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Classroom 2.0 “Design Matters”

Dean Shareski
Moose Jaw, SK, Canada
Blog: http://ideasandthoughts.org/

Dean Shareski is in his 20th year in education. He has taught grades 1-8 and is currently a Digital Learning Consultant for Prairie South School Division in Saskatchewan, Canada. He is passionate about the power of networks and advocates for students to be in charge of much of their learning and be challenged to create new things and connect with new people.

Bio Page

Presentation Title
“Design Matters”

Design is a word and idea that engulfs so much of our lives. How does it impact our classrooms and schools? How can we begin to think of design as something that we intentionally build into every day. We’ll look at very practical examples and ideas to begin the process of making design and creativity a part of teaching and learning.

iPod ready
http://k12online.wm.edu/k12.mp4 (24:42 Run Time, mpeg4, 94.1 MB)
http://video.google.ca/videoplay?docid=-7573353454993995098&hl=en-CA (24:22 Run Time, Google Video)
Audio only
http://k12online.wm.edu/k12.mp3 (24:23 Run Time, mp3, 33.6 MB)

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[tags]k12online07cl09, k12online07[/tags]


  1. Clay Burell

    Dean asked for feedback as we watched, and I assume that means feedback here, though it’s strange to be first. Anyway, here’s mine.

    I like Dean’s opening point: much classroom-created content (the majority?) suffers from poor design. (Warlick touches on the same idea with his “competitive information products,” though the worker-drone connotations of “products” still irks me, as it focuses more than I would like on economics and money-making, more than on aesthetics and character, I would argue – but anyway….)

    Christian’s interview suffered from poor audio quality, so I couldn’t understand much of it (we’ve all experienced the wrath of the techno gods, so I sympathize). I did catch, though, the exploitation of simple walking distance and space between buildings as a learning opportunity, and that resonated. Our own campus is very restricted by its hilltop, woods-surrounded setting, which is the opposite of the example Christian used of having to walk a mile between buildings: we’re too cramped. But WE DO HAVE THOSE SURROUNDING WOODS. That’s fascinating in this new light. I’m picturing possibilities of assigning students – in small groups, so the discussions are diluted by too many voices and not enough time – to take digital voice or video recorders of whatever sort into the woods to record conversations in that setting – I can’t help but hope that the setting would influence the discussions in interesting and more thoughtful ways. Have them discuss a theme from our reading of King Lear, for example, or whatever topic might benefit from the meditative openness of a wooded setting. Recording these discussions – video seems more desirable, when I think about it – would allay most fears of “unsupervised” students in the woods. Take the footage back into the classroom and quick-edit these “campsite seminars” into short films. I’ll have to try this. It’s literally (shameless blog plug) “Beyond School” (I just migrated to a new, self-hosted URL, by the way, so check out the new WordPress home).

    Dr. Schwier: “Does it work? Is it beautiful? Is it powerful? Is it inspiring?” This is refining my “campsite seminars” idea above. I said “quick-edit” those seminars just now. Why rush? Why not assign them to be voice-overs for iMovie projects that add BEAUTY and FORCE via film, stills, music, titles? Yes, yes, yes. In fact, I’m seeing now that two or three class sessions of this new mode of “class discussion” – sitting on the pine needles under the autumn trees – might be best, to give students time to adapt to talking in natural surroundings, in “nature’s temple.” Talk about “educational architecture” – how about the dome of the sky over a canopy of pine?

    (I’m liking this very much, Dean. Thanks for this very innovative angle. Much of the K12 conference so far has been school-2.0-as-usual, if you get what I mean.)

    At 12:00 now: Planning. I’ll play along with my Campsite Seminars whim above, and apply the rest of your presentation, when possible, to it. Consider this a “teacher think-aloud.”

    So the Seminars – I think they’ll actually work better for something more relevant to my students than Shakespeaere (which they and I love). I think, instead, it will work for the classroom blogging “Capstone Project” I’m currently launching with them.

    The idea of that project for my high school seniors – so close to the end of their 12 year sentence of infantilization in schools – is to help them learn about whatever their passion, and their possible future (a)vocation, is, by reading real-world bloggers who share their passion(s), and writing about what they read on their own blogs.

    They’ve already created their blogs, and this weekend, are composing their “about” pages and searching for feeds about their passion(s)/interest(s) on Bloglines (I still haven’t found a better feed-searching engine than Bloglines’). They’ve claimed their blogs on Technorati, embedded Sitemeter and Clustrmaps. Now they’re ready to connect.

