This blogpost is part of the #EdBlogNZ February challenge. I’d like to take you on a photo tour of my learning spaces.
Because I work for the Connected Learning Advisory unfortunately I no longer have a classroom to share, so I thought I’d focus rather on the spots around my house that I like to learn in.
Take this spot, for example. This is where you’ll mostly find me weekday mornings. I alternate between perching on a stool and standing. I like the flexibility of choosing my stance. Note the multiple screens: iPad and laptop are visible, but I reckon at least one smartphone isn’t too far away either. But those of you keen of eye will also spot a newspaper – I do prefer to read ‘off-screen’.
This is a new spot I’ve been exploring lately. There’s a practical reason for this: easy access to a power point for working on my laptop. But it also gets nice early afternoon sun. This room becomes a bit of a ‘dumping ground’ for my papers and is where I store a lot of my work stuff. It will be developed into a proper home office soonish. If you’re looking closely you’ll spy a yellow lanyard hanging from the lamp – my “pimped” name tag from yesterday’s educampwelly!
Meet one of my “colleagues”! This is my lovely cat. She is a very pleasant work mate. The perfect mix of quiet and provider of distractions when required. I love to hang out in my lounge – it also gets great afternoon sun, and is a comfy place to read. And a lot of reading happens here any day of the week! (Please note my bespoke cushion made just for me by a dear friend.)
Finally, this is my favourite outside reading spot. Yep, just there beside the herb planter. Not the most picturesque, so I thought I’d show you my view from when I sit there. You may have already gathered that I’m a bit of a sun-bunny, and this is another sun-trap at my house. Again, lots of reading happens out here.
So, what might we make of my learning places? You might well assume (and, quite correctly) that I’m an introvert at heart. I need quiet, tidy, uncluttered spaces in which to learn. I don’t like music playing, the TV on, or too much chatter. An engaged Philippa is a quiet one, because lots is happening internally. I like nice stationery, and gotta have my favourite pencil and lots of post-it notes handy.
I do like collaboration. Discussion, debate and questioning are important learning processes for me. But I need to schedule these and usually prepare for them. I don’t like to be put on the spot to be asked for my opinion. However, synthesis and reflection are something that must happen solo for me.
Which kind of takes me to a little bit of a soap box. Remember learners like me in your innovative learning environments. We’ll need quiet break-out spaces, natural light, and uncluttered classroom walls. Remember learners like me in your staff meetings. We need agendas beforehand, and small groups to discuss issues in. You might like to offer us back-channels or asynchronous ways to offer opinions. And remember, just because we’re not loud doesn’t mean we’re not engaged.
This blogpost is the second in a series of five where I intend on exploring Design Thinking in an education context. I want to come back to the questions we have about design thinking when we’re first starting out. I want to think about what design thinking is, why we might use design thinking, how we can use design thinking in schools, where to go for resources and help, and finally, how design thinking can transform our schools.
So if we’ve established a bit of a common understanding of what Design Thinking really is, and remember the ‘sound bite’ from last week was: “Design Thinking is an approach to learning that focuses on developing children’s creative confidence through hands-on projects that focus on empathy, promoting a bias toward action, encouraging ideation and fostering active problem-solving…” (Kwek, 2011, p. 4) let’s now turn our attention to why we might embrace a design thinking approach to teaching and learning. What might it offer our learners?
Perhaps the place to start is with the idea of ‘21st century’ skills, a phrase which is a bit amorphous, but is often used as an umbrella term for the kinds of skills that educationalists, researchers and future thinkers regard as being key for our current (and future) learners in order for them to be active and aware citizens. These 21st century skills are sometimes alliteratively grouped as three or four Cs: creativity, critical thinking, communication and collaboration.
As a group works through a design thinking process using the design thinking mindsets, they cannot help but hit all four of these Cs in a meaningful way. There will be the collaboration of the group itself as they work iteratively through the framework. Many proponents of design thinking actively encourage diverse groupings in order to encompass a variety of voices and of perspectives. Collaboration cannot be done without communication. Additionally, there will be communication with the users, the people for whom the design solution is being sought. Empathy building will require some kind of interview, survey, research – or all three – to be conducted. This also draws on critical thinking, particularly as the group moves from an immersion to an ideation phase. Synthesising a wealth of information requires a hugely critical eye. Finally, one of the reasons I personally feel drawn to design thinking is the way it provides a semi-structured way to develop creativity. The ideation phase in particular targets this. But creativity will also be fostered in imagining ways to communicate effectively and deeply with users, creating prototypes, pitching an idea for feedback.
Hopefully even with only a cursory glance at this list, we can see that again design thinking will hit meaningfully on these too.
As notosh says: “Design Thinking can be a powerful vehicle for deeper learning of content, more divergent thinking and building the thinking skills capacity of learners. Key to the process’s success in learning, is that it provides the platform for learners to become problem finders.” I’d like now to consider a further this idea of problem solving and problem finding. It might seem a little odd, but let’s not consider these two things as separate from one another.
