Beyond knowledge to understanding: a Goethean perspective on design education as living process
This study explores appropriate responses to some of the challenges inherent to life today, and how a holistic design education can bring about a new reality. The approach to design learning advocated here acknowledges the present reality of fragmentation and reductionism as the fundamental and pervasive mode of understanding our world and ourselves, and seeks to develop instead a design approach grounded in inclusion, context and connectedness. Under the primary concept of profound engagement with self, culture and environment, I developed a complementary design education model exploring the role of designer as mediator between culture and nature. This model proposes future design knowing situated in environmental, social and self-awareness so as to offer a vital interface between ecology, public and the personal. Three themes emerged during the research that helped me to approach and engage with complexity during particular experiences of teaching and learning. These themes are: Wild, representing quality; Conversation, representing experience; and Transformation, representing consciousness. With these themes in mind I entered into the untamed territory of my research seeking the dynamic connections and interrelationships of living processes in education. The Ensembles or modules constituting this model evolved from the work of Rudolf Steiner’s concepts of higher perception: Imagination, Inspiration and Intuition, made clear through following Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s phenomenological method. Goethe’s phenomenological method – “delicate empiricism” – is essentially a participatory, perceptive practice with which to harness qualitative ways of knowing. The methodology supports students to cross the divide between abstraction and holistic relational modes of knowing that are context-sensitive. The research study reconsiders the current worldview and determines ways in which to develop relational awareness through deliberate learning experiences. These ways imply re-focusing existing awareness with personal qualities and active participation. The Ensembles open up new ways of perceiving emergent process rooted in integrated, flexible and evolutionary processes. Students’ learning experiences are traced as they develop their capacity for interconnected decision making modelled on living processes. This in turn helps develop the model further, so that in the future designers may embrace ways of thinking and doing design that are more flexible, mobile, delicate and sustainable. The radical humanist perspective and qualitative methods used in the study advance the pedagogical approach embedded in human engagement and interaction, and encompass logic, intellect, creativity, imagination and philosophical reflection. Thus the critical shift, from perceiving the world as abstract and as “something out there” to a deeper inner knowing and understanding, is embedded in the education model as an opus of Ensembles reflecting a pedagogy of lived experience, grounded in embodied creative practice.