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reflection / jane androski On the Importance of Puddles

On a gray, rain-soaked day about half-way through the semester, everything changed. By all accounts, the class had been going well. As facilitators, we felt good about the material we were offering each week—the syllabus, readings, and activities, were all generating insightful class discussions. Students almost never missed class and would even stay late, to finish a thread of conversation or to gather some advice about a project. There were signs that our conversations were different, and perhaps more honest, than those in our respective departments. Gears were turning. We brought food from local bakeries. People seemed relaxed in the classroom space. Looking from the outside, one could have easily made the assumption that we’d opened a unique space for exchange. It certainly looked different than many of the classroom spaces at risd. But something was missing. The students had, to this point, spent weeks talking through ways they could bring agency to their individual practices as designers and teachers. But what we weren’t seeing them do, was take agency within the classroom space itself. The power dynamics should have been different—after all, there were no clear ‘experts’, no authoritarian (or as one student described her professors, Orwellian) voices in the room. But I could still sense them holding back. They seemed, more often than I wanted to admit, to be looking to us for answers, and we felt a growing sense of pressure to provide them. This was not the dynamic I was hoping for, or expecting, when we started the semester. I had made the assumption that the dynamics of a peer-led space would move differently from others—that students would feel a more natural, and even instinctual level responsibility for the classroom. But even with the small


Design Agency, 2nd edition  
Design Agency, 2nd edition