You may recall from the previous blogpost, that Jean-Pierre Protzen (2010) looked at tracing the origins of this phrase ‘design thinking’ and in the process of doing so, focused on ‘thinking about design’. In his article, he makes a salient point about problem finding by quoting Horst Rittel: “formulating the problem is the problem.” Rittel uses the phrase ‘wicked’ to discuss design problems, as, among other aspects, “Every problem can be seen as a symptom of another and problems cannot be separated into disciplines.” (Protzen, 2010, p. 6)
‘Wicked’ problems are not just limited to problems of design (in a narrow sense of the word). Rachel Bolstad and Jane Gilbert (et al, 2012) discuss these in an educational context in their superb “Supporting future-oriented learning and teaching – a New Zealand perspective”. They define wicked problems as those that “cannot be solved using straightforward puzzle-solving or mathematical solutions. They span multiple domains: social, economic, political, environmental, legal and moral…” For example: climate change, poverty, drug trafficking. “It is argued that education for the 21st century needs to support learners…to actively develop the capabilities they need to productively engage in 21st century wicked problem solving.” (Bolstad and Gilbert et al, 2012, p. 12)
I believe that design thinking offers one way to begin to tackle wicked problems. Working in a cross-curricular, trans-disciplinary, collaborative manner to hear the voices of those ‘on the ground’ seems to me to be a way to bring highly complex challenges from the abstract to the concrete and thus begin to find workable, realistic solutions; finding the problem in order to work towards solving it. Thus I believe design thinking fosters active, agentic, empathetic citizenship. More than developing and nurturing 21st century skills, design thinking offers hope that things can change for the better.
This blogpost is the first in a series of five where I intend on exploring Design Thinking in an education context. I want to come back to the questions we have about design thinking when we’re first starting out. I want to think about what design thinking is, why we might use design thinking, how we can use design thinking in schools, where to go for resources and help, and finally, how design thinking can transform our schools.
It’s actually really hard to find the ‘sound bite’ answer to this question. This is probably the most succinct response I’ve come across:
“Design Thinking is an approach to learning that focuses on developing children’s creative confidence through hands-on projects that focus on empathy, promoting a bias toward action, encouraging ideation and fostering active problem-solving…” (Kwek, 2011, p. 4)
Which is all well and good, but what does this actually mean?
It is loosely possible to trace the origins of the phrase ‘design thinking’. In fact, Jean-Pierre Protzen (2010) has had a go at that exact task. He focuses on where ‘design thinking’ has come from, from a strictly design perspective, and ultimately chooses to discuss ‘thinking about design’ which is, naturally, subtly different. By tracing the various definitions, theories and philosophies about design over the 20th century, and comparing and contrasting various definitions of design, Protzen posits the following:
“Design is not a thing but an activity.
Design is purposeful.
Design in creative, searching for something new.
Design is meeting expectations,
Design involves uncertainty and risk,
Design involves simulation.” (pp. 3-4)
Which brings us rather nicely to the folks most design thinkers recognise: the Kelley brothers. David Kelley formed IDEO in 1991. With his company he designed products, such as the Oral-B toothbrushes, but found that he was increasingly asked to work in non-traditional design fields, for example health care and education. This prompted a change to “design with a small d” which ultimately led to the formation of the d. school Stanford.
As the CEO and President of IDEO, Tim Brown, tells us:
“The design thinking process is best thought of as a system of overlapping spaces rather than a sequence of orderly steps. There are three spaces to keep in mind: inspiration, ideation, and implementation. Think of inspiration as the problem or opportunity that motivates the search for solutions; ideation as the process of generating, developing, and testing ideas; and implementation as the path that leads from the project stage into people’s lives.” (2010, p. 5)
For me, these ‘3 Is’ are central. If you Google ‘design thinking’ you will find various representations of models: d.school, NoTosh, Frog, Design Thinking for Educators. Rather than get worried about which one is the ‘right’ one, focus on what’s similar. I like to think of these as ‘iCubed’:
a period of Immersion (Research, surveys, interviews. Sitting deeply with the problem and looking to understand it from a multitude of perspectives.)
a period of Ideation (Synthesising the data collated, re-phrasing the problem for a particular user, then going wild with intense bursts of rapid, creative idea generation.)
a period of Implementation (Filtering ideas to create a prototyping which goes through various iterative feedback and refinement loops until a working solution is arrived at.)
And overlapping the design thinking framework, is a series of design thinking mindsets. In brief: design thinking is a human-centred process that has a bias towards action. It draws on practices of radical collaboration and a culture of prototyping in order to show, rather than tell, possible solutions to problems while always being mindful of process.
Of these, human-centredness is key. Empathy is the core tenet of design thinking. As Tim Brown puts it, “Not only does [design thinking] focus on creating products and services that are human centred, but the process itself is also deeply human.” (2010, p. 5). In education terms, empathy and human-centredness is the key distinction that differentiates design thinking from other inquiry processes such as problem or project-based learning (Kwek, 2011). You are formulating a problem in order to solve it for a real person or group of people. It is authentic, immediate and altruistic. And that is what design thinking is.