Design Thinking for Educators

I am really curious about Design Thinking. In my former life, I worked in behavioural insights, which basically involves understanding human behaviour and redesigning services, products, communications and policies around that, to encourage desired behaviours. So, Design Thinking is not such a stretch from that way of thinking. Design Thinking is essentially the methodology that designers use to solve complex problems and develop creative solutions. It involves drawing upon logic, creativity and intuition and uses a specific design methodology (discovery, interpretation, ideation, experimentation, evaluation). Like behavioural insights, the methodology includes experimentation, but its focus is less on rigorous testing and decision-making and more on user satisfaction.

IDEO (an international design and innovation consultancy) has developed a toolkit for educators who are interested in applying Design Thinking to their work –

Some of the examples that they use to demonstrate DT in action in the education space include:

  • a teacher redesigning the classroom environment to better address the needs and desires of his students. He made small changes such as lowering bulletin boards so that his students could actually see the content he’d spent hours assembling, and created a more comfortable semi-private space for the students to study by rethinking the student cubby space. I find the first point an interesting one, and I think a lot of classrooms are designed at adult-height. When we’ve got 5 year olds sitting on the floor, can they read it comfortably? Probably not! The outcome for this teacher was that he felt his students were more engaged, and moved more fluidly in the classroom space.
  • One school tapped into teacher, parent, and student behaviours in and outside of school, to understand how they could incorporate 21st Century Skills into their curriculum. They collected inspiration around the ways that people engage with information and interact with curricular materials, claiming that understanding the desires of teachers, students, parents, and administrators helped them rethink curriculum delivery as well as develop resources to replace, augment, and enhance current curriculum documents.
  • One community in Hawaii used mini design workshops to collate the needs and interests of learners, teachers, and families  to imagine new solutions that could help the school be more effective. The adopted plan captured the community’s priorities in new content and structures. This is the first public-school model in Hawaii to co-design its offerings with community, targeting systemic educational problems.

I still find these examples a little bit vague to be honest in demonstrating the impact that Design Thinking can have. I think there is merit in Design Thinking’s deeply consultative methodology, and these examples do seem to speak mostly to that. Whether it produces really innovative changes I am not sure, I would probably have to try it out myself to assess whether it produced outcomes beyond what would otherwise be produced. My interest really lies in the impact it has in the classroom, rather than the business-end of school and curriculum administration, although this might change once I’m working within a school.

So, watch this space. Further down the line I’d be interested in running/being involved in a DT process in the classroom or in a school. I’m also really keen to think about the physical space of the classroom and the behaviour that its design encourages/discourages.

Do you have any examples of Design Thinking in the education space?



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