, but it was short of doing Mathematics, which I saw it as vital.  Now I agree with the associate provost, that doing  the bachelor’s a waste. I don’t need it. But there are holding points on the postgrad too. Admittingly, the course rekindles the studying idea in me. But, I start to ask questions.

I was reading the printed brouchures for Chemical engineering and I thought it look as though they are teaching students ‘how to see’ in a literal way. Creativity cannot be taught, though it can be experienced. The process may be guided but no one must attempt to teach as though there is a fixed formula for innovation. There isn’t.

Brilliance don’t come at a particular age. They could come in at any stage in person’s life or may not come at all. The point is, people’s maturing minds do change. Some from brilliance to bust. Some grow gradually over time. A great school is opened to anyone brilliant at any age to enter. I have seen people reading 2nd and 3rd degrees in a different field or emphasis when they have already been working. I used to have a friend who has 3 bachelors: Medical, Physics, and Dentistry. Another coursemate of mine was a 60 year old woman who just wanted to pop back to college because she wanted to realise her ideas in ceramics. Turned out brilliant. Sometimes, certain things don’t come at 18. And many times, things come clearer after a certain age, especially true if one has gone through life experiences.

I started off listening to the talks by the President. Prof Magnanti, and his newly appointed pillars. SUTD has not followed the tradition to name their colleges in terms of ‘schools’ and ‘faculties’ but in the name of ‘Pillars’. I like their talk, especially their ethusiasm. Their teaching style, which reminds me of my own schooling years. He first posed the question on the greatest 20 innovations of all time. And he started of engineering as the primer to innovation. Engineering empowers the world. So what is the place of Design in Engineering was my immediate reaction. Bearing a semi awake position, I had totally forgotten my question.

They started off stating that engineering is important to changing the way we live. Engineering is important in our lives.  That itself actually made my first query. What is interesting was the list of top 20 inventions that shaked our lives. It was really an energetic session. No one was asleep but I suspect many do not think beyond them.

I was flipping through their paedagogy as I was listening. Now I have more than a ton of questions.

The same set of strengths could turn out to be pitfalls too if they don’t manage it properly. Their multidisciplinary approach is no new idea in paedagogy. Their inclusion of humanities, engineering and technology isn’t either. But what is a first is the way they put in aesthetics into the programme along with business and technology in. Student quality, from the way I see it, appears to range from extremely good to mediocre. Some do not appear to speak well, especially the student who did the bicycle design. He simply rode on it, spoken a little, and rode off. The President, Prof Magnanti, was wondering why he missed explaining in detail about the unique mechanism. I was looking as closely as I could. I don’t know who was the American guy in the other hall, but he just giberishly went through the design process chart. I knew what it was, and I asked him about the Stanford Program. Wasn’t happy with the answer apart from the food ramblings. However, I like the Robotics section. Smart guy. As well as the hands on workshop, though really it isn’t anything new. In fact, I didn’t like the idea that the students were given too many tools. You should them minimal tools. Best to give them close to nothing. I recall when I was at freshmen’s orientation, I was told to use only 2 pieces of plain paper to make a package holding 2 raw eggs uphill and downhill on a bicycle. It has to bear a cultural context. I did it in the form of a Chinese Fan. I loved the small projects. The projects they had at SUTD was nice. But I think they seem to complicated with too ‘engineering thinking’. I don’t know how to put it, but in a design process, you are not lumbered with too many schema like they did. They come close to teaching you how to think. On one point, its good. However on the other hand, it could be seen as bad as far as original thinking goes.

I wasn’t pleased with their design ideas given all the press coverage and MIT collaboration. I expect much higher standards. Maybe I was asking for the sky as I read the many ingenious inventions covered by MIT.  Neither did I think the models were great. Model skills are not as important as design thinking skills, but neither should this kind of poor craftsmanship be allowed as they have state of the art workshops!

They are putting a brand image to the school which is obvious. The MIT collaboration gave them a lot of distinct advantage mainly because of the network. They want to change the world and they want their IDC (International Design Centre) to be the best in the world.

My personal belief is that for a person to become a leader, that person must be more than tough and not live in an environment where everything is cushioned. Smooth sailing doesn’t groom a tough leader who can implement change.

Enginering is first fiddler in my impression.  They have repacked it with aesthetics. But they do not pay much to the true blood of design was my other impression.When some thing is done with purely engineering, it seems to lack human touch somehow. Try seeing a fully craft based product and an engineering product to see my point of view.

