Challenged Based Learning on ‘Water stress’

Challenged Based Learning: Creating a safe space for students to explore and experiment ideas, theories, and methods to understand their role as ‘designers in the world’. In this way, students would learn that their work is valuable by reviewing, in an ethical way, their impact (small or large) for contributing in solving real life problems. Finding a personal perspective on what kind of role as a designer they want to have can provide invaluable learning experiences by forming intrinsical motivations which are essential for challenged based learning.

In order to stimulate meaningful learning experiences and equip students with design skills and processes, it is important to give them the autonomy to decide which methods and tools will validate and communicate their design decisions. As designers, they must be able to navigate between different processes, methods, and tools, and make informed decisions by breaking down complex real-world problems into smaller steps. Therefore, the teacher’s role is to create a design challenge that has a level of abstraction in order to leave room for students to make choices semi-indepently, supported by coaching. Hence, providing students with a selection of design methods and tools to choose from, allows them the independence to intentionally explore their options and to take ownership of their own learning journey.

Example of Challenged Based Learning during Visual Research course: Students enrolled in the Visual Research course, at CMD Applied University of Amsterdam in 2018, developed their design skills by creating an intervention in public space. Students were given the challenge of creating an intervention using a digital interactive object to make visible the often overlooked process of rising water. Through this project, students were able to gain a better understanding of the impact of invisible processes on our environment and the importance of making them visible.

Real life problem: ‘Water Stress’

Areas of ‘water stress’ in 2025 according to the United Nations:

  • Around 700 million people in 43 countries suffer today from water scarcity.
  • By 2025, 1.8 billion people will be living in countries or regions with absolute water scarcity, and two-thirds of the world’s population could be living under water stressed conditions.
  • With the existing climate change scenario, almost half the world’s population will be living in areas of high water stress by 2030, including between 75 million and 250 million people in Africa. In addition, water scarcity in some arid and semi-arid places will displace between 24 million and 700 million people.
  • Sub-Saharan Africa has the largest number of water-stressed countries of any region.

Flooding is a recurring natural phenomenon in areas such as deltas, coasts and floodplains. While these areas are ‘familiar’ for floodings, as an ‘established expectation of the future’, more and more areas will become prone to floodings. By its nature, the process of rising water is not visible for the human eye, until it rises beyond the normal water levels. Making visible what is yet invisible creates awareness for the impact of the process of rising water.

Design challenge: Develop an intervention in a public space using a digital interactive object to visualize the invisible process of rising water, in such a way that passers-by understand your message about ‘water stress’.

Process Logbook:
Students share and peer review their work in an online logbook.

Working groups of 150 minutes: (1) Explore the topic and your personal perspective, (2) Desk research, (3) Introduction of System Thinking, (4) Methods Lecture on Public Space Design, Visual Language Analysis, and Associative Image Mapping, (5) Framing message (narrative framework), (6) Interaction vocabulary, (7) Scenario design using Visual Grammar (Christian Leborg).

Student Results examples: Visual Research course, CMD, Applied University of Amsterdam, 2018.

Dionne Vester:

Loc Nguyen:

Maria Molenaar: