05 November 2006

oh the thesis

so here is a first stab at what could possibly be a thesis proposal page. plus a lot of parentheticals. plus a lot of blathering. a rough rough draft, i guess. a week later than i'd hoped. but starting is always the hardest part, you know? the first paragraph is a bit of a throw-away. i always have these, but i thought that including it here might help show my thought process. i kind of gave up a bit towards the end. i'm writing in a loud place. i feel restless. i keep getting interrupted. i have homework i need to get done. be that as it may, hey, i've started.


I once heard it said that mathematicians do their best work in their 20s, physicists in their 30s, and that engineers just get better with age. While I can't vouch for the validity of the first two thirds of that statement, I believe some truth lies in the last third – engineers get better with age. But maybe this is too specific of a statement for my purposes. Let me generalize. First, age is not really the key factor, experience is; engineers get better with experience. Second, the term “engineer” shouldn't just apply to people with engineering degrees. Anyone who takes an idea and makes what they want with what they have avaible to them is performing the role of an engineer, be it mechanical, electrical, etc. Maybe in its most general form, the statement “engineers get better with age” turns into “people who make things become more able to do so the more experience they have.”
This is crap. I can't write.
There is a body of knowledge that exists beyond words, in a realm of pure experience. When dealing with the physical world, and in particular with mechanical and structural design, this ineffable, tacit knowledge is unavoidably present and thus must be knowingly addressed. Due to the inadequacies of language, this experience cannot be fully discussed through any traditional means, such as writing, speaking, drawings, etc., but can only be explored and understood through personal experience, through interactions. The best we can hope for in communicating the inexepressable parts of our experiences to others is to evoke their own similar experience through our words. (z.B. if I say to you that I ate a sweet apple the other day, those words evoke in your mind your own experience of eating a sweet apple, even though you never ate the same apple I did.) When it comes to teaching (or enabling the learning of) an area that is comprised of a large amount of experiential knowledge (such as the field of mechanical and structural design) the limitations of communication become readily apparent and can be quite the obstruction, especially when the other person does not have the same experience base that you do. So how does one, as a teacher, approach teaching such a field?
(Do I need to elaborate on why I believe that mechanical and structural design relies heavily on tacit/personal knowledge?)
Experience. It all comes down to experience. Instead of the teacher trying to transfer their knowledge to the student (which I don't think they should be trying to do, regardless, but that's another matter), the student must be encouraged to explore and to reflect on their experiences. Through experience, they accumulate tacit knowledge. Through reflection on their experiences, the students can build up their own method of critically thinking about what they've learned. Therefore, it is critical in such a situation that the barrier to exploration be as low as possible so that the students feel safe and encouraged. Because of these reasons (among others, that maybe I should elaborate on later), I propose that a low-cost construction kit focused on enabling the building of interactive kinetic sculptures would be beneficial in aiding the learning of mechanical and structural design.

1 comment:

  1. Laura,
    I think you are trying to express something that you will get to through the research. That is you are trying to develop a deep philosophical stance about working with materials in the physical world. To some extent your own experience is leading you by the nose. It is the task of the next stage of the research to free your nose up so that you can be attached by a threads or wires to the ideas in a web of somekind. After that perhaps on to philosophy.

    Perhaps it would be useful to separate the act of building something into its parts

    imagination: what do I want to make? what can I make with these materials? what can I make with this technique?
    Assume I imagine making someething and I have no materials at hand (no kit)... what makes me want to build something so badly that I scavange? (imagination, desire to give or fix or something else?) Compare this to some other state... I imagine building something and I have a kit but I do not have any technique....

    OK now go into what you have discovered about the physical world by building something.... tell a very specific story about making your giraff -- what did you have to start, how did your understanding change.

    Next propose an experiment: what happens when you give other people (kids) a kit... how do they start? what do they do next? where do some of them get stuck? (Highlands and Islands; Costa Rica)

    Next propose the next thing you want to try.

    Now go back to the top of the document and write the introduction.