iCubed: How design thinking develops lifelong learners

This post was first published on CORE Education’s blog. Click here to see the original.

In an interview with Jesse Mulligan on RNZ last month, Kevin Kelly, founding editor of Wired magazine, said that we have to accept being “perpetual newbies” in this digital era. He argued that “We’re going to have to become lifelong learners. I think this is the major meta-skill that needs to be taught in schools.”

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) agrees: “The capacity to continuously learn and apply / integrate new knowledge and skills has never been more essential.” (OECD, 2012, p. 8)

Handily, for us here in Aotearoa New Zealand, The New Zealand Curriculum (NZC) and Te Marautanga o Aotearoa (TMOA) mirror these sentiments. No doubt we are familiar with the call to develop young people who are confident, connected, actively involved, lifelong learners.

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Doubly handily, the NZC doesn’t just leave us floundering with the abstract notion of the ‘lifelong learner’, but gives us the key competencies as the means by which lifelong learners are developed. If you like, the key competencies are the ‘how’ to the ‘why’ of the NZC’s vision; they directly support it.

The ‘what’ is the ‘stuff’ teachers decide to do, guided by the essence statements of each learning area. And while there is a lot of ‘stuff’ competing to be on the list of things teachers could do, I’d like to suggest design thinking as a way to develop the key competencies, and thus nurture lifelong learners.

The ‘what’ is the ‘stuff’ teachers decide to do, guided by the essence statements of each learning area. And while there is a lot of ‘stuff’ competing to be on the list of things teachers could do, I’d like to suggest design thinking as a way to develop the key competencies, and thus nurture lifelong learners.

It’s difficult to capture in a succinct sentence what design thinking is. It’s a methodology, it’s a mindset, it’s a kind of inquiry process on steroids. David Kwek does reasonably well when he defines it as 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)

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I like to think of design thinking as being a way to bring people together to explore, learn and co-develop solutions to real-world problems. I see it as having three broad phases:

  1. Immersion: researching, scoping, thinking, exploring, and, most importantly of all: empathising
  2. Ideation: synthesising, defining, brainstorming, creating
  3. Implementation: prototyping, pitching, gathering feedback, refining, problem-solving.

I call it I-cubed.

And I believe that as learners grapple with each phase of the design thinking process, they actively encounter the five key competencies: thinking, relating to others, using language, symbols and texts, managing self and participating and contributing.

By way of a brief example a few years ago my Year 8 English class was exploring how we might welcome new students into our school. We began by putting ourselves in the shoes of a new student. We close-read some passages, we role-played, we conducted interviews. We were using language, symbols and texts, relating to others, and thinking. After generating loads of creative ideas, we formed groups around those we thought might have the greatest impact. We made prototypes, pitched to each other and to key members of staff. We sought feedback, refined our ideas and worked together to find solutions. We were thinking, managing self, participating and contributing.

And while this is a highly surface overview of both the learning and the key competencies that were being fostered, it was clear to me that design thinking is a powerful way to develop creative, empathetic thinkers. And my students thought that too, as one said: “design thinking helps you to learn how to process ideas into something to help people”.

In other words, my students were being “critical and creative thinkers, active seekers, users and creators of knowledge, informed decision makers” (NZC, p. 8). They are lifelong learners.

I’m also presenting on this topic as part of CORE’s Breakfast programme. I’ll be in Dunedin on 8 November.

 

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Thinking Conditionally

In this blogpost I seek to bring together my key learnings from participating in Lifehack’s Flourishing Fellowship 2017. I’d like to acknowledge my employers’ support (CORE Education) in attending this programme.

I’m not really sure why I applied to go on the Flourishing Fellowship. I saw it advertised on Twitter and actually thought it would be more relevant to a friend of mine, so I sent her the link. But it kept coming across my radar, so I sent myself the details and let it hang out in my inbox for a while. When the idea wouldn’t go away, I decided to apply even though I had no idea what it really was, nor how it might fit with me. I don’t have anything to do with youth wellbeing. But they mentioned design thinking, which is my jam. And learning about Te Ao Māori, which is something I’m seeking to grow in. So, why not?