    The problem I think I’m fighting, though, is that they don’t understand the magical potential this project offers them to make connections with people in the world of kindred passions. They’ve never linked to a writer in a blog post, and seen that writer turn up a day or two later in comments.

    They’ve been too busy writing 5-paragraph essays – or homework-assignments-as-blog-posts, which is the New Abomination – about irrelevant subjects to tired teachers all their lives to write about what they love to real-world readers – so they just don’t get it. They don’t know how to dream; and they don’t know how dreams can become realities through connective writing.

    So, in short, I’m trying to introduce them to the world beyond school, but they’re so “studentified” they seem unable to see this as anything but homework because, after all, I’m a “teacher,” and they are “students,” and all of this is happening in a “school.”


    So I think these Campsite Seminars are better suited to serving as a “retreat from school” in both the spatial and the psychological senses. I want them to think – possibly for the first time, since so many of them are so constantly addled by the pressures of “schooliness,” the homework, the SAT’s, the college applications, the school spirit jive, on and on – about WHAT WORLD THEY WANT TO ENTER WHEN THEY LEAVE SCHOOL FOREVER in seven short months.

    So back to you, Dean: How do I plan for these 70-minute retreats into the woods to bear fruit? [Clicks “play”….]

    “What’s the purpose of your movie?”
    –Hm. In an attempted nutshell, to figure out:
    1. What makes you tick.
    2. What you want to become.
    3. Which is what you will read about on blogs and other sites.
    4. And what you will write about…
    5. For an audience you want to attract.

    Okay, that’s about as far as I’m going to take this here. I see Dean asks for feedback on his blog, and on the wiki he made for this, etc, and suddenly feel like my students when they’re dealing with my tendency to have a million sites for classwork 🙂

    So I’m going to copy/paste this on Dean’s blog, and continue the project on mine.

    Dean, it was a very valuable presentation. You got beyond the tools and beyond the generic edublog talk.


  2. Brian

    I’ve been anticipating this presentation since it’s teaser. Dean, you didn’t disappoint. At my work, we have been struggling to get time together with our digital media specialist (we’re fortunate to have one) to produce content that has a real and continuous impact on our schools. The design rules Dean has presented will really help us as we meet this week to plan the content, be it our web presence, a video series or a podcast. Standing “O” for Dean!

  3. Dean Shareski


    Thanks for the kind words. Certainly mine has a bit different take and was/is concerned it doesn’t fit all that well with the rest of the conference.

    I really want to see kids create high quality work and I’m not sure it can be done without understanding what good design is all about. Not that I have all the answers but want to get us more intentional about it.

    In an age where often content and design are separate, thanks to tools like css, Content Management Systems and even to a degree some of the online story tools, I think that while this provides easier entry into content creation, we often skip over design because it’s automatically done. I know that people like yourself will continue to emphasis that beautiful, well designed work is going to be paramount in their futures.

  4. A. Mercer

    I work in a K-6 lab and I’m trying to build a sense of design in the kids so I liked this presentation. I hear you about limits helping with design. I have used that with my students. When I’ve had various grade-levels do PowerPoints, I generally limit them to one slide, and one image on the slide. They are not perfect, but when I show the slides to adults, sadly, they think there better than most of the PowerPoints they are seeing from grown-ups. http://mizmercer.edublogs.org/2007/09/30/just-like-narcissus-im-enjoying-the-view/

    Now I’m having sixth graders start to work in MovieMaker. Their first movie was just a “practice” run to get to know the program (it was a lot of work teaching them to use it, but they were very engaged, and really did well). The best one is up here http://mizmercer.edublogs.org/2007/10/20/whats-cookin/

    I did let them use all the bells and whistles on transitions and effects so they could see them. I looked at it as being like finger painting. You may disagree, and say they should start with design limits like I did in PowerPoint, or I should start with a real project but that was a judgment call I made. I’ll see if I regret it later.

    They’ve started their unit project doing a PSA on Perseverance. I insisted they show me a story board before I’d give them a camera. When I see them doing strange things (like taking posed pics of each other) I ask, “How does that fit into your story line?” Doing a short 30-60 second project first is definitely the way to go.

  5. Dean Shareski


    I don’t disagree with your approach because you are still asking students to consider good design and your idea of moving from a tool like ppt to movie and comparing the results and impact of the message is a neat idea. I think it helps illustrate how each are tools that while have similarities and might be used interchangeably for some things, are different.

    I peeked at your samples and obviously your kids are on their way.

