Teflon to Velcro: Making Content Stick

Phil Mann is an instructor teaching Art + Design concentration classes within the Renewable Materials degree program in the Wood Science and Engineering Department.

The Tuesday Teaching + Tech Talks session with Dr. Howes entitled From Teflon to Velcro: Making Content Stick centered around applying Chip and Dan Heath’s approach from their 2008 book Made to Stick, for creating lasting or “sticky” ideas to education. The Heaths outline 6 principles in their approach, represented in the acronym S.U.C.C.E.S.(s) standing for Simple, Unexpected, Concrete, Credible, Emotional, Stories. The approach stresses simplified messaging around ideas, and “violating schemas” or cultural and behavioral norms to generate curiosity in the audience. (Howes) According to the principles, ideas should use sensory language to make the idea concrete, and should be supported by external authorities or relatable statistics and details to lend them credibility.  In addition, ideas should be supported by emotional appeals and efforts to link ideas with self-interest and identity, and employ stories that serve both to inspire one to action and offer a pattern for that action. (Heath)

The SUCCES approach shares a great deal with tried and true processes for communication which many educators and others have used for generations. That said, it can be useful to see familiar concepts reframed and recontextualized, so it was helpful to me to compare the SUCCES method to my own approach to communicating ideas, as well as the ideas themselves.  As a teacher and practitioner of art and design, communication is at the heart of what I do and teach, so it is not surprising that the Heaths’ model resonates with me. After all effective art and design is often simple, rule-breaking, and by definition grounded in the sensory world. Furthermore, the best examples generate emotional responses in the viewer and they often serve as manifestations of the stories of the artist and the broader culture that they find themselves in, so it was not difficult to see how this model could be used to sharpen one’s approach to effectively communicating ideas.

My own thinking about my teaching has undergone a bit of a transformation lately after having read that the world of education has taken up the “design thinking” principles advocated by organizations like IDEO (https://www.ideou.com/blogs/inspiration/what-is-design-thinking) and the Stanford d. School (https://dschool.stanford.edu/resources/getting-started-with-design-thinking).  While I teach this design methodology in my curriculum, I had not consciously made the connection between the subject matter and the delivery method. While I know the techniques that I had been employing in the classroom were certainly influenced by my training and experiences as an artist and designer, it wasn’t until recently that I had the time and space to reflect on my teaching and finally complete the loop. Armed with that realization I hope to reevaluate my teaching going forward and incorporate techniques like the creation of  the “curiosity gaps” that Dr. Howes discussed in her presentation. These gaps are generated through the use of unconventional or unexpected concepts (the U in SUCCES) that hold the audience’s attention by generating an intellectual need or “cliffhanger.” (Howes) Given the ever increasing demands for our attention in our everyday lives, techniques such as this that generate opportunities for engagement in the classroom will be critical to helping students retain important content.

Heath, Chip and Heath, Dan. 2008. MADEtoSTICK.com. pdf file.

Howes, Sartoris. From Teflon to Velcro Making Content Stick. Oregon State University, 29 September 2020. Recorded lecture.

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