I had a grand chat during my interview, and promptly got off the video call to realise that not once had I even mentioned ‘wellbeing’ which seemed to be the main thrust of the Fellowship. Ooops. Interviewing 101 fail. Somehow or other though, I got picked. So, three residential hui later, what have I learned?

Obviously I learned a heck of a lot more about what ‘wellbeing’ is. I would totally confess to having had a very one dimensional understanding of what this is: health. Okay, mental health and physical health, but health nonetheless. You can call it hauora if you like, but it’s solely in the realms of the Heath and PE Curriculum. Right? Even being exposed to the Five Ways to Wellbeing and Te Whare Tapa Whā didn’t especially shift my thinking.

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Image source: Egmason, CC BY-SA 4.0

What is wellbeing? I came to realise that the clue was in the name of the Fellowship: flourishing. Thriving. For me, the key question of the three hui is this:

What conditions do we need to grow for young people to thrive?

And now I could see myself in this mahi.

An area of particular interest for me now is systems thinking, and it hinges on that word conditions. What are all the things that need to be in place: environmental, physical, cultural, societal (etc.) for young people in thrive, and in my context, thrive in schools?

This question has taken me to two places – and they are intertwined. The first is a question of how do we know what our system is doing?

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In the second hui Penny Hagen introduced us to a prototype of a framework which looks at mapping and mobilising conditions for youth wellbeing. The key questions are:

  • How are young people involved?
  • How do we learn and work together to offer best responses?
  • Do our environments show young people are valued and important?

I got very excited by the possibilities of this tool. For me, in the context of education, it is asking about the conditions for learner-centredness. For agency. And these must be crucial for youth wellbeing.

The second place the overarching question of the conditions we need to grow in order for young people to thrive is the knotty question of what we tend to call in schools “student voice”. What do young people tell us about their experiences of school and education? How do we ask them? What do we do in response to what they say?

One of my fellow Fellows offered this phrase: ‘Nothing about us without us’, which reminds me very strongly of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, Article 12: ‘Children have the right to have a say in matters that affect them’. And yet, do we really do this in schools? One of my colleagues pointed me to this article by Rachel Bolstad of NZCER: “From ‘student voice’ to ‘youth-adult partnership” in Set, 2011(1), pp. 31-33. In this article, she argues for a shift away from “student voice” towards “youth-adult partnership” which has the potential to be more transformative: to actively “[enlist] young people to help shift the ways schooling is done” (p. 31). For me, one way to do this is to move from designing for to designing with, which I’ve mentioned before here and here. I could go really big here and mention important things like equity and power-sharing, but I think you catch my drift.

And I can’t help but wonder if the New Zealand Curriculum (2007) doesn’t call for us to do this anyway. The same colleague who brought the Bolstad article to my attention has also left me pondering this: the vision of the NZC is a statement of wellbeing. So how might we create the conditions in which young people thrive and become confident, connected, actively involved, lifelong learners?

Co-design for Wellbeing

The seeds for this idea have come from many nurseries. One in particular I would like to acknowledge is my place on the Flourishing Fellowship, offered by Lifehack HQ.

Thanks to NetSafe, I have started to think about digital citizenship in the context of wellbeing. In case this isn’t a logical connection for you (because it wasn’t for me), let me offer these thoughts. Digital citizenship is more than cybersafety, although that is an important aspect. Feeling safe and knowing how to keep yourself safe online is crucial. Being online and being a digital citizen means being connected to a community or communities. It entails being respected and respectful. Sharing and contributing. Giving of yourself. These resonate with my understanding of wellbeing, and I can see connections to these concepts and the Mental Health Foundation’s Five Ways to Wellbeing:

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In schools, as a gross generalisation, I think we have a tendency to do ‘to’ our students rather than ‘with’. And I think the area of digital citizenship is no different. You may recall that I’ve been thinking about how we seek technical solutions to people problems. And that I frequently urge people to sit deeply with ‘buzzwords’ to think about the vast implications these have for our practice. And that I’ve had a bit of a shift in my design thinking methodology to incorporate co-design.

So.

What if co-design was not just a process to create learner-centred initiatives, but also an empowering methodology by which youth wellbeing was fostered?

