Hello dear reader– I’ve been off the grid for a while (well, you have to understand that “Off the Grid” means something a little different to me… I still require a coffee maker and a curling iron, I’m not a savage for heaven sakes). As the whirlwind of September abates, I have the opportunity to reflect. Several years ago, I moved out of a classroom of my own and into the broader system of classrooms that make up our school district. And I use the word “system” with intentionality, as understanding a system, or organization, is a much different prospect than I realized when I was looking in from the other side of the glass.
Educational fads, or as I call them, Flavours of the Month, come and go with regularity. A good rule of thumb for educators thinking about a retirement date is to recognize Ed Trends coming around for the second or third time in a career…
And so it is, because I am in my 26th year as an educator, I do tend to view the Next Great Thing with a somewhat jaundiced eye. When Design Thinking arrived at my desk, I gave it a cursory glance and thought “Oh yeah, I’ve seen this before…”. And there it is… THAT is the critical piece. If we go back to the “Flavour of the Month” analogy for a sec, there is a reason why there is ALWAYS Vanilla ice-cream, and probably Chocolate. They are classics for a reason. Often the Feature Flavour is a stand alone (Pumpkin Spice Maple-Moose Ripple) ((yes, I meant Moose– that’s the comedy portion of the post)), and frequently it’s a twist on a classic (Salted-Caramel Pretzel Chocolate) ((oh what! “twist” and “pretzel”! That wasn’t even intentional)). But my point here is a simple one– sure, sometimes trends come and go (please don’t let low rise jeans come around again….), but more and more I realize we have, over time, cherry-picked the critical bits and used them to highlight or accent standard good practice. And sometimes, you need to look at a concept from another angle.
This is where my love affair with Design Thinking began. My first glance at Maker (another hot EdTrend right now) was via this gem: Caine’s Arcade. Again, there is nothing new here– kids have been making stuff out of cardboard boxes since the first Easy Bake Oven shipped. But this was different… there was more here than just whacking things together, there was intention and deep thought, and then there was social impact. Next came Design Thinking as a natural complement to the ADST Curriculum (Applied Design Skills and Technology). And certainly this framework allows learners to create on a much deeper level than just sticking a pipe cleaner to a Pringles can and calling it good.
But THEN…. I started to think about applying the steps of Design Thinking to Problem Solving and Critical (as opposed to Creative) Thinking, and the Thinking core competency. Now, full disclosure. All the materials that I use in my Design Framework activity are all borrowed (stolen) from those that came before me. So standing on the shoulders of giants, here is a break down of Design Thinking Framework– Uncoordinated style.
The Giants: Susan Crichton of UBC, Elizabeth Childs of RRU, Remi Kelir of U of Colorado, the Future Design School and the IIE –Centre for Innovation in Education. And perhaps the Giantest Giant: The Stanford Design School.
The Goods: A (so far– it keeps growing!) Five page “workbook” that walks participants through the stages of (good) Design: Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype, Test, Reflect/Implement. Sometimes these steps have slightly different names, but the idea, process and goal, is the same. It’s easy to see design thinking applied to creating a Something. “I’d like to invent an automatic sock-putter-on-er” and the steps go something like this: Think-Sketch-Create_a_model-Try-Ta_Da! But what if you aren’t creating something concrete, but rather trying to arrive at a solution to a problem or a concern? And what if there are a lot of people involved and one solution doesn’t fit all? And what if it’s just MESSY.
That is when I love it the most. You can envision a Maker Space full of kids being messy and chaotic. The same is true of the process inside the brain when people are grappling with a thorny issue. One of the most empowering facets of the Design Framework is reflection and feedback are built in and integral steps. Here is another “borrowed” piece of my presentation:
The Neilson Norman Group provides this model as an education tool with a business focus. I like it a lot, because it shows the “map” for reflection and feedback. The Stanford model has a simpler visual, but the steps are the same, the reflection implicit as you move through them.
My workshop begins by introducing the basic description of what Design thinking is, and where it comes from, and then the participants do a rapid-fire design cycle on their issue or problem. Three hours seems to be the sweet spot for this as an overview. I tell my participants that as an authentic experience, Design Thinking to solve a problem would be a days-weeks-months proposition to get the greatest value out of the model. I have, at the time of this writing, run a few large groups through “my” process, and each time I do it, I learn a little something more, and in true Design Thinking style, I incorporate that into my next iteration…
Here are some highlights:
BCIT Teaching and Learning Summit. I offered this imaginary problem to a roomful of Instructors and IT support: “You have been mandated to incorporate some element of technology into 25% of your coursework.”
Ideate with sketches, words or both
Always a good sign when there is laughter
My best learning nugget from this workshop was a lightbulb moment from one of the IT guys who said “Oh! I didn’t realize how we are always just jumping to a solution! As if to say ‘Don’t bother me with the details, here are some things that will probably fix it!’ ” Going forward I remember to emphasize Empathy and Ideation– and NOT even THINKING about a solution until the Prototyping phase.
VIU Year 5 Pre-Service Teachers. My learning from this session was definitely that the collaborative question was the right approach– they all had the same concern, and listening to all of their solutions was of benefit to them all. The drawback was that it was difficult for them to give deeper feedback, as they were all too close to the problem. However, the problem (or challenge) was most definitely authentic.
Working through the process
Ideat Ideate Ideate
My take-away from this group was to think of a way to improve/support the feedback cycles. Also, because they would be working with Elementary – age students, several of the learners re-worked my template and created a “kid-friendly” design thinking package.
Bella Coola District Learning Day. Most recently I traveled to the beautiful Great Bear Forest to visit School District 49. The entire staff: teaching, admin, and support gathered for the day to share their learning. Because this was a diverse group, it was challenging to construct a question that they all shared as a common concern. I landed on a 3 part problem that allowed groups to pull out 1,2 or 3 aspects of the question. My learning from this event was that, again, the Empathy part is critical, the authenticity of the question makes a huge difference in engagement, and by supporting groups tailoring the question, the feedback rounds become much richer. Next time, I would, if possible, more purposefully arrange the groups. My goal is to make this a full day workshop, but begin with rapid-prototyping activity, then use a Liberating Structures activity to help participants self-select groups based on need/interest, rather than proximity or “alikeness”.
Empathy, with level 10 art
Ideating and post-its
Groups on task
By far my best take-away from the Bella Coola group was when one of the participants came up to me at lunch and said that he found my approach shockingly subversive. I asked him to tell me more (!!) and he said simply that it was so refreshing to have done my workshop– that usually on these days an “Expert” flies in and talks about themselves the whole time. I had done very minimal talking and they got to work with their colleagues on a problem or question that was at the heart of their professional lives right now. I was flattered, humbled and energized knowing that I was Designing a path that was addressing the needs of those I was serving…