Design thinking: Disrupting teachers

Design thinking is forcing a paradigm shift for Australian teachers, students and the entire education system. I attended a design thinking workshop for teachers at DigiTech by Design, held at Oakleigh State School. We