The excellent NetSafe Digital Citizenship Capability Review Tool holds student-led digital citizenship initiatives as the ideal for schools. It suggests practices such as: “Our students are active partners when we plan, develop and review digital citizenship and wellbeing” and “Our students drive initiatives that promote the relationship between the positive use of digital technology and wellbeing“.

So.

I would like to develop (or be part of a team which develops) a resource to support schools and their learners to co-create student-led digital citizenship initiatives.

My hunch is that this will have greater impact than other digital citizenship programmes. That co-designed initiatives will be more sustainable. That these initiatives will lead to a more embedded approach to digital citizenship. That co-design develops the key competencies of the New Zealand Curriculum. And that co-design fosters learner agency.

My secret desire is that learning to co-design might lead schools to reflect on their ‘learner-centred’ practices and explore ways in which working with young people shift power structures and genuinely foster agency.

My wonderings are encapsulated in this image, which I gleaned from our second Flourishing Fellowship hui:

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and how I might tap into these aspects of expertise, especially mātauranga. What does digital citizenship look like in kura? I need to test my assumptions about learner-centredness, because they are entirely based on my observations of and experiences in English-medium schools. I don’t want to add chocolate sprinkles on the top, I want mātauranga to be a fundamental ingredient to this digital citizenship cake – without which it will not rise.

So, here’s the invitation. How can you help me? What do you know? Who do you know? What can you suggest? What are your thoughts, ideas, and suggestions? Please let me know by commenting below or tweeting me: @AKeenReader.

For … With

Last week I went to the Wellington EdTech MeetUp where, among other speakers as well, I listened to a man named Rahman Satti. He spoke about his experience working with refugees and new migrants in Germany in 2015. And of course, we’re not talking about a small group of 15 in a community, but a whole country working with an influx of one million displaced people.

One of the ideas a group had was to create and build an app for refugees and migrants. It would be multi-lingual with the aim of being a kind of ‘one stop shop’ for all kinds of things new people to Germany might need. It was well-intentioned and thoughtful. But it didn’t fly with the people it was supposed to help. There were numerous reasons for this, as there always are, but the point Satti was making was that the app with designed for refugees and new migrants rather than designed with.

Instead, Satti and his group approached the refugees and new migrants as co-designers, as crucial, as agentic, and as fundamental to the design process as they were. One of the first learnings Satti and group gained was that the refugees and migrants didn’t like these labels. They wanted to be known as new-comers.

This idea of co-design, of designing with rather than for, really got me thinking. When we design for, we run the risk of re-creating existing power imbalances despite our very best intentions. Whereas, when we design with, this is empowering for all involved. I think this holds great potential within a school (or a Community of Learning) for open, flexible, genuine learning for all involved – no matter their shoe size (as Keryn Davis might say.)

Co-design calls on us to hold our ideas lightly and to be ready to challenge and confront own assumptions. To put aside what we think “should” be.

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I wonder if we might have a tendency as adults who work with younger learners to want to “just” help and that this might mean that although we intend on designing with – this could come with an unintended superiority or paternalism/maternalism, to want to do ‘for’. Perhaps as adults we might need to do some ‘unlearning’ first and to remember the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, where children have the right to be heard, the right to be taken seriously, and the right to be treated with respect. (There are also some cool NZ resources on working with children from the NZ Children’s Commissioner: an explanation of the children’s rights, and some ways to engage with children.)

Which leads me to wonder:

  • How might we approach learners as co-designers?
  • How might we create a safe space for co-design? (The principles of Universal Design for Learning could be awesome here.)

And then further, given my current interest in school libraries: What might a co-designed school library be like?

  • What do learners value in their school library?
  • What innovative ways could they see the library space being used?
  • By whom?
  • At what times?

What rich learning is possible if we design with rather than for.

To be continued…

So, thanks to a spot of laser surgery to rectify a small tear in the retina of my right eye, this weekend this keen reader isn’t really up to doing much reading. No problem. I have a bank of podcasts I often complain I can’t find the time to listen to. Case in point, this Serial podcast I’ve heard so many people go on about.

And never being one for half measures where text is concerned, I managed to listen to the entire first season in one day.

