How to Make Toast
Today we were asked to diagram–using no words–how to make toast. That’s it, the entire prompt: How to make toast.
We did this activity in small groups, then came together as the whole to share our diagrams. And in listening to the other groups share their considerations and decisions in developing a diagram on how to make toast, I realized how little explicit attention I (and my group) gave to the design aspect. The other groups considered who their audience would be: what tools the learners would have available, what level of previous knowledge they would have… My group seemed to focus the most on content; We started our toast as far back as tilling the land and planting the seeds to gather wheat that could eventually be made into bread, to be sliced and toasted. We had all the steps, down to the individual ingredients in making the bread. But the only explicit attention to design we discussed was where arrows were necessary to share the flow of information. The graphic design, specifically, was chosen as a matter of ease for me to draw- not what the learners would mostly likely have or find appropriate. It was an underlying assumption, at least for me, that the individual methodologies–harvesting the wheat, grinding the wheat, kneading the dough, shaping of the bread, cooking the bread, toasting the toast–were interchangeable with whatever the audience had available. We discussed hand-kneading vs machine-kneading, but it was easier to draw a stand mixer. We discussed toasting bread in a cast-iron skillet, or in some sort of mechanical toaster (of which there are numerous kinds), but it was easier to draw a toaster. And reflecting on it, I made these decisions with assumptions of the audience in mind: that the audience would recognize my representations and understand them to mean the abstract concept rather than the concrete and discrete item shown; and in choosing these representations of abstractions that the audience has access to electricity, to appliances.
These realizations are some of what critical instructional design asks us to consider. In addition to the important questions of: For WHOM are we designing for? For WHAT are we designing for?, are questions of the implicit assumptions we are making. It is that reflexive piece, being critical of ourselves and our design work, that critical instructional design is asking us to do. …next time, I just hope I do it before I start designing, not retroactively.