I was almost surprised to see sheets of photopapers with information on how they teach Chemistry. It really looked like ‘How to think’ sheets. Again, I have questions.

Maybe I have answered everything already myself within my mind. I doubt it is really a radical change. You could say it is transitional. And the course is definitely alive but I wouldn’t say it comes free without the ego, mainly because of the MIT element.

Course syllabus looks great and attractive but with doubts if it will really include design element in the human sense. Cheerios ! — Karen Fu

Are PhDs a threat to design education? Are PhDs a threat to all kinds of education? October 14, 2011

Posted by @Karen_Fu in education, Innovation, research.
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I am following up, albeit in a very fast eye dotting manner on the thread which Don Norman had started from ‘Brilliance without substance‘. I have plenty to say. As so much time is allowed for me, I think I will just candidly write from my personal perspective. I think Gunar Swanson had hit a lot of points that design research need not come from only PhDs ( see his post on PhD design) . That is a crux of the matter. Research should not be done by only people who hold PhDs. Its a fallacy to assume that all PhDs could do fine  intelligent research. It’s an insult to those who are able but choose not to do a postgraduate education because of the opportunity costs concerned. Research is the process of using keen observation to do innovative investigation, whereby different skills and knowledge are put into use to find the solutions to problems. It has to be done by intelligent people. No doubt about it. But it may not always be done by PhD holders. It can be seen as rude to think so.

I don’t hold a postgraduate degree though I had gotten in to a good number in various fields. I had the wish to a postgrad and onwards to a PhD. But circumstances at home did not allow me to do it. It still is actually. Despite so, I still applied in the slim hope that someone out there would offer me the full cash to cover the costs I would have to forgo. I wanted to be a college professor. I love academic environment because of ONE damned reason : its a learning haven where dreams  could be realized without the politics. Top colleges could do that with their kind of financial base with companies and their network to research materials.  I was dreaming away and to be not able to attend one postgraduate course was a nightmare, especially to someone who really loves to learn and teach.

Now this motivation to do a postgrad has dwindled down rapidly as I read off minds who are not opened. To me, receptiveness is very important as much as intellectual integrity. One cannot be too intelligent and wise to ignore what others out of our clique could offer. Everyone has their experience, and their cleverness for us to learn. It adds up to a wholesome mind that knows no boundaries. PhDs can be a threat if it blocks this freedom to investigate and problem solve in different ways. If words and tons of words are the sole way of doing research, then we are in dire trouble.

From my clique from Senior High, whom many are holding top posts in the country, I know PhDs are not a must. However, intelligence is a must. The mind must able to see beyond context and be able to interpret different information at a sound level. A good number of my ex-college mates only hold a bachelors, some at Masters level but they hold billion dollar assets excellently. I have only come across 1 PhD graduate from my Senior High clique who is holding a vice director post. I was surprised that not a lot of people had done their PhDs given the fact that most of my senior high friends were high flyers in academia. The reason? They don’t see the point of doing a PhD. Apart from those who did a medical degree, where many of them are researchers in different areas of medicine, I hardly see like even a third of them holding PhDs.  Oh yes, another one did hers for journalism. But I don’t think it really helped her much in the end because she was already at her pinnacle of her career. Many had done important work in serving the people. The essence of this success is their openness to learn and to solve problems actively in great precision and efficiency in the best possible method for their pending problems. 

Writing to this point, I must clarify that I am not against PhDs. But I do punch out to those who have restrictive dogmatic minds of whom, what and how to do research. It spells discrimination and a poor sense of foresight and even hindsight.

Research is not about prescribed formulas. Its about looking at the problem in a very holistic and sensitive way with respect to people and the environment. It is about the process of creative innovation where methods itself could be even invented. Sure you need a rule to keep things in order and an efficient system for all to relate to. But not to the point of confinement.

Certain cliches for being a PhD graduate appears to be evident. Perhaps it stems out from the idea that to reach the top of the academic pinnacle is an accomplishment. It is, provided that the PhD education has taught one to be truly democratic and open to different people, creed and culture in a respectful way. This is indeed a highly sensitive topic. But I suppose if anyone is genuinely interested in research and to see how it goes, I bet you people will speak up. — Karen Fu

My other relevant blog post reference:

1. Postgrad or not- the value of education to answer real problems. 

2. Substance Over Brilliance

3. Scholarship, Research and Design – its relevancy to both human society & nature

‘Substance without Brilliance’ – Our Education relevant to the Change of Tides. October 11, 2011

Posted by @Karen_Fu in change, creativity, design, education, ethics, industrial design, Innovation, Product Design, USA.
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honeycomed apple - daringtochange.wordpress.comDon Norman posted yet another provocative post on PhD-Design forum: ‘Substance without Brilliance.‘  He hits the nail on the spot. But as I was skimming through on pockets-of-spare minutes, I think there are still rigid ideas at hand with usually certain people who tend not to change.