This is what struck me: nothing is ever as simple as it seems. Everything is complicated. Like, everything. My recollection of an event is not the same as yours. It gets filtered through my experiences, my bias, my senses, my brain. What strikes you is inconsequential to me. And vice versa. This reminds me very much of why Memento is one of my all-time favourite films, with this as one of my all-time favourite quotes from it: “Memory can change the shape of a room; it can change the color of a car. And memories can be distorted. They’re just an interpretation…” 

Before I go too far off track here, let me just say that I am profoundly interested in the intersection between stories and identity. The way we interpret and understand the world around us is through stories. Stories are our identity. And stories are multifaceted, they are layered. They are complex.

Image Sources: Change Management, Complexity

Which is why something like ‘change management’ structures irritate me so badly. Change is multifaceted, layered and complex. It cannot be stuck into boxes to follow a set pattern which will magically get everyone working together with the same goal in mind.

A good comeback at this point might be to say, okay, sure Philippa, you don’t like change management processes, but you’re a bit of a raver for design thinking…what’s the difference, really? And fair enough. The way design thinking is often portrayed is as a linear process: first this, then that, and then the other.

But.

The first thing? Immersion: empathy building. Sitting with the complex, the multifaceted, the layered. And seeking to understand it from another’s point of view. When you do this, you honour the stories of another. You honour who and what they are, and who and what is important to them.

I’m still grappling with these ideas (one of the reasons why it’s been so long between blogposts), and you can hear my grappling as well as some more of my thoughts here in a podcast I did with Pete Hall of Network for Learning. But there’s something about language, stories, identity and empathy and what these might offer us in education to invite others into agentic practices that has gripped me and is occupying a lot of my thinking. I guess this is an episode that for me is to be continued…

 

How might Design Thinking transform our schools?

This blogpost is the final 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.

Let me start by looking at the title of this blogpost. Something that’s common in design thinking practices is to use the phrase “how might we” (often abbreviated to HMW…which doesn’t stand for ‘homework’!) to pose a framing question. I find these three words powerful. “How” implies something is possible, but it’s a broad question word which encourages immersion and exploration. “How” is free from agenda, in the sense that it doesn’t imply that the answer is already known and that rubber-stamping is being sought. “How” asks us to problem find, as well as problem solve. “Might” is another open word which encourages free flowing ideation without judgement or bias. And “we” is utterly inclusive. I like this way of framing a question as it encapsulates the design thinking mindsets: empathetic, curious, collaborative, growth-minded, biased towards actions, requiring deep thought, and focused towards an as-yet-unknown outcome. So, how might we use design thinking to transform our schools?

(Side note, the verb that follows the ‘how might we’ requires careful thought and consideration too. Choosing one often sends me towards a thesaurus and I usually write multiple versions in search of the perfect nuanced combination. I love this post by Mary Cantwell of DeepDT on this very topic.)

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So, if you’ve followed along with me so far, you’ll have learned that for me design thinking is extremely powerful, and I believe that it has much to offer us in the education sector. But you’ll also be aware that I actually can’t answer my own ‘how might we’ question, as it will be up to you in your own specific context to explore how design thinking might disrupt and transform your school. Instead, I thought I might pose a series of ‘what if’ questions. (Design thinkers like those too!)

What if we…

  • Used design thinking to craft a strategic vision for our school, and then use this overarching vision to inform whole school planning?
  • What if we embraced the design thinking mindsets and actively encouraged question asking, risk taking and a ‘just do it’ approach within an iterative feedback loop?
  • What if we wrote bug lists in our staffroom and classrooms…and used these to inform our next steps? (NB: A ‘bug list’ is not a list of the insects to be found in the school grounds, but a list of things that ‘bug’ – i.e. annoy and irritate – you.)
  • What if we explored radical collaboration to give voice and agency to learners, teachers, and the community?
  • What if, by embracing a whole school design thinking approach, we could short-circuit change management concerns because we had engaged empathetically with all involved?