    To me, if they are looking critically at their work, challenging each others and seeking exemplars from the outside, they’ll become good designers of content.

    Nice job.


    I think we’ll see that trend emerge where various groups, departments will need to work together.

    I posted a video a few weeks ago about Randy Pausch. He’s the prof dying of cancer but has been involved in some very neat stuff. He talks about the success of a program where he brought together art students and computer science students to develop “stuff”. The results he said were phenomenal.

    Bringing together groups with different strengths models what is happening outside of education.

  6. A. Mercer

    Dean, I wish there were more cross-discipline programs like the ones you describe to Brian. They had some programs like that called NEXUS when I started college (in 1983) that combined science and humanities so it’s not like it’s anything new.

    Anywho, I’ll be featuring this presentation on It’s Elementary (http://itselementary.edublogs.org) Monday at 23:00 GMT on the WorldBridges network.

  7. Clarence Fisher

    First of all Dean I have to say this original, informative, and interesting. It is like reading The Medici Effect, bringing together unlikely things into one pace. I like how you have brought ideas of “design” into both classrooms and instruction.

    A few take away thoughts I bring from this:

    1.) “Templates hijack the design process.” I think this is true with instruction as well as powerpoint. We get tied into “lesson templates” that we find it difficult to break out of and consider new ways of doing things.

    2.) Along with this is another quote of yours, to “start with a blank slate.” Again, this should be true when we are thinking of our classrooms and how we structure our lessons. I didn’t want to, but had to move to a new classroom this year. In the end, it was a valuable experience as I started with a blank space and had to redesign my learning environment. I need to think about this when it comes to lesson planning as well.

    3.) “Whitespace matters.” I think whitespace matters in classrooms too. If we teach in cluttered, full classrooms, we take over the space with “teacher stuff” we leave no room for “student stuff” and student voices to emerge.

    4.) This makes me wonder what whitespace looks like in a lesson plan? How do we leave open spaces for student voices, priorities, and thoughts to emerge and grow?

    5.) I’m interested in the idea of branding classrooms. A logo, a defined mission statement, a personalized space. I think over time, the personal brand of some classrooms and some teachers will emerge on the world stage almost as freelancers. Right now we have schools with an international reputation for quality around the globe, but I think over time, we will see teachers and classrooms with that reputation as well. People like Bob Sprankle are leaders in this development.

    Thanks Dean, you’ve (as usual) pushed me to think about things in new ways.

  8. Clay Burell

    Clarence, your idea of “branding classrooms” is so pregnant. I’m tempted to think of it in terms of branding the approach to learning that happens in the classroom – sort of conceptual rather than physical branding, as in “we’re project-based in this classroom,” and a sort of “team spirit” more traditionally attached to athletics than classes….

    It’s late, I’m too pooped to finish, but I just had to pop in to reply to this.

  9. Sharon Peters

    Dean, as a former web design, computing studies, broadcast journalism, and English teacher at the high school level (who now designs online tools and curricula), I found your presentation absolutely refreshing and hopefully revolutionary. For a while now, I have been saying that we need to move away from “intro to technology” type courses where the focus is on tools and software, to a design course that focuses on the universal principles of design regardless of the media. Your presentation pretty much captures the essence of those basic design principles. We want our students to be not only fluent readers and consumers of multi-literacies, but also producers of media that communicate on a variety of levels and modes. Well done on the presentation!

  10. Amy


    The audio presentation is great but I’d love to see the video. When I click on the link it gives me an error message on the google video page. Am I doing something wrong or is the link broken?

    Amy (Winnetka, IL)

  11. Mark Ahlness

    This was fantastic! I think I’m going to watch this again, just before we do each powerpoint presentation, each video, and so on. I teach third graders, but it’s not too early to start with the design principles you talk about. I also teach art 4 days a week to two classrooms, so I know that they can get it, and create in wonderful ways. Thanks for a powerful message – Mark

  12. A. Mercer

    Dean, I did a Pageflake to test a question I had about how RSS affects design issues. http://www.pageflakes.com/alice_mercer/16573397

    I’ll be writing more about that as I finish up my reflection. The first posts I have on my blog are for a current class I’m taking on education technology. I will be using the questions about RSS and how to implement in my class for some credit through Plymouth State that K12Online is offering. That should be up over the next two weeks.

  13. nzchrissy

    As classroom teacher of 11-12 year olds, who has known for some time that the design element of our work was sadly lacking, your presentation has been a revelation. Design Matters was not so technical that I lost all hope, it contains information that has allowed me to picture a framework that I can now adjust our learning to. It all made perfect sense especially the way you broke down into subtopics (Planning, Imagery, Whitespace etc). Thanks for the inspiring message of design!

