Lauren Nassef


Forget Education. Education is a result, a slow growth, and hard to judge. Let us talk rather about Teaching and Learning, a joint activity that can be provided for.

—Jacques Barzun, Begin Here, 1991

What we know, or have come to know, defines what we can successfully do as lighting professionals. But not all knowledge related to lighting is ours to acquire: Though driven by change, competition, and curiosity to learn, we are limited by inclination, talent, and time. And so the wide range of human interests and abilities produces lighting professionals with interests (and often practices) focused somewhere within an equally wide range extending from art to science.

Our initial acquisition of knowledge is often determined by the focus of our formal education—for example, art, architecture, theater, or engineering. Currently, very few practitioners have had a formal education with a significant and extensive portion devoted directly to lighting. Most lighting professionals acquired their lighting knowledge on a continuing basis: experience on the job, guidance and direction from a helpful mentor, or insight from research and reading. All of these steps are essentially autodidactical. As such, their effect is limited by the background we have, the vocabulary we know, and the often limiting assessment that we make about the importance of various materials.

The result is a relatively narrow understanding of lighting. But this is not an argument for universalism. An illuminating engineer who works on luminaire optics for an equipment manufacturer cannot and should not be expected to know all that it takes to function as an architectural lighting designer. Conversely, the same is true for an architectural lighting designer. Nevertheless, the very best in our profession can reach wide to either side of the middle C of their interests, wherever it is on the art–science scale.

Keeping Up
All lighting professionals feel the pressure to keep up with the changes arising from technology, public policy, and research in vision and psychophysics. “Keeping up” is shorthand for knowledge, understanding, and the subsequent changes in thought, process, and practice. It has been more than 130 years since electric lighting first challenged gas lighting and the lighting profession has been so roiled, and out of the swirl that we might fetch terms—LED, the MLO, and ipRGC—that originally come from influences outside of lighting. We may know the acronyms as placeholders—for light-emitting diodes, the Model Lighting Ordinance, and intrinsically photosensitive retinal ganglion cells, respectively—but the breezy use of their acronyms throughout lighting literature belies the demands they make on our understanding.

For example, LEDs are one representative aspect of the radical change in general architectural light-source technology that is affecting the industry. Solid-state light sources derive from an electronics technology that is, in turn, based on solid-state material science. Until recently, both have been outside the lighting industry. Not anymore. This technology requires designers and manufacturers to know and understand new light-source operating principles, photometry, conditions for life assessment, and requirements for luminaires. But the changes reach beyond that. The line between source and luminaire is blurred, and the technology challenges designers and manufacturers to imagine what that can mean for buildings and environments. All of this requires knowledge that, in general, we do not necessarily have nor is always easily obtained.

Public policy is another external influence impacting lighting, and the MLO is but one manifestation of that increasing influence—and an example of information that lighting professionals must be aware of today. Legislation and codes affecting lighting power or energy budgets, allowable equipment, and other constraints on design (for good or ill) have their origins in the public perceptions of light and lighting, however confused or misguided. These perceptions, in turn, are guided by the apparent significance of research, no matter how limited, how poorly conducted, or how contradicted by other work. The selective and hurried use of science is a serious problem in the development of public policy and the lighting industry is not generally knowledgeable enough for confrontation and refutation.

Public policy, directly or indirectly, is very likely to produce requirements for increased daylighting in buildings. Certainly, this is a positive development but one that requires knowledge that is generally uncommon for lighting designers and engineers. The sun and sky as light sources, energy-saving economics, and the requirement for extensive lighting controls require that lighting systems be considered as and designed to be dynamic, evaluated not at some static point at the end of a maintenance cycle, but as a daily-changing system with a performance assessed by detailed annual evaluation. All of this requires knowledge that practitioners will need to acquire.

The result of vision and biological research is yet another area that brings new knowledge that will be required of lighting professionals. The unexpected discovery of ipRGCs in 2000 began a new era of awareness and concern about the nonvisual effects of optical radiation. “Light and Health” is how this broad area of research is now typically summarized by the lighting community. This matter will present a serious challenge to how we learn what we need to know, for the burden of what lighting professionals deliver to society is growing, and the implications of our craft are seen to have a reach we had not imagined. The lighting community is neither professionally prepared nor ethically able to assume responsibility for what was thought to be just lighting design or illuminating engineering, but that now begins to be considered as inadvertent medical treatment.

Artists, scientists, and politicians do not design architectural, roadway, outdoor, or landscape lighting; nor should they. More importantly, they are not professionally responsible for lighting designs. So it is a mistake for the lighting professions to relegate important decisions to these three groups. To be sure, they are professionals who should be part of the assessment process and ought have their oars in the water, but the final decisions must be left to lighting practitioners. This is not a matter of not knowing when to leave it to the experts—which is often a fig leaf covering sloth or ignorance. Rather, it is more a matter of shouldering the responsibility to study and understand the information that allied professionals bring, to accurately place that information within the context of lighting practice, and from that information, define reasonable recommendations and standards of practice.

Seminars and Webinars: Their Popularity and Uselessness
An objective assessment of the requirements for learning reveals a serious lack of resources for and within the lighting industry. It may seem that the plethora of seminars available at many of the industry's meetings and exhibitions, or from equipment manufacturers, would serve this need. But a consideration of the nature of and requirements for learning reveals most seminars to be little more than a lunch-and-learn writ large, almost never rising above infotainment. Virtually all seminars are too brief, too passive, too comfortable, too much like spectacle, and evaluated wrongly. Seminars have a place in professional life, and can provide the casual introduction, the brief overview, or the update. But none should be confused with learning.

Learning is an activity. Though this clearly means action on the part of the teacher, it must also involve action on the part of the student—writing, asking, and answering questions, and assimilating and recording information. The very language used to describe them illustrates the differences: Seminars have presenters and audiences; learning situations have teachers and students. At a seminar, an audience sits theater-like, heavy-lidded, arms folded, while the presenter scampers about, flashing poorly fashioned PowerPoint slides, hoping to keep everyone's attention and be judged engaging and entertaining. Rather than fashioned by learning objectives, seminars are conceived of and conducted as performances. There is no doubt that good teaching has a thespian element, but good teaching is not a performance, nor is its success or failure evaluated as such.