The performance of the Near Future of Education

This article was published on the Febrary 2nd edition of Nòva24, on Il Sole24Ore.

You can find the original article here: Il futuro scolastico è una performance

Here we give an expanded version of it, without length constraints.

testing out a kinect at ISIA

testing out a kinect at ISIA


Crisis and transformation are connected to each other.

This is what is happening at ISIA, Florence’s school of design, where the students are leading a disruptive effort to co-create the future of their own education system.

When faced with semi-bankruptcy originating from the financial cuts, and with the certainty of being thrown out from the buildings in which they reside because of the lack of government funds to pay for the rent, the teachers and students at ISIA Florence started a protest. Flash mobs, social network campaigns and city interventions were enacted to rebel against the probable closure of the school.

Soon enough it was clear that this was only the latest of a never ending series of states of emergency, and that dedicating all this effort towards resolving one problem, would not change anything for the future, that would still be characterised by a sequence of emergencies, one after the other.

Near Future of Education at ISIA

Near Future of Education at ISIA

As an example, it now seems that some financial backup has been obtained to meet the lease of the school’s venue, but even this potentially good news sits in a state of suspension, with no formal agreement and, more important, with no clue whatsoever about the future of the school, which remains fragile and precarious, in an unstable balance until the next emergency comes about.

We have been in a state of continuous emergency for too long.

In a world that is progressively encoded health, education, the environment and relations are increasingly becoming things which you “buy” (in the many ways in which it is possible to “buy” something in the era of digital technologies and social networks) rather than things you “do as a society”.

We have moved from one emergency to the other, without the time and possibility to imagine – and thus to desire and build – a world that is more just, inclusive, open, critical, civic, civil, ethical.

It is maybe more a crisis of the imaginaries and of desire, rather than a financial one. A crisis of thought and critique, and of the desire for both of them, while we struggle in the tight condition of being forced to focus on a continuous present, where the emergency happens.

In this scenario it is almost impossible to think, to learn from history, and to form new imaginaries about the future.

This condition, of course, starts from the education system.

In our case, it starts from ISIA, in Florence.

This wonderful school of design has been home for some of the most prestigious names in Italian industrial and communication design, and has a wide history of excellence and innovative practices. It is a public institute of higher education, in which all those who demonstrate their potential talent for design can gain access to an effective and innovative environment which also feels like a family: everyone knows each other’s name, professors don’t mind spending hours on students’ projects, and both students and professors actively harvest opportunities that can be accessed and shared by the whole school.

This is a peculiar model, and a really interesting one, which escapes from the model which sees design schools progressively becoming the places whose objective is to produce the next wave of chainworkers for the creative industry.

ISIA produces good designers who are able to think and to design, which in Italian is “progetto”, which literally means to “project”, to evaluate possible futures and to choose from them in ways that are aesthetic, functional, social, political, psychological, anthropological, poetic.

In the current scenario, paradoxically, this has become not competitive.

Everything points in this direction: from the financial cuts to public education; to the facilitations for private schools; to the recurring patterns in which private entities interact with schools; to the configuration of students’ curricula.

We find ourselves in a peculiar situation of synchronicity: the continuous emergency produces students who are not ready to deal with it, because they are cognitive chainworkers. They don’t know history, they have underdeveloped critical skills, and they don’t develop the capacity to “project” in critical ways. They are stuck into the continuous present, in the emergency (of finding a job, of creating a startup that will most likely fail in a few months, and so on).

It is the crisis preserving itself, through emergency.

In all this, roles are also quite encoded. Students protest. Education institutes beg for hearings and money. Governments give out uncertain streams of unstable pocket money. Private entities colonize, to produce chainworkers or startuppers.

In ISIA a decision was taken.

Starting from the Near Future Design course, and quickly spreading to the whole school, we decided to reinvent our reality with the most our powerful tool: the Design. We started building the Near Future Design of Education, to push a bit further people’s perception of what is possible, and using this shift to enact a performance, in which the design actually comes to life.