  14. Drew Murphy

    Hi Dean: I liked your presentation very much. The issues you bring up are actually at the heart of this whole web 2.0 content making experience. Students and teachers need to understand information design fundamentals to effectively use 2.0 tools otherwise, in my mind, the content making experience becomes frustrating and unfocused. I like the way you broke things down into simple concepts because if someone just applies two or three of these concepts, their content making experience will be much more fulfilling. In otherwords, it doesn’t take a whole lot to start applying these design processes and improving the communication intent of web content.

    Your concepts also speak to another important underlying issue with the web. And this involves understanding the moment by moment experience of a computer user sitting in front of a glowing screen, finger on the trigger, expecting an enjoyable experience and impatient because there are thousands of other places to explore on the web. As you’ve skillfully demonstrated in your presentation, Web content that lacks the basics of information design taxes the patience of the computer user and makes them work too hard. Its like asking TV viewers to read pages on the screen or listen to a speech with a still image on the screen. This is bad design because it doesn’t fit the TV users expectations and ergonomic setting. Its not just boring its a communication obstacle. Over the years, of course, TV content came to understand the TV user better and applied design principles that fit the TV watching experience.

    I don’t mean to imply that what teachers and students are creating now in the web 2.0 phenomenon isn’t useful and amazing. Just getting people involved in the process is worthy enough right now. And there’s lots of very cool things being done as this conference is showing. But I think your presentation comes at a very important juncture in the web 2.0 experience. One could argue that in the web content medium, its all about design. And as teachers and students grapple with the tsunami of information and content coming at them on the web, the only way to make sense of the content,give it meaning and package it for the computer user experience is to apply the principles of information design. Otherwise………..click.

    Great presentation. Lots to think about.

  15. Mike Skramstad

    I have to say that I love the last fifteen minutes of this video, focusing on the details. I think you strike a chord in many areas in terms of instructional design and technology. The importance of having a purpose and planning is so instrumental to leading and supporting student learning. Often it is much easier for teachers, myself included, to see how to plan for an essay or a class project than a multimedia project. And it’s not always so easy to determine the equivalent from an essay to a movie. Having students design an effective five slide PowerPoint or a one minute video seems so easy, that we fear sounding simplistic that we assign a fifteen slide PowerPoint or a five minute video. I agree that the templates that most programs include are a hindrance to creativity, but I do feel that templates have a place. Especially with a large, squirrly group of ninth graders. It’s impossible for a teacher to teach how to create new slides, text boxes and all the miniscule details of a program. The template provides structure for the exercise. It sometimes best to show them how to break from the structure once the students are focused on the task at hand. Unfortunately too, many teachers do not know how to plan for a technology project when they are leery with the software themselves. Many teachers are really struggling with the advances in technology. I see many who use Word sparingly and occasionally check their email. This makes larger design projects a distant concept.

  16. Mike Arsenault

    I really like the way that design elements were broken down in the presentation. I have my college students do a jigsaw activity where they learn an aspect of copyright and fair use. Each group presents their learning to the class. They always choose PowerPoint as their method of choice. The presentations are always terribly designed with tons of text, etc. I do set them up on this activity as I do not give them clear guidelines for the presentation or a lot of time to build it. The method to my madness is that it creates a great discussion about design and effective presentation style. Later in the semester, I have them create presentations with a greater focus on design and presentation style with enough time to do it right. They really get it at that point.

  17. Cathy Wolinsky

    This session gave me ideas that are pertinent even to my grade 2-4 students. Certainly they are the right age for learning design principles. We have a group of teachers who have been working together across grade levels to use digital photography as a tool for helping early writers and novice moviemakers.

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  19. Brad Ciechomski

    Hi Dean,

    Enjoyed the many good tips you put forth in design matters.

    One thing that you might think of: use better audio on your interviews. I found it contradicting to be discussing the importance of planning and presenting in a thoughtful manner and then use poor audio quality. It sounds like a low quality streaming.

    Something to think about.

    Brad C

  20. dshareski


    You’re right on the money with that. My audio skills are fairly low level.

    Part of the issue is that the interviews were done on Skype and bandwidth issues made it difficult to have any quality control.

    In hindsight, I might have had the interviewees record their own audio via mp3 and send it to me.

    But I definitely agree that it wasn’t a very good model of design.

    Thanks for the feedback.

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