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M. Maiocchi, M. Pillan

Politecnico di Milano (ITALY)
In the last decades the role of the universities changed, from a high level deep thinking to a high level operationally specialised disciplinary education. Graduations provide mainly excellent executors, and higher critical capabilities are left to further courses (second level degrees, PhD, etc.). This change, at least in Italy, seems due to both the need of harmonizing the universities worldwide, and to feed quickly the labour market.
Nevertheless there is no evidence that the executing capability is in contrast with critical thinking, with responsibility and with the ability to manage complexity, nor that those abilities are not required by the labour market.
The paper describes a three years experience in an innovative approach for teaching Design of Communication at Politecnico di Milano; the experience cone first and second level degrees, and four different courses, both for large audiences (more than 200 .students) and small (30-40 students) audience.
Beside the traditional lessons, the changes in respect to the tradition are:
1. For the disciplinary approach:
- use of formalisation; we provide schemata and formal conceptual tools, instead of descriptions of design methods; this induces strictness an verifiability of the intended actions;
- an holistic approach; projects must not be confined within the boundaries imposed by the “customer”;
- accept complexity, instead of trying to reduce it; the design focus let responsibility emerge;
- deep criticism to the initial ideas, often suggested by an easy feasibility, and emphasis on responsibility;
All these elements force the design of communication artefacts to be joined with a strong “political” consciousness.
2. For the course organisation:
- lesson held by a couple of teachers, with external experts as auditors, in order to promote a spontaneous debate during the lesson, possibly with not completely aligned positions;
- intermediate checks, as small projects, emphasizing the critical interpretation of already available communication artefacts ,and creation of new ones, based on formalised communication models;
- a final examination as a complex project, related to a real problem, proposed with months in advance, followed not only by the teacher(s), but also by the external “customer”.
The result of the courses is twofold:
- the students, forced to approach real problems, learn to manage the complexity of the real world, the existence of many kind of constraints (legal, economic, relational, …); this cannot be experienced in other ways with in vitro exams;
- the students are not asked to apply pre-packaged methods or procedures, but have to make by themselves many choices, relegating methods and tools to their proper role, of support to ideas; they become aware of the project responsibilities they are taking, including social and ethic aspects; the last point is, according to the authors, the major result, busting students maturity, with a leap in respect to their initial status.
As the approach has been followed within four different courses, it will be evident its transportability; a further discussion is present in the paper, about the (experienced) application in teaching other disciplines.
The paper describes with detail the context, the approach and the results; it presents examples of the debating lessons, of the intermediate small projects, of the final one; it presents the position of some “customer” as well as of some students.