Design Thinking

Mindy Faber, MFA  |  July 25, 2018  |  Classroom

Education, government and business leaders are calling for transformation in learning institutions and environments in order to ensure that students are better prepared to think strategically about problems, collaborate across networks and design solutions for authentic and open-ended challenges in an increasingly technologically complex and globally interconnected world (Pink, 2010; Gardner, 2010; Weinert, 2003). Growing recognition of the importance of these 21st century competencies has sparked broader school adoption of constructivist models such as project-based learning, problem- and inquiry-driven instruction and experiential learning – signaling a re-investigation of John Dewey’s theory that “real-life inquiry” allows problems to be analyzed in their full complexity. Dewey posited that inquiry acts like “a magnet for content, it motivates further analysis of content and input of several disciplines in order to explain and solve that complex inquiry as a whole” (1931). Yet, research shows, constructivist methods that center on open-ended holistic problem solving often present numerous challenges for teachers to implement and assess in the classroom. 

One promising new method to support skill development in holistic problem solving, collaboration and creativity comes from the field of human-centered design currently used by entrepreneurs, innovators and practicing professionals in fields such as engineering, architecture, computer programming and design. Design Thinking, a team-based learning method, is a structured approach being adopted by educators to help learners address complex problems by sustaining in-depth learning processes on problem perception and diverse solution paths (Kröper, 2010).

The integration of design thinking into teacher practice necessitates a shift of the educator role from deliverer of discrete forms of knowledge to empowered and purposeful designer of learning experiences. In order to effectively introduce design thinking challenges into curriculum, teachers must first learn to use the design process when creating lesson activities. Teachers must learn to think, act and talk as designers. A series of case studies of Singapore in-service teachers engaging in educational innovation found that “during lesson design, reflection-in-action occurs through a series of analysis-design turns that occur iteratively. These are the design processes whereby knowledge of new instructional practices is being created through teachers’ design talk” (Koh, et al., 2015).

Professional development experiences that engage teachers in the very same processes that they will employ with their learners offer promising results. Just as participation and engagement of the student is a crucial characteristic of constructivist learning, effective use of design thinking in the classroom necessitates that the teacher involve the student in the learning design by “personalizing instruction around students’ interests in order to propose authentic problem-based challenges.” (Reich, 2008).

If you are interested in incorporating Design Thinking into your school, visit Convergence Design Lab.  Convergence Design Lab offers the personal training and tools necessary to help you develop, implement and evaluate a rigorous model for competency-based professional development that empowers school teachers to design problem-based challenges based on existing curriculum and to teach the design thinking process as a means of developing creativity, collaboration and analytical problem-solving skills.


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