Design for Learning

September 2021

Design is all around us in our classrooms–in our textbooks, our presentations, in our decorations, in our desks, and more–yet we hardly give it much thought as language teachers. This issue is all about highlighting the extensive ways we can make use of the power of design in our lessons.

Our cover: “The alternative to good design is always bad design. There is no such thing as no design.” –  Adam Judge, author

Cover photo by Jason Leung on unsplash, others from iStock & pixabay.

Watch before you read...

This Think Tank looks at the role of design in our lives; more specifically, how an understanding of design principles can enhance our teaching/learning materials, our lessons, and even the delivery of a whole curriculum. We are not just talking about making things look better. We are talking about making them easier to use, directing users’ attention to where we want it to be, improving efficiency, and avoiding time-wasting confusion.

Curtis Kelly gets us started with an impassioned explanation of why language teachers should know about design. Rishma Hansil brings her expertise as a UX Designer to bear on her current profession as a language teacher, to offer some guiding principles of materials design. Next, Anton Vegel follows up with further practical applications of those principles. Julia Daley points out the benefits of taking things a step further by teaching design techniques to our students. Mohammad Khari takes us deeper by exploring the brain science behind design and applying it to lesson designs. Finally, the Think Tank Team looks at a video on Instructional Design by a good friend of the BRAIN SIG, Tracey Tokuhama-Espinosa, and comes up with a long list of good reasons why you should watch it.

In our PLUS piece, Marc Helgesen offers some timely advice on ice-cream headaches.

Our Thoughts on Design

Why Design? Curtis Kelly

Now why would a magazine that connects brain sciences to language teaching have an issue on design? You probably already have an inkling. Language is communication. To be specific, it is a system of encoding the information in one person’s mind so that it can be decoded in a similar way by someone else. Our job is to teach students how to communicate in English or some other language. Unfortunately, we have been saddled with a bias from the field of linguistics that tends to make us just language teachers, instead of the more appropriate communication teachers.

Think Tank Articles

UX Design in the Classroom Rishma Hansil

Designing for education can be challenging. As I transitioned from user experience (UX) designer to educator, I witnessed the rise of the digital classroom, the shift from teacher-centered to student-centered learning, and the ongoing debates around classroom management. At the core of UX design there is the “U,” the user, and at the heart of teaching there is the student. The parallels were uncanny, and it was this realization that helped me connect with students in the classroom and create a more interactive learning experience using UX design principles.

A Glance at the Visual Design of Learner Materials Anton Vegel

Controlling visual information is not easy, and design problems are not limited to designers, typesetters, or layout professionals. Even teacher practitioners need practical solutions to approach the problems that arise when making student materials (i.e., trying to limit text to one page, managing available space while maintaining clarity, keeping text large enough to be read clearly, creating distinctions without ambiguity). These considerations become especially important when creating assessments. What is being measured should not be obfuscated by unclear information resulting from bad design.

Yes, Language Teachers Can Teach Design Too Julia Daley

No, I’m not being pedantic. I sincerely believe that teaching elements of design is part of our job as English (language) teachers, whether we have any training in graphic design or not. It’s a concept that can be easily folded into our lessons and brought up regularly in our courses. I want to focus on three areas in language classrooms where I think there are plenty of teaching opportunities: reading, writing, and presentations.

Let the Brain Lead the Way! Mohammad Khari

If you asked teachers what they would prioritize when they are planning their lessons, you would most probably get some answers like: objectives, context, motivation, emotions, and timetable fit. All these elements of a proper lesson plan have something in common: they are all connected to neuroscience or, at least, neuroscience can explain their importance. That is why knowing what happens when the brain is presented with new information can strengthen the stages one designs to guarantee efficient instruction.

Tracey Teaches Us Instructional Design Think Tank Team

A month ago, many of us were blessed by getting a special workshop on instructional design from Tracey Tokuhama-Espinosa, a leader in bringing neuroscience and psychology to education. She teaches one of the core courses in the Mind, Brain, and Education field, Harvard’s The Neuroscience of Learning (which at least six of our authors have taken). But she is better known for her writing in this area, with thoughtful books like these. Click on the covers to see more.

Think Tank Plus

Because it is Summer Marc Helgesen

It is Summer. Most Think Tank readers just finished a long, hard semester – many of us dealing with coronavirus and maybe teaching online.

Call for Contributions Think Tank Staff

Become a Think Tank star! Here are some of the future issue topics we are thinking about. Would you, or anyone you know, like to write about any of these? Or is there another topic you’d like to recommend? Do you have any suggestions for lead-in, or just plain interesting, videos? How about writing a book review? Or sending us a story about your experiences? Contact us.

Going Deeper

The power of design | JD Hooge | TEDxPortland

Do you want to learn how to harness the superpower of design? Then watch this inspiring Tedx Talk by JD Hooge!

Speaking of Psychology: The Psychology of Design

Learn about how design impacts our lives in ways that we often do not notice at all in this interview with Sally Augustin.

Speaking of bad design…

Sometimes design can go wrong… very, very wrong. Enjoy 40 hilarious examples of bad design. (Be advised that some of the humor is of the adult variety.)

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The MindBrained Think Tanks+

is produced by the Japan Association for Language Teaching (JALT) Mind, Brain, and Education Special Interest Group (BRAIN SIG). Kyoto, Japan. (ISSN 2434-1002)

Editorial Staff

Stephen M. Ryan                Julia Daley                   Marc Helgesen

        Curtis H. Kelly                 Skye Playsted                Heather McCulloch

    Jason Walters                  Rishma Hansil               Mohammad Khari




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