John Wong | Director Community & Fund Development | Brilliant Labs
IN CONVERSATION WITH DANN DOWNES “I wrote in my notebook at the beginning of my Sabbatical that when I get back, I’m going to ‘give my students the opportunity to fail.’ ” Dann Downes is the Chair, Department of Social Science & Education, and a Professor of Communication Studies at the University of New Brunswick in Saint John, NB. Prof. Downes is also an artist, musician and maker. I recently had the pleasure of chatting with him about his work where he shared his insights about the importance of teaching students how to learn 21st century skills through making and experiential learning, and creating opportunities for them to fail. JW: I’d like to start by asking you for your thoughts regarding teaching university students 21st century skills?
DD: The whole notion of students needing to acquire 21st century skills came about as a collaboration between educators and tech companies, government agencies and nonprofits in the United States at the turn of this century. There was a set of concepts providing a framework that recognized that the workforce in the 21st century was going to change dramatically over the life cycle of children growing up and going through the education system over a specific period. So, in order to train students to be prepared for that kind of change, you had to educate
them in such a way… or, help them learn in ways that are going to prepare them to continue to learn. However, simply using phrases such as “life long learning” and such is not sufficient, in my opinion. You have to also instill a culture of that very thing within your students and develop their mindset towards that particular kind of thinking. JW: As an educator, how have you fostered that particular kind of culture in your students? DD: By realizing there had to be an impetus and recognition that students in my program needed a safe place to fail. I had been teaching up to that point since