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The Educator as a Design Thinker

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Information abundance, emerging technologies, broad ranging social connections via social media, and the ability to create, produce,and  share original works of writing, art, inventions with authentic audiences have created a new age of learning, one that is qualitatively different than the 20th century.  Tony Wagner, author of Creating Innovators: he Making of Young People Who Will Change The World, stated “”The world doesn’t care what you know, but what you can do with what you know.”

Schools need to reflect these changes. Schools are doing Education 1.0; talking about doing Education 2.0; when they should be planning and implementing Education 3.0.  Some of the characteristics of of those living and working in a Web-Education 3.0 world include:

  • Understanding learning as a process; the how-to’s of learning.
  • Knowing how and where to search for resources, people, information when needed, also known as just-in-time learning.
  • Being able to make social, intellectual, interest-driven, and academic connections both face-to-face and virtually.
  • Adding to current fields of study, knowledge bases and content areas through giving feedback, sharing resources, creating content.

Design thinking has great potential to aid both educators and learners in developing these 21st century living, learning, and playing skills,  Many, including the Stanford’s d-school. are working towards integrating these ideas into educational settings to help insure that education is more aligned with real world skills and needs.

This movement to build a generation of design thinkers could not be more timely or more relevant. We are living in an age of increased complexity, and are facing global challenges at an unprecedented scale. The nature of connectivity, interactivity, and information is changing at lightening speed. We need to enable a generation of leaders who believe they can make a difference in the world around them, because we need this generation to build new systems and rebuild declining ones. We need them to be great collaborators, great communicators, and great innovators (Design Thinking in Schools: An Emerging Movement Building Creative Confidence in our Youth).

The intent of this article is to interest and motivate educators in using design thinking to approach their instructional strategies and curriculum from a fresh perspective; to learn and promote skills, attitudes, and knowledge that are more specific for their students as well as having them develop skills for being 21st learners both in and out of school.

Every day you design ways to interact with your students around content. You can follow a design process to be more intentional about connecting this content to the interests and desires of today’s learners by finding out more about the things that they do outside of school and connecting that to the content you are bringing to them (Design Thinking for Educators).

So simply put, when implementing the design thinking model, the educator approaches his or her learners with the question, “What do you want to learn?” and then uses the process of design thinking with his or her learners as co-creators to develop the curriculum and learning activities specific to their interests, desires, and needs.

Essential Questions

  • How can the educator use design thinking principles to inform instructional and curricular decisions?
  • How can the educator include their students in creating a learning environment informed and influenced by design thinking?

It is understandable that given today’s school climate of accountability, testings, standards, and scripted curriculum, going into a classroom without a plan other than to use design thinking to design the curriculum and learning activities can be a more than a little disconcerting or seem like an impossible endeavor.  But for educators who want to prepare their learners for functioning in today’s and future worlds, this process can be invaluable.  Benefits can occur even if the educator can devote some of the class time to this process (e.g. 20% time),

educator as design thinker

Guiding Strategies

  • The first and most important step in the design thinking process is knowing and empathizing with the audience, in this case, the learners. Learning activities such as interviews, learning surveys, get-to-know one another activities, and empathy development are used so the educator gets to know the students; students know the educator; and the students know one another. This is crucial step so that instruction and curriculum can be selected and tailored for each specific student group.
  • The focus is on processes – producing, assessing, developing, creating, revisiting,  revising. Learning content becomes secondary to developing the how-to skills for how to be a learner in the 21st century.
  • Ambiguity is normalized and failure is seen as iterative.  Reframing Failure as Iteration Allows Students to Thrive.
  • Group skills for design thinking include active listening, collaboration, conflict management are integral for the process.  Participatory, democratic, inclusive principles and methods guide decision-making. Design thinking honors all voices; acknowledging that everyone – educators and learners alike – have valuable input into the design, implementation, and assessment of the learning activities.
  • Continuous feedback loops for and by the educator and the learners help inform the process. Feedback or assessment is not a separate step or entity as is typical in the classroom. The educator and learners engage in continual evaluation of the efficacy of the learning activities through group discussions, writing, informal assessments, making revisions, alterations, and detours based on this feedback.
  • Deep reflection is part of the process. Related to continuous feedback is building into the process the skills and attitudes of being a reflective practitioner. This permits both the educator and learners to take a step back to analyze what is working and not working within and throughout the design process.

Benefits of Bringing the Design Thinking Process Into the Classroom

Some of the benefits of integrating design thinking into the classroom for both teachers and students include:

  • The curriculum becomes tailored to the student group being served.  Because the focus and intention is on tailoring learning to the student group as well as individual students, differentiated instruction and universal design for learning become inherently and naturally part of the process.
  • The educator and students learn the process to address ambiguous problems and concerns. The result is the development of tolerance for and skills to address ambiguous problems which is more aligned with how the real world works.
  • The educator and students develop skills related to innovation, creativity, critical thinking, problem solving – those skills valued by today’s workforce and society.

Resources for the Educator as a Design Thinker

Ideo. (n.d.).  Design Thinking for Educators Toolkit - http://www.designthinkingforeducators.com/about-toolkit/

Pfau, P. (2014).  Rethinking Education with Design Thinking - http://www.metropolismag.com/Point-of-View/February-2014/Rethinking-Education-with-Design-Thinking/.

Speicher, S. (2013).  Design Thinking in Schools: An Emerging Movement Building Creative Confidence in our Youth –  http://gettingsmart.com/2013/11/design-thinking-schools-emerging-movement-building-creative-confidence-youth/

Teachthought. (2013). 45 Design Thinking Resources For Educators http://www.teachthought.com/teaching/45-design-thinking-resources-for-educators

Video Teacher Voices: What does design mean to you?  http://vimeo.com/46066703

 

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Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

August 27, 2014 at 8:54 pm

One Response

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  1. Thank you very much for this tour de force post. I especially appreciate your graphic and referred to it in my post, LX Design (http://ideasymphony.blogspot.jp/2014/09/lx-design.html).

    Bart Miller

    September 25, 2014 at 6:16 am


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