We have identified 11 axes onto which to imagine the transformation of the education system.

The action at ISIA is a performance. As in all performances, the objective is to create a state of suspension. A condition in which the possibility to discern between what is possible and impossible, allowed or forbidden, true or false, granted or denied, stops. And to use this state of suspension to push our perception of “what is possible” a bit further.

This action is not about “changing everything”. As it is not about complaining, populism or escape.

This action is about desire, imaginaries, access, language and, accordingly, about our possibility to perceive, think and, thus, construct.

To acquire a new language – a new tool – with which to think about the world, and to create it.

As in every performance, it is the audience who does the large part of the job. In performances, “passive” audiences do not exist. “Believing” in the performance – in that which happens – is an active, emergent operation: it deals with recognising a new language and, thus, a new possible “world”. It deals with assuming a new sensibility, which includes a new perception of the world, in which the performance is possible.

It deals with desiring that the performance be true. And, thus, with making it true, participating to the adoption of a new language.

This, in other words, is what Designers do. They build worlds. In which a certain “thing” (a chair, a service, an education system…) is not there in the beginning, but then materializes, thanks to the Design.

Good designers don’t work alone.

Good designers know that learning to become a vehicle for the points of view of historians, anthropologists, engineers, economists, sociologists, psychologists, researchers and people is of fundamental importance. Uniting all of these points of view to understand, first of all, which are the important questions to be asked.

Every designer knows that when “clients” ask for something, they really don’t know what they’re asking for. They have ideas. But single ideas are not such a big deal.

If, from an idea, we are able to derive well-placed questions and a process which is open to multiple points of view which are technical, social, political and poetical: there, here is a great thing to achieve. It is there that great projects start: from permeability, and from the possibility for participation.

They are not the product of the imaginaries of a few people, but, rather, the offspring of the possibility for expression of multiple perspectives, in a state of suspension, in which the Design (the “possible”) is not yet known. What it is known is that it is possible to participate to its definition.

The Design is a participatory, relational, performance, in which the world is created. The “Near Future” of the world.

The students are now in a constituent phase, in which they will unite into a Foundation – or other form of legal organization –, organized using Holacratic models. This new organism will enact the design, by changing the rules of the game. Stepping away from protest mode, and moving into the making mode by changing roles: from subjects begging their rulers to receive hearings and a few coins to survive, to partners, co-creators of the future of the education system.

From the point of view of the course, the story will have a peculiar twist. At the end of each academic year it is common practice for the students to produce a publication featuring their Near Future Designs and the methodologies and techniques used to conceive and implement them.

This year’s publication will assume a very distinctive form: a series of European projects – which will be actually presented – and an open toolkit (made from software, tools, information and opportunities for interaction and interconnection), to make the process replicable and scalable.

The story has just begun, and you will be able to follow and take active part in it on the physical and digital pages of Nòva24, on Il Sole24Ore, and on the many forms of presence which this wonderful group of students will be maintaining on social networks and in cities.

The future does not exist: it is a performance, which we enact with every single one of our decisions.

And, thus: let the Performance, and the Design, begin. You are all welcome.

Starting from the next few days on Nòva and right now on this Facebook Group:

A crash course on cross-media design at ISIA, Florence

Just back from Florence where we held a wonderful workshop/seminar at the ISIA Design Institute

The workshop was really interesting for us, as we were able to experiment an innovative education format.

Starting from the students’ ideas for the project works which they produce each year, we created a really dynamic experience in which an iterative process was created in a completely participatory way.

While the students followed the stream of ideas suggested by their projects we directly interacted with them, transforming design problems into opportunities to introduce tools, methodologies, platforms and knowledge about the various areas of cross-media design.

We specifically value this education methodology, as it promotes a very active kind of studentship. In this kind of process the student is not a “passive” subject who merely listens to the basically one-way dialogue of the “professor”. Instead the student becomes a driving force for the education process, as all begins from the analysis of real-life scenarios. The educator, in this case, assumes a very peculiar and valuable role. We joined the students in the design project lifecycle and we turned every one of its phases for an opportunity to build a dialogue. This dialogue featured us introducing and explaining the various techniques and methodologies involved in the project phases, as well as the formal theories and technical tools that could be used to assess each task. Each issue was described in terms of explanation of the various concepts, and of the references and tools that could be used to gain a deeper understanding of the matter.

