James Addison Q&A: ‘This style of education will influence Scottish education positively’

Who are you?

I am a designer and researcher whose work spans architectural design, urban planning, technology, entrepreneurship, and education with a focus on using design as a tool for community engagement and social impact.

What’s Nuvu?

NuVu is a full-time innovation school for middle and high school students based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, we recently entered into an exclusive European partnership with Kelvinside Academy. Our pedagogy is based on teaching the creative process through the architectural studio model, in which students are guided by expert Coaches in the creation of multi-disciplinary, collaborative projects.

Students are challenged to address real-world, open-ended problems through creative thinking, making, and ongoing critique.  Through this model, they are able to address large-scale problems and create solutions that have an impact in the world.  Two years ago, we launched NuVuX, through which we partner with schools around the world to embed design and innovation studios within a traditional academic schedule.

Why should it exist?

NuVu exists to immerse students in the process of creative thinking and to push the boundaries of traditional education.  At NuVu, students can engage in meaningful, self-driven work that they may not otherwise be exposed to until much later in their educational careers.  We serve as both a full-time school for students in Massachusetts and as a new way of working within conventional schools.

What’s wrong with courses, subjects, classrooms, timetables and grades?

While these methods have worked in schools in the past, we believe that the best way to engage students in learning is through the creative process.  NuVu challenges students to learn in new ways: analytical thinkers are inspired to explore their creative selves, while creative students expand their capacity to think and learn analytically.

Often, students aren’t able to apply their learning to understand why a certain subject is relevant to them.  At NuVu, students almost exclusively discover knowledge through application, which we think encourages a deeper understanding of the material.

Do students access traditional sources of information – text books, academic research/theory etc – during their time on projects?

Yes – students are taught how to research and find information through both traditional and non-traditional sources.  To be purposeful, projects have to be grounded in a solid understanding of the subject matter.  We encourage students to approach their research from multiple angles, ensuring that a diversity of perspectives will influence their projects’ development.

Should the whole education system be re-engineered the NuVu way?

At NuVu, we believe hands-on creative learning needs to be a key aspect of students’ education. The studio process we use offers one model in which students are given a framework to develop their creative problem solving skills, deepen critical thinking skills, and work collaboratively, amongst others.

There are other models, such as the Montessori method of education, which similarly encourage hands-on learning and collaboration.  NuVu is one way to achieve creative learning, but we do believe there are other models that allow students to engage with meaningful, real-world issues in an interdisciplinary environment. We hope to see more educators and schools offering such opportunities. There are innovative programs emerging in many parts of the world, so the US is one of many places we are looking at in terms of new approaches.

How do you measure educational outcomes in the short and long-term?

NuVu has an internal assessment system that tracks students’ progress across what we call “design skills” and “subject skills”.  Design skills are something we evaluate at the end of each studio, and they include skills such as: collaboration, engagement, documentation, presentation, and synthesis of critique. Subject skills vary depending on the topic of a particular studio. For example, a robotics studio may include subject skills such as: hand prototyping, mechanical design, digital fabrication, electronics, physics, and diagramming.

Are you able to make comparisons with traditional forms of teaching and learning?

What we do is quite different from what you would traditionally find in a school setting, but we align ourselves closely with the methodologies used in architecture and design schools. Both styles of learning have their place and we believe the two styles can be one in concert with each other for the benefit of pupils.

Why Scotland and Kelvinside Academy?

We are so thrilled to be partnering with Kelvinside Academy. The Rector, Ian Munro, reached out to NuVu just over a year ago, and we quickly found our two organisations were a perfect fit for one another.  Kelvinside’s ambition to push the educational envelope in the UK and NuVu’s aspiration to engage students around the world in creative learning are a very compatible match.  We are very much looking forward to our work in Glasgow.

What are the plans and what do you hope to achieve?

After a successful two week summer camp last July, we look forward to welcoming students for this summer’s camp. Next academic year, this will expand into a year-long studio-based program for students at Kelvinside.  We hope to inspire students to explore new ways of thinking and learning and to work with them to create ambitious, meaningful projects.

Do you plan to engage with the education system more widely in Scotland?

Working with KA, we would love to engage with the education system more widely in Scotland as this programme grows in the future. NuVu’s collaboration with Kelvinside Academy can be an excellent case study for this style of education, which I hope will influence Scottish education positively.

What are you most looking forward to about your time in Scotland, aside from your work with Kelvinside?

I love exploring new places and cultures through the lens of photography. For me, photography is tool to express a particular way of seeing the world, and to communicate this perspective to others. I am looking forward to capturing the nuances of Scotland’s fascinating cities and landscapes through images.

To find out more about NuVu, and to sign-up for this year’s NuVu summer camp, visit www.kelvinside.org/our-school/nuvu-summer-tech-camp/what-is-nuvu