By way of an example, I’d like to return again to Grant Lichtman’s book #EdJourney (Jossey-Bass, 2014), where he tells the story of the Los Altos School District in California that comprises nine schools. They wanted to be able to capture student voice in order to truly revolutionise learning. So, they created “Student EdCon”, a three day design thinking conference that was student centred. In the book, Alyssa Gallagher, the director of strategic initiatives and community partnerships, reports that at the conference they “exposed the students to thought leaders who would resonate with them and their interests. Then they learned about the design process, and had a chance to develop solutions they had created for different ways to approach learning.” (p. 155) I wonder what students themselves would create if we opened up thorny issues like curriculum design and timetabling to them in honest and democratic ways?

Because, I guess, that’s what all this design thinking business is about for me: What if design thinking gave rise to a movement to drive innovation in our schools?

Further reading:

Edutopia: Design Thinking in Education

Where can I go for more help with Design Thinking?

This blogpost is the fourth 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.

Okay, so the watchword for this blogpost is curation. We’ve begun by thinking about what design thinking actually is, why I think it’s important to use in education – silver bullet, people! – and the variety of ways design thinking can be used in an education context. For those of you on this design thinking journey with me, this post is really just a list of my favourite ‘go to’ places.

Firstly, when people want to get started with design thinking, I often show this quick clip from Daylight on what design thinking is. It’s a useful introduction with reference to a particular product that was designed and made. But I personally think the best way to learn what design thinking is, is by getting hands-on and stuck into a design thinking challenge. So, here’s the d. School in Stanford’s “crash course” in design thinking, and embedded below is a presentation I gave late last year to a group of principals interested in learning about design thinking:

If people are readers and want to explore the concept of design thinking, my favourite article is this one by Tim Brown and Jocelyn Wyatt. I find this research by Swee Hong Kwek useful too. In last week’s post I recommended Grant Lichtman’s #EdJourney and Ewan McIntosh’s How to Come Up with Great Ideas and Actually Make them Happen. Grant’s blog is also one to subscribe to.

For people wanting to see the different ways the process of design thinking can be expressed, I start with the “biggies” of design thinking: IDEO, d. School and notosh. I also suggest these models as being of particular use to teachers, or that have education-specific resources: Mary Cantwell’s DeepDT, Frog Design’s Collective Action Toolkit, and IDEO’s design thinking for educators. This latter site also has a great downloadable toolkit, as well as short videos to watch and spark inspiration.

When you want to get practical with “stuff” you can just use in the classroom tomorrow, I don’t think you can go past this great collection of design thinking resources collated by Thomas Riddle in a Livebinder. I found it super-handy when I created my first design thinking-inspired unit. And the d. School K-12 Lab Wiki also has excellent resources – I use their downloadable images a lot.

And finally, for those who want to connect with other like-minded design thinking educators, I always point them in the direction of Steve Mouldey, particularly as he’s a local Kiwi educator; and also, for those on Twitter, the #dtk12chat. Like me, Steve was a CORE Education eFellow in 2015, and he also conducted some research into design thinking. I recommend a read of this blogpost, as he inquired into the impact of design thinking from a student’s perspective.

What else have you uncovered/discovered on your design thinking journey? Please suggest other nifty resources in the comments below:

How can I use Design Thinking?

This blogpost is the third 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.

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I recently spoke about my passion for design thinking at educampwelly. In my quick-fire Smackdown presentation (so, under 60 seconds) I said, slightly hyperbolically, that for me if there is a silver bullet for education, design thinking is it.

So far I’ve said a little bit about what design thinking is. In the last blogpost, I spoke about why I think we should use design thinking. This kind of boiled down to the idea that if we want creative, innovative problem finders and problem solvers, then design thinking offers a structured yet flexible, empathetic way to this. So now, let’s get a little bit more practical, and think about the possible applications of design thinking in our current educational context and climate.

Um. It can be used every way.

Yep, I really mean it.

You can use design thinking to shape a one-off lesson. While maybe not ideal, this could be a great way to introduce the overall scope of the method. You can use design thinking to shape a whole unit of work. My preference would lie here, and you can see such a unit I created with a class of Year 8 English students here. Of course, you don’t need to be a ‘slave to the process’, and the design thinking mindsets can be used at any time to enhance the specific context at hand.

