ME 313 - Ambidextrous Thinking - Autumn 1995

Gayle Curtis, Bob Adams, Bruce MacGregor, Darren Kim

ME 313, Ambidextrous Thinking, serves as an introduction to the unique philosophy, spirit and tradition of the Design Division. It grows directly out of, and contains much of the content contained in the undergraduate Visual Thinking class (ME 101) which has been taught at Stanford for over 25 years. ME 313 continues to stress drawing because drawing is both a powerful cognitive skill and a useful metaphor for design and creative problem solving. At the same time, the new name suggests that we would like to encourage more than purely visual skills.

"Ambidextrous" means the ability to use both hands. Combining "ambidextrous" with "thinking" creates the image of being equally facile with both the right and left sides of our brain. While we have no desire to tie the validity of this course to current brain theory, it has been established that there are basic differences in the modes of brain function found in the right and left hemispheres of the brain. Schools universally emphasize "left mode" or verbal, quantitative, and logical skills. ME 313 will focus on "right mode" or visual, spatial, kinesthetic and intuitive skills, but will do so to foster a balanced or whole-person approach to problem solving.

The name "Ambidextrous Thinking" also connotes the use of our hands. Einstein characterized his thinking as being both visual and kinesthetic rather than symbolic. We can think with our hands, or if you will, with our whole body, as well as with our eyes and brain. This is a hands-on course, and we emphasize learning by doing.

Thus Ambidextrous Thinking refers to solving problems using all of an individual's talents and resources. It encourages a flexible and interdisciplinary way of working which does away with mental barriers and stereotypes. The result will be the ability to combine and experiment with ideas in a fluent and flexible way that consistently generates successful designs.

To give you an first hand experiences of the role of visual and inner imagery play in productive thinking. To help you understand the relationship between perception and creative problem solving, and to develop the interrelated skills of seeing and freehand drawing. To improve your fluency and flexibility in the generation of ideas and design concepts, and To make you better aware of and to develop your own cognitive style, and to better appreciate those of others.

To achieve these goals, the quarter has been divided into four parts, all but the first of which are marked by the completion of a design project. We work to realize these goals through an orchestration of assigned reading, class exercises, homework and design problems which build your thinking skills. The first two weeks, for example, are devoted to seeing and freehand drawing. This includes "loosening up," drawing real objects, an exposure to perspective theory and learning to draw simple solids and cylinders in freehand perspective. The emphasis of the course shifts toward idea generation as we move into the quarter, as illustrated in the chart. The largest portion of time will be spent on seeing and freehand drawing. Experience has shown that students benefit most from work in this area. The next largest allocation of time is to idea-sketching and design. Inner imagery has not been allocated time in proportion to its importance; this form of visual thinking can only be catalyzed in this course. We hope the interested student will continue to educate him or herself. Intellectual understanding will be given more class time here than in ME101, but the course is designed to help you reach understanding through direct experience of your own thinking, rather than by lectures about thinking.

Homework assignments are intended to require a minimum of six hours outside of class per week. Hopefully you will be able to devote more time than this in order to achieve these goals in a truly satisfying way. We intend to show you that drawing is not difficult, and is, in fact, fun. But like any skill, your freehand drawing ability will only improve with lots of practice. The same goes for idea-generation by means of idea-sketching. In short, the individual who attempts to "get by" (by working only in class, for example) will get very little from this course. By contrast, individuals who commit themselves to extra practice will have added powerful thinking skills to their problem solving tool box by the end of the quarter, and will have acquired a momentum that will yield further development in design courses that follow.

Within a couple weeks, the class will be divided into teams in order to work on the first design project. These groups will be seated together in class in order to facilitate team problem solving activities. There may be several evening meetings of the class at which time you will experience programs in the Imaginarium. The dates for these will be announced in class well in advance.

There is a ME 313 course reader available at the Stanford Bookstore. It should cost about twenty dollars and can be found in the Course Reader section of textbooks, under the stairs on the back wall. One or two readings will be assigned each class.

If we were to assign a text it would probably be Designer Primer by Porter and Goodman. Other good books are Experiences in Visual Thinking, by Robert H. McKim and Rapid Viz, by Hanks and Belliston. The latter is recommended as a good resource for basic drawing technique and is available in the Bookstore.

Grading a course intended to encourage creativity has several significant drawbacks. For the student, grading encourages conservative behavior, thereby stifling spontaneity and risk-taking, two important characteristics of creativity. Also, the student who looks to the teacher for evaluation often fails to develop skill and confidence in the important art of judging one's own work. For these reasons and others, this course is taught with a pass/no credit grading system that concerns itself with process rather than content.

The criteria used for determining a pass will be the effort you put into the mastery of the techniques we present during the quarter. Effort can be judged by the physical evidence in terms of quantity of work and by personal progress. This class is carefully planned and intentionally non-linear. A few of the class exercises and some of the readings may appear to come from outer space. Individuals will love or hate such apparitions, some will do both. Not having to fake "liking" such activities in order to get a grade may give you the space to hang out with these ideas, give them a try, take some risks, and see what happens. The best approaches simply to relax and enjoy it. Take what is useful, tuck the rest away for future reference. Feel free to ask us about pedagogical motivations if you are curious.

We will not require you to submit all your class work and home work at the end of the quarter. Nevertheless we encourage you to take care of your work by storing it neatly in chronological order. It might prove useful if there is anything we missed checking off in class. More importantly, saving your work will have the educational benefit of demonstrating growing skills.

The instructors are available to answer questions, give individual attention and help solve problems. Please take the opportunity to come to office hours or make an appointment for individual discussion or assistance. Office hours and contact information will be announced the first day of class.

Gayle Curtis
Bob Adams
Darren Kim (TA)
Bruce McGregor (TA)

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