What caught my eye on his post was his mention on the confined curriculum within the design education along with the lack of adaptiveness.  He mentions that most are short of hard core Science and Humaities subjects; and paid little on learning the humanities via ‘liberal arts’ route.  In my opinion, a strong logic must come in hand when it comes to comprehending different data.  Excellent problem solvers are extremely logical yet they are very creative. I have come to find aquite a number within my encounters. And many do not hold higher degrees. And and for some, no degrees.  But what I’ve found a little perplexing is the nature of how he made those arguements at times.

1- Drawing has nothing / little to do with thinking. — I wonder how he meant. Even when one is sketching a nude during life drawing classes, we were told to think in terms of form and how the muscles moved et cetra. Free flow of hand drawing movements train the hand and the eye to quickly take down details. Granted that sketching nudes is not the prime core of the product design, it does instill part of an important training in how to be sharp at observation skills on the human form — important when it comes to studying of ergonomics — provided if the lessons conducted was really into that area of human factors and not just drawing a beautiful drawing.

2- design education must take on on its own. — true.  But I think the more fundamental part is to genuinely learn to be open and not be so much on one’s own. Learning has to be free -spirited and without ego is very important to acquiring knowledge.  An education lasting a span of only 3-5 years doesn’t really teach you the world but a good education could certainly teach you how to see and evaluate things around you.  How would a design education do this? I believe it must first come off from the ‘human aspect’ to first change attitudes before the curriculum could have a radical change. Without that, nothing much can be done.

Our century is the rebellious era of change where the conventional hype will not work because they have proven to be outdated.  However, the inertia of change has always been stubborn to go because of the inherent human ego. I always come to think of history as a keen reference to the various human sufferings we have had in the past. Education to that effect, should always cater the idea of how to grow out of ego-istical’ ideas such as ‘elitism’ that confines us from seeing how many other different people see things.  Ethics and sustainability issues have been discussed over the years. But I am beginning to suspect that it hasn’t been really working, else we would not be having so much waste created that is not really decreasing. If ethics has been brought into place, then I would have to question why the major world problems have not been eliminated.  Social unrest, international disputes on trade and politics of different kinds simply show that our problems are merely morphing in form. Of course, that’s on the economics and social sciences front; but that is also related to design too. For without knowing these key relations, the products designed won’t be relevant. What Don hasn’t pinpointed are a few facts naturally on the ethical mindsets of leaders today who may be perhaps the output of our current tertiary education culture.  We may talk about the curriculum that we need to develop a new form. With respect to design, it is a young course that is still changing. It doesn’t have the resolute syllabus of what needs to be learnt like traditional courses at universities like Medicine and Engineering. It is more of an applied course where technology and other subjects of study are brought into place.

I don’t think the craft aspect must be totally taken out. It’s a human skill and sensitivity that is trained through seeing how craft is done. But what Don may be referring to is the overemphasis on craft as the main source for designing products, which is a faulty emphasis if you were to consider the changing technologies & social economics which requires one to be astute and logical. The knowledge  in fuel, materials and manufacturing areas are needed to fully understand how a potential product design needs working on. Craft itself is simply insufficient. We can’t live on solely craft anyway. But neither do we do products that are too ‘cold’ in nature as with the emphasis on solely technology and engineering are concerned. Design should break this out of this mold and form a clear distinct definition of what it can do. Else this discipline will soon be perished. All these, I feel, have strong relations to the kind of practice and people we have. All these will build the reputation of the course.  I suppose ‘Substance without Brilliance’ isn’t exactly a good title. It really should be ‘Brillaince without Substance.’ That is the crux of the problem, in my modest opinion.  I have decided to quickly put in my edited reply to the PhD-design Forum about the thread:

Posted on the 10-10-2011 (Singapore Time)

Looking at the world at large, we have to question that if we have strayed away from the true aims of what education should be. Design education, of course, belongs to a special breed. We cannot exactly equate that to the traditional form of tertiary education. I’m afraid I have to spear the head that in most establishments, teaching tends to form the school’s mould rather than the students’ mould. The late Steve Jobs serve a crucial lesson for both PhD educators and us all who love to learn and learn to love. We need to flexible with an apt mind that shows no rigidity in any way. Then the hard works chutes in. But I believe that hard work has a limit. Health is very important. Many, like Jobs, work as though there is no tomorrow. They work at the expense of family ties, which I object. Sometimes, you need to play for yourself. And when at game, you’d probably expand your mind more. Perhaps, I should have voiced this out ages ago. It’s a little late but its better late than never.

Posted on the 11-10-2011 (Singapore Time)

I had missed out the part on education that I’ve almost sounded as
though education isn’t important. It isn’t. Agree with Frankie on the
innovativeness of teaching as being crucial. However, one would have
to question about the quality of some teachers in the first place in
terms of their own minds if they are able to be that receptive and
elastic to various cultures and concepts. Chances are its very hard to
find such people. Most tend to keep on to their own and refuse
‘provocative challenges’ since that was how they were brought up and
got ‘successful’. We can’t change very much on that, at least on the
direct front.Then again, the history and the nature of most human
minds is that we tend to keep very much to our own because that is the
most beneficial and the easiest way to go through. This inertia if
done with authority could stifle creativity. Fortunately, such
establishments do not stay healthy for very long and they will be
‘auto-renewed’. Steve Jobs is a good example that a superior mind is
not taught by education. He had his own mind. And he did his own way.
Who would have thought that the brand ‘ Apple ‘ had any bond to
computers, and nevermind the bite of an apple could do wonders to our
way of living? In terms of graphical metaphor, it is irrelevant; but
he turned the world around. Thats revolution. Other great minds had no
direct education when they do something. Examples are many. In the
product and servies innovation front, Jobs is a great strategist at
work but ironically a thorough failure in designing his personal life
— he neglected both his family and his health.

> Are we maybe missing something here? Jobs was undoubtedly a creative manager, with vision. But what did that vision lead him to do? Hire educated designers of both software and hardware. In the case of hardware, first a range of outside consultants, and latterly of course, Jonathan Ive.
> Andrew J King

The Late Steve Jobs appear to hire people out from the usual. Most
hired under him tend to be from modest backgrounds with sound
education qualifications though not necessarily from the tip pf the
top schools. His vision of hiring is itself farsighted and different.
Everyone has fundamentally 1 education in a lifetime. Few lucky ones
may get 2 or more. We can’t learn everything in one education, or even
in 2 or 3. But what I can say is a fine education (excluding degree
granting colleges) will set you the foundations for thinking. The rest
of the education after High School or Senior High School (Pre
University) will really be focused on skills and advanced knowledge in
specified fields. Apart from this, if one had not formed the right
matrix for thinking; the chances of exceptional thought will not be
possible. Nevermind expanding on what that has been assimilated

In this aspect, college edication has little help. But what it could
do, I think, would be to allow individual students of learning to be
able to retain their own styles. And with that in mind, the culture of
teaching and curriculum has to change to fit the students creative
mind frame than to set a kind of rule of culture. The essence is the
knowledge learnt  —- whether one has been keeping up with learning.
It has little to do with the level of Degree certificates one has

Hope I’ve made it clear. Perhaps not many are interested in my post.
Mine do look odd when it is compared to the usual post graduate
intellectual debate posts. But I always believe that learning takes no
specific form so as long as the fundamentals of learning with an open
mind & enthusiasm  is concerned.

Innovativeness comes from a keep learning mind that knows no
boundaries. Education should always stay in that form and not in
affect of any kind of irrelevant influence.

Right I’m late again.

Karen Fu
PS: adapt to grow; confine to perish.

Don Norman has always been provocative. I like the guts. But there are certain areas that I find it quite perplexing especially on the areas of sketching not seen as part of thinking; which I think its not quite true. But on the areas of design education failing to offer hard core study areas in humanities and technologies, yes. On the account of teachers who may in a way set a culture that confines the students, yes. I think there are plenty more that is to be done on a human level. The reality is that people are stubborn and resistent to change. How to handle the spear without getting speared in this case, would depend on how one handles the spear. The target of changing design education starts from people. I believe a sound education depends on logic. The kind that sharpens the mind to evaluate and form ideas very quickly.  That actually needs more than an education. — Karen Fu