Consequence-Free Planning


  • Projects don’t have to be “digital” or “physical,” but can incorporate each at different stages of development.
  • Use digital planning even when creating a physical artifact
  • Digital planning allows students to create with a low consequence to failure

Digital Work is Not Binary

Debates about digital projects in the classroom often boil down to a question of “real” product vs. “digital product.” This debate appears in many forms: handwriting vs. typing, physical artifact vs. virtual one, the rigor and process of creating by hand vs. the “flashy” or “gimmicky” digital packaging. This “all on” or “all off” is an artificial line, though– a sign of us dancing awkwardly about work with technology instead of having immersive and transparent usage. A workflow which includes both digital and physical products renders this argument moot, and it gives us a peek into another way in which digital work can transcend the same-old process (Substitution or Augmentation) and create new and transformative opportunities (Modification or Redefinition).

Edudemic published a teacher profile on Friday of Cheryl Uy from the Shekou (China) International School. Cheryl’s students created art by using the iPad as a planning tool, then painting in watercolors the work that they had sketched out on the device. This allows students to create a physical artifact of their learning, and keep the traditional art-making skills of her curriculum, while creating consequence-free planning for her students.

Planning Should Not Be Painful

Intellectual courage, creativity and critical thinking require experimentation. They require, as James Jorasch put it, “putting in the hours and trying […] You don’t need to make a big leap–you need to take a thousand small steps.” In teaching this discipline to our students, we often have to push them through the barrier of realizing that they have to scrap the line of thinking/action/work that they’re currently in, and start over again. We celebrate the idea of the inventor hunched over the drawing table at midnight, throwing wadded-up drafts in the trash… but how to we get our students to enter that mindset?

Digital planning lets us reduce the “pain” of having to start over, modify, edit, revise or in any way tinker with and improve upon our work. Going back to Cheryl’s students, imagine if they painted their work, but then realized that they didn’t like the way two colors clashed? They’d have to start from scratch again. By planning in app-space first, an edit or undo command erases the offending article and lets a student try again without jeopardizing the rest of the work.

Finger Painting to Forming Hypotheses

Take the same thinking to any discipline, and opportunities appear to use digital planning as a way to fail safely and revise painlessly. We’re used to the idea of massively revising work in a word processor by dragging sentences or entire paragraphs and editing wholesale before a “final print.” That same thinking is at work in Cheryl’s design, as well as:

  • Music: Writing music electronically allows instant feedback in composition rather than having to wait to find someone to play it for you.
  • Science: Running simulations to predict outcomes prior to designing or conducting a lab experiment. Do the results match expected outcomes? Why or why not? Does this let students simulate work with otherwise limited or expensive resources prior to launching “the real thing?” Does it also allow them to form a more informed hypothesis in advance of running the lab?
  • History: Before creating a timeline, sketch it out in Skitch or Paper to ensure that all the key elements, pictures and text fit within the given space and have an effective layout. Encourage students to include design thinking and elements of visual/graphic design in the planning stage to create a more visually powerful result.

All of these result in a concrete physical artifact, but allow experimentation and design to happen in the digital space to reduce the consequence of experimentation. Overall, the easier it is to experiment with an idea, and the less painful the consequences of discarding it, the more willing our students will be to create and challenge themselves.

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