In parts 1 and 2 of this series post we identified a key problem with Bloom’s taxonomy as applied to children and engineering. We then placed the problem into the broader memetic framework of spiral memes to establish limits on Bloom’s and initiated a path towards new needs for societal and educational growth. Here in part 3 we’ll present a new set of taxonomys and examples to guide future learning paradigms.

While the flipped classroom is a welcomed performance/communitarian meme shift approach to learning, it often comes across as awkward and is held back ultimately by dogmatic legalistic/performance metrics. Before we define a new taxonomy for the performance/communitarian meme shift, we need to get into the communitarian vibe to understand the values necessitated by this shift.

Here in the US we’re currently on the cusp of a major societal phase shift away from legalistic/performance. We’ve reached a limit to societal growth where additional changes will almost surely have a negative collapse or ‘landslide’ effect on our environmental ecosystems. Global warming is here to stay for at least the next two centuries and the oilgasm isn’t. The internet has connected everyone such that you can find the rules/method for anything in history in a few clicks, along with someone willing to do it for you, who also happens to have been thoroughly reviewed by the history of their customers. Clearly the game (and rules) have changed. It’s no longer everyone out for themselves, if everyone takes there will be nothing left to share, successful companies must be sustainable, our mistakes (in work and at home) are more public and permanent, and the successful student is the most well connected student. Our approaches to engineering education (among many other things in society) need to evolve to match the times.

Here is the start of an evolving list of traits for a communitarian education:

  1. Connection to bioregion: Understanding how the water, food, flora and fauna your life depends on flow (energy) in the region in which you live. Not just knowing, but getting involved, your hands dirty so-to-speak.
  2. Empathy: Credit goes to Chuck Pezeshki here. I’m talking a much more complex empathy here than you’re thinking. I’m talking about empathetic scaffolding: mirroring, emotional, relational/systemic, and global. We’ll cover these in a later post. It’s way cool and has a physics basis. If it sounds hokey to you, take it from somebody with higher rank than I like the Stanford business school with entire classes on designing empathetic organizations or may’be Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center with the 6 habits of highly empathetic people. Silicon valley raced out ahead of the rest of us for a reason.
  3. Resource stewardship and sustainability: Identifying and working on a cause/movement worth promoting. Resources come in many forms that performance based metrics have a tough time addressing: children, mental health, connections and relationships, biodiversity health, etc. Realizing that nothing need be wasted, opportunity lies in everything provided you can make the right connections, and working towards that goal.

Using performance level meme traits as the foundation for these communitarian traits, we arrive at a taxonomy for the performance/communitarian meme shift analogous to Bloom’s (the color spectrum is transferred from Gravesian spiral memes):


Performance Communitarian Taxonomy

So what does this look like applied to engineering education? Remember that community/resource stewardship doesn’t necessitate living like a typical green ‘granola’ as the color shift implies. I gave one of the WSU TEDx talks last May that hints at this progression. To go even further, let’s apply this taxonomy to two classes I’m teaching this semester: Applied Rocket Design, and Systems Design.

The Applied Rocket Design class goal is to fly 3 rockets at the Experimental Sounding Rocket Competition in Utah this June. With this real goal in mind, the students have to steward financial resources, time, and have excellent knowledge of the team member capabilities and relationship issues, and of course, design rocket(s) with high performance metrics as assessed by spatial, temporal, and energetic awareness.

The Systems Design class is working to develop a room-sized “Unaturally natural” machinescape envisioned by WSU artist and faculty member Sena Clara Creston. With just $1000 in funds, and the need that materials be mostly natural and repurposed, my class of 35 students will have to work every level of this taxonomy. Something that conventional Bloom’s doesn’t come close to addressing.

The funny thing is, with these clear, real goals in mind to address the needs of external customers, flipping both of these classes comes across naturally. It makes sense for the students to give the lectures and conduct in class group work. None of it is a legalistic facade! Every bit of the coursework is relevant towards their end goal. And in the course of completing their real tasks, they address all of the course requirements. Not to mention a real engineering story/experience that’s ever more important in interviews.

In a nutshell, my solution is this: replace Bloom’s outdated taxonomy with new taxonomy(s) based on the broader meme/phase shift occurring in society. Then make the educational environment as real as possible by having the students address the needs of real stakeholders outside of the class. This shifts your role as educator from that of a referee to one of a coach/leader. The flipped classroom works as a natural environment to enable the complex connections and thought needed from our students.

As you guessed, the performance/communitarian meme/phase shift is only one of many. In future posts we’ll develop the communitarian/systemic taxonomy and others based on observations in society and the guiding framework of spiral memes.