Does Design Thinking Have A Place In Education?

Design Cycle_Design Thinking for Education (1)

 

 

In my latest #tiegrad course I have been tasked with better understanding design thinking, and to consider whether it could play a relevant part in my own instructional design process.  I wanted to share my initial findings as I seek a deeper understanding of the process.

If empathy, interpreting, imagining, planning, and testing are the principles of design thinking, then it is remarkably akin to the assessment cycle used in education.  They are both user centered, continuous, and intentional.  Perhaps design thinking is the new assessment cycle?  Regardless of your thoughts of the process of creating engaging, authentic, and relevant instruction in your classroom, I believe design thinking has a place in our education system, classrooms, and schools.

If “Design has a set of tools and methods that can guide people to new solutions.” (Nussbaum, 2009) and mainstream public-school education in Canada is having difficulty understanding the needs of the latest entrants into its system, then surely we can borrow some ideas from design thinking to inspire a new generation of learner.

I will be the first to admit that I struggle to consistently design learning experiences, which engage all my students.  I struggle with student apathy towards education, and I seem to focus so much of my day developing and maintaining relationships, understanding my learners, and meeting their socio-emotional needs that my current assessment practices need redesigning.  Can the design thinking cycle help?  I’m not sure yet, but I am certain that more time I spend with my learners working towards authentic, real life learning experiences the more engaged my class is, and the more satisfied I feel.

I see design thinking working across the curriculum.  In social studies, design thinking is idea for addressing many social justice issues such as hunger, education, poverty, and unclean water.  These global issues need a new approach and  creative solutions.  The collaborative nature and user-centered approach of design thinking can help.  This PBS documentary shows design thinking at work by highlight the work done by Stanford University’s Institute of Design (aka the d.school) students who created products that may save thousands of lives in Bangladesh, Indonesia and other developing countries they visited.

Teaching Students Design Thinking?

In contrast to the benefits of design thinking as a teaching tool in education, I enjoyed reading Debbie Morrison’s blog posting Why ‘Design Thinking’ Doesn’t Work in Education.  As an elementary school teacher working in an inner-city school with a disproportionately high number of at-risk students, I fully agree with her argument that design thinking has a place in instructional design but not in student curriculum.  She argues that design thinking, “… requires one to think of a problem from unconventional, even unlikely perspectives…”  and could be too complex for our k-12 education system.  My students do not have the school experience or life experience to deal with such abstract thinking.  Morrison further states that our current learners

“…have the creative confidence knocked out of them at an early age and little attention paid to developing their creative thinking skills thereafter. Any design thinking process would be greatly enhanced by people who have had the opportunity to hone their creative fluency, flexibility, originality and elaboration.”

My learners are concrete learners.  How do we teach creative fluency, flexibility, and originality, when these qualities may not be supported/valued at home?

 

One comment

  1. Hi Christopher,
    Thanks for linking to my post and considering an alternative viewpoint to yours. You bring up some interesting points, and some principles of the design thinking process may apply to K-12, but I still stick to my thesis, which is supported by the d.school at Stanford. The students at Stanford have already mastered core subjects, are exposed to a breadth of disciplines in their studies at Stanford and the school intentionally promotes cross-discipline thinking and higher-order thinking that can only be realized fully by students that have the education background and mastery of core subjects. This excerpt below from the website of the d.school at Stanford :

    “Our teaching teams, too, combine contrasting view points and problem-solving approaches. All of our classes are team taught by a robust mix of faculty and industry leaders, combining disciplines like computer science with political science, and CEOs with elementary school policy-makers. We believe these dynamic and sometimes contrasting points of view encourage students to see the open-ended nature of innovation and to trust themselves to find their own way forward.” http://dschool.stanford.edu/our-point-of-view/

    I enjoyed your post! Thanks again!

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