Beyond the scope of a ‘one subject, one hour’ secondary school timetabled environment, design thinking offers an excellent way to bring subjects together in a naturally integrated, cross-curricular way. The current New Zealand Transport Agency’s game design competition is an excellent example of an authentic, purposeful activity that would lend itself perfectly to design thinking, and I know of a school that’s doing so.

Beyond the classroom, design thinking can be used as an approach to professional learning. I use it to shape my own learning, and it can also be used from a facilitator’s perspective to help inform the shape of a professional learning session. In fact, my eFellowship research looked into this idea in more depth, and you can read about that here. I believe there are strong links to be made here to the New Zealand curriculum’s model of teaching as inquiry, as well as Timperley et al’s spiral of inquiry (2014). The latter in particular, with its central focus on meeting the needs of the learner.

Beyond professional learning, design thinking can be used as an approach to leadership and strategic thinking. Steve Mouldey has written about this. What if we structured whole school initiatives using a design thinking model? Wouldn’t staff and students and the community feel involved? Wouldn’t we have a diverse, wide range of ideas and perspectives to pull from? And wouldn’t this equate to more innovative, targeted and collaborative solutions? I’d recommend Grant Lichtman’s #EdJourney as well as Ewan McIntosh’s How to Come Up with Great Ideas and Actually Make Them Happen, as places to start thinking about this.

Basically, I find that the more you explore design thinking, the more you see that it’s an overarching approach, not dissimilar to choosing to adopt a growth mindset, and that you are limited in applying it only by your imagination.

Sources:

Lichtman, G. (2014). #EdJourney: A roadmap to the future of education. San Francisco, USA: Jossey-Bass.

McIntosh, E. (2014). How to Come Up with Great Ideas and Actually Make them Happen: A Pragmatic Strategy Handbook for Education Leaders, Innovators and Troublemakers. Edinburgh, UK: NoTosh Publishing.

Timperley, H., Kaser, L. and Halbert, J. (2014). A framework for transforming learning inschools: Innovation and the spiral of inquiry. Centre for Strategic Education, Seminar Series Paper No. 234.

Why use Design Thinking?

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. 4let’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.

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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.

In New Zealand, our ‘21st century skills’ are really the Key Competencies of the New Zealand Curriculum:

  • Thinking
  • Relating to others
  • Using language, symbols and text
  • Managing self
  • Participating and Contributing.

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.

Sources:

Bolstad, Rachel and Gilbert Jane (et al). (2012). “Supporting future-oriented learning and teaching – a New Zealand perspective”, Retrieved from http://www.nzcer.org.nz/research/publications/supporting-future-oriented-learning-and-teaching-new-zealand-perspective

Kwek, Swee Hong. (2011). “Innovation in the Classroom: Design Thinking for 21st Century Learning”, (Master’s thesis) Retrieved from http://web.stanford.edu/group/redlab/cgi-bin/materials/Kwek-Innovation%20In%20The%20Classroom.pdf

McIntosh, Ewan. (2014). “The Design Thinking School”, Retrieved from http://notosh.com/what-we-do/the-design-thinking-school/

Protzen, Jean-Pierre. (2010). “Design Thinking: What is That?”, Retrieved from http://www.ced.berkeley.edu/downloads/pubs/faculty/protzen_2010_design-thinking-what-is-that.pdf

What is Design Thinking?

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)

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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.

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Image Credit: https://dschool.stanford.edu/groups/k12/wiki/6c04c/Visual_Resources.html

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.

Sources:

Brown, T. & Wyatt, J. (2010). “Design Thinking for Social Innovation”, Retrieved from https://www.ideo.com/images/uploads/thoughts/2010_SSIR_DesignThinking.pdf

Kwek, Swee Hong. (2011). “Innovation in the Classroom: Design Thinking for 21st Century Learning”, (Master’s thesis) Retrieved from http://web.stanford.edu/group/redlab/cgi-bin/materials/Kwek-Innovation%20In%20The%20Classroom.pdf

Protzen, Jean-Pierre. (2010). “Design Thinking: What is That?”, Retrieved from http://www.ced.berkeley.edu/downloads/pubs/faculty/protzen_2010_design-thinking-what-is-that.pdf