SC Integral Design has partnered with Southern Cross University Enterprise Lab to deliver a series of introductory workshops to educational leaders in Northern Rivers, NSW. Our aim is to provide educational leaders with the structures, tools and support needed to design solutions to the complex challenges they face amidst the disruptive, unknowable conditions of this century. The first of two workshops focused on foundational knowledge about Design Thinking and its application in educational contexts.
In workshop 1, Future Fit Education, we zoomed out to frame up the big picture so that everyone had a shared understanding of the scope and scale of the challenge this century presents. We began by addressing the conditions of what is being called, the 4th Industrial Revolution - the convergence of emergent technology, shifting global demographics and the sharing economy.
This convergence is sufficiently disruptive to throw humanity into a tailspin. However, we also wanted to feature an even bigger story, one within which the 4th Industrial Revolution is playing out. Ultimately, the aim was to illuminate humanity’s story in a way that includes and transcends an educationalist’s response to rapid, large-scale change and corresponding future-of-work uncertainty.
We began by contextualising geological and historical time, and the converging impact both are having on humanity at large and education more specifically. We also played a collective intelligence game that I created called, Curiosity Cafe, which allows players to enact values such as curiosity, empathy, humility and ease with ambiguity. The following article shares about both the big picture story AND the gamified learning experience.
THE BIG PICTURE OF DEEP TIME
When geologists discuss planetary evolution, they talk about something called, deep time, or chunks of time that span for many millions if not billions of years, laid down in the vertical strata of the earth’s crust. Each chunk is divided into smaller chunks, which can stretch for millions of years. The broadest chunks are called, Eons, and the smallest are called, Ages. The story of deep time is retold through the carbon dating of rocks and fossils as well as through the earth’s dynamic sedimentary and topographic records.
The following Geologic Time Scale provides a glimpse into how geologists think about deep time. Note the proportion of time humans have been on earth compared to the larger evolutionary story of life.
The last time our planet transitioned between Epochs was from the Pleistocene to the Holocene, around 12,000 years ago when the last ice sheets receded from the earth’s continental crust.
To put this in perspective, sea floor topography combined with carbon dating clocks the Holocene as having ushered in flooding of what was once a massive escarpment off the north-east coast of Australia. Evidence of this transition was recently depicted in Sir David Attenborough’s documentary series, The Great Barrier Reef. In the film, "the reef" is described as having formed at the end of the Holocene when the final ice sheets melted and sea level rose by about 120 meters.
Today there is wide scientific consensus that planet earth has transitioned from the Holocene to the Anthropocene. Scientists first acknowledged the amplification of human impact on earth’s geology and ecosystems back in the 1930s. By the mid 1970s, atmospheric chemist, Paul Crutzen, popularised the term Anthropocene (anthropo = Greek for human) to name the direct impact humans are having on the biospheric structure of the planet (Stein, 2018).
The transition into the Anthropocene marks what is now known as the Sixth Extinction (there have been five major extinction events across the past 443 million years). The last extinction to rival our current trajectory of flora and fauna loss occurred during the Cretaceous-Tertiary transition around 65 million years ago when a massive asteroid hit Mexico and wiped out all the dinosaurs (Carrington, 2017).
Shifting from deep time to historical time, a second transformation is also underway. This one, though, has to do with the evolutionary development of memes, or, “non-biological cultural patterns that spread through communication” (Frienacht, 2017, p. 213). Meta-memes are overarching ontological patterns - how people understand and make meaning of the world around them - that represent the collective, dominant logic of a society at certain stages in its historical development.
Futurist and educational philosopher, Jennifer Gidley, provides a comprehensive study of cultural meta-memes and their correlating logics. These descriptions incorporate knowledge from multiple disciplines, including archaeology, anthropology, geology, biology, sociology, theology, macro-history, art history, philosophy and more. Gidley (2007) describe each meta-meme and their correlating logics as follows:
Gidley (2007) zooms in to examine more recent post-industrial history - between Mental and Integral - narrowing time into three meta-memes and their correlating logics:
There are some individuals whose logics extend beyond the memetic zeitgeist of their time (think Socrates, Newton, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela). These luminaries reflect the codes of new logics, ones that include and transcend those previous by expanding our expressive and receptive capacities to understand truth, beauty and goodness in new ways. When emergent logics encoded in the collective psyche hit a tipping point, then transitions between cultural memes on mass can occur (Freinacht, 2017 & Gidley, 2007).
Make no mistake, these transitions are non-linear and messy. Tensions arise between those living from the emergent code, and those still embedding earlier ones. At any given point in time, humanity shares the planet without necessarily sharing the same logic.
We are currently living in a, “time between worlds” (Stein, 2018). Humanity is simultaneously transitioning into a new geologic Epoch AND into a new cultural meta-meme. This convergence is generating volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous conditions with subsequent challenges that exceed the cognitive, emotional and moral capacities of previous logics. In other words, neither the empirical, rational, progressive and singular logic of modernism nor the deconstructed, pluralistic, subjective and critical logic of post moderism are sufficient on their own to steer humanity through the current unknown (Stein, 2018).
A new meta modern logic is required to navigate this moment, one grounded in a both/and orientation to what is true, beautiful and good. Rather than pit post modernist logic against modernist logic, the meta modernist must braid together the best of both into a coherent narrative that enables humanity to respond skilfully to the pressing challenges of our time.
SO WHAT DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH EDUCATION?
As mentioned above, the messiness of memetic evolution means that multiple logics are simultaneously influencing our social, political and economic institutions. Western democracies are at particular risk of being caught between the singular reductionism of modernism and the pluralistic paralysis of post modernism whilst also facing the most significant geologic transition in 12,000 years.
Educational institutions are at the centre of this polarising dilemma.
According to Stein (2018), this need is made evident when, facing high degrees of complexity, decision makers either fall back on modern, reductionist truths (employing objective metrics, standardised testing and one size fits all solutions), or succumb to the post modern loss of teacherly authority (and inability to facilitate the transmission of hierarchical, skills based expertise to young learners).
SC INTEGRAL DESIGN & THE META MODERN TOOLKIT
The challenge of the Anthropocene demands a meta modern response. At SC Integral Design, we take a stand by supporting educational institutions to transform themselves into communities of learning in which the wholistic development of people IS core business. When we talk about communities of learning, we mean everyone, including students, teachers, leaders, parents, community members, etc. When we talk about wholistic, we mean the transformation of hearts and minds, behaviours and bodies, systems and environments AND relationships and cultures (Esbjorn-Hargens, 2018).
CURIOSITY CAFE GAME
In Future Fit Education, we introduced examples of meta modern practices for communication and problem solving through a game we've created called, Curiosity Cafe. The focus of the game is to enact genuine curiosity by asking powerful questions.
First, we spent time differentiating powerful questions from clarifying ones, and how you know when you are asking which kind of question. For example, powerful questions ignite fresh thinking - they are simple and clear, thought provoking, surface unconscious assumptions, generate energy, focus inquiry and open new possibilities. In contrast, clarifying questions are a request for more details about the nature of an issue and often illicit concrete, yes, no or closed responses. We practiced paying attention to how asking either clarifying or powerful questions provoked differing responses. In essence, people knew they'd asked a powerful question when they inspired another to pause, look up and say, "now that's a great question!"
Once well-practiced, we started playing the Curiosity Cafe game. We broke the players into 4 groups, with about 6 people per group. Each person in the small group self selected a role:
Case Givers - reflected on and shared about a specific challenge they were facing in their schools
Powerful Questioners - provided feedback to the Case Givers only in the form of powerful questions
Sketchers - graphically documented the conversation
Note Takers - tracked insights by writing them down
Active Listener - listened attentively for content, context and learning insights about the game itself
Each Case Giver would present their challenge to the group for 5 minutes, followed by rounds of feedback provided in the form of powerful questions only. After 15 minutes, everyone accept the Case Giver would stand up and rotate to a new table, repeating the game but in response to a new Case Giver and in a different role. Ideally, 3 rounds make for an engaging learning experience. Between each round, Active Listeners were asked to share their insights with the wider group.
Curiosity Cafe is designed to provide participants with a taster of what genuine curiosity can feel like as a daily practice. It also provides those with live challenges an opportunity to engage in out-of-the-box thinking and harness the power of collective intelligence from their peers.
"Susanna led us through several rounds of Curiosity Cafe, a game she invented that invites powerful questions, collaboration and innovative thinking." Tanya Egerton, Enterprise Lab Manager
Let me be clear. SC Integral Design is not interested in generating more noise. We know that teachers, principles, administrators, parents and the wider community are already bombarded with crowded curriculums, revolving theories, constrained structures and a plethora of instructional delivery models. Rather, we see our work as alleviating these “time between worlds” symptoms by providing orienting structures and skilful means to those who care deeply about learning and the future. Our approach begins with introducing a meta modern toolkit to the development of future ready educational leaders so that they are well equipped to respond skilfully to the complex challenges of our time, and in turn cultivate this same capacity in the young learners they steward.
For more information about how SC Integral Design can support you and your school, please contact Susanna at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Carrington, D 2017, 'Earth's 6th mass extinction event under way, scientists warn', The guardian australia edn, viewed June 21, 2019 <https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/jul/10/earths-sixth-mass-extinction-event-already-underway-scientists-warn>
Esbjorn-Hargens, S 2018, 'MetaImpact framework', MetaIntegral overview, viewed June 1, 2019, <https://www.metaintegral.com/>
Frienacht, 2017, The listening society: a meta modern guide to politics book 1, Metamoderna ApS.
Gidley, Jennifer, 2007, 'The evolution of consciousness as a planetary imperative: an integration of integral views', Integral review, vol 5, ARINA.
Stein, Zachary, 2018, 'Introduction: education in a time between worlds, Institute for interdisciplinary research into the anthropocene', Education in the anthropocene: futures beyond schooling, viewed June 1, 2019 <https://iiraorg.com/2018/04/05/education-in-the-anthropocene-futures-beyond-schooling/>