Each piece of knowledge was then placed into a wider scheme and, then, adapted to the specific problem that was to be assessed. To  do this, the educator quickly switched role, giving back control to the students who were empowered into using the acquired information to try and find an operative solution to the “problem”, and to explain to all the other people in class what he/she was doing, in terms of both theory and technique.

Here at the bottom you can download the slides that emerged from the lesson. They were constructed live, while performing the lesson. We are in the process of creating documentation for this education process: for both its specific instances, and for the methodology used. Results have been, thus far, really effective.


with FakePress at the Future of Education in Florence

FakePress will be at the Future of Education Conference in Florence on June 16th and 17th, presenting a research paper titled:

“Training Future Anthropologists by Innovative Means: Professional Vision from Augmented Reality NKISI Representations”

Here is a link to download the PDF of the abstract.

Here is the Future of Education Conference website

Augmented Reality NKISI

Augmented Reality NKISI

The paper deals with a research that we’ve been performing for a while with FakePress. This specific instance of the research is done by Salvatore Iaconesi, Luca Simeone and Federico Monaco, and it is perfectly integrated with the other researches FakePress is performing to analyze interesting scenarios in which augmented reality techniques and technologies can be used to promote new forms and practices for education.

In this project a NKISI statue from Congo is connected to a computer vision system which allows recognizing its features in realtime. Each feature can be then connected to digital information through a specifically taylored Content Management System.

The result is that the statue can be connected with information that is accessible directly from the statue itself, for example by moving it in front of a camera that feeds its image to the computer vision system and then shows the fetched information on screen.

This is an incredibly stimulating area for research which has applications in multiple fields, allowing us to populate objects and places with easily accessible digital information, thus potentially enacting entirely new forms of publication, education and expression.

Here is the abstract:

“Augmented reality learning tools can give significant contributions to the development of anthropological practices. The steps to acquire a professional vision in a specific research field can be supported and enhanced by ITC applications creating content for students and practitioners. Digital tools can be created and supported by versatile cross-medial Content Management Systems, allowing for the creation of networked and collaborative knowledge ecosystems that can extend the reach of digital communication onto physical artifacts, geographic locations, architectures and even bodies. Here users/researchers/students are able to stratify layers of information in ways that are directly accessible from the physical objects/places/spaces of research/study, and that allow achieving a state of continuous correlation of data, information and points of view that is extremely effective and usable: users can behave as publishers of their own impressions and experiences, or as designers building their own tools needed for their fields of activities. Innovation in education seems possible even in Humanities and specifically in fields such as ethnography research, where the practices of scientific enquiring and methodology depend strongly on how they are reproduced and transmitted. The adoption of augmented reality learning tools can be helpful for education in Cultural Anthropology and opens itself new transdisciplinary horizons of research for Information Science and Anthropology.
In this case study, NKISI, power figures from Congo, are used to create a materialized learning and knowledge sharing environment, implemented using advanced augmented reality techniques. The design encloses the choice of objects, their encoding as learning facilities, the representation of possible usage scenarios of the platform, and the definition of the scope of the AR experiences, from the point of view of the acquisition of professional skills.
The case study covers an end to end process in which the description of cultural processes and insights is used from the beginning as a basic tool both in the specific case (describing the salient characteristics of the NKISI) and as a methodological scenario that allows apprentices and students to describe and to add their experiences of the cultural meaning of these ethnic representations. Learning by doing seems not always possible and the access to virtual representation of foreign cultures can be a good compromise between a static picture on a book and the learning experience with a real ethnical artifact. Only through a testing activity in a real learning environment a new tool can be shaped according to users’ needs and can be compared to how professional vision is gained by training and experience in other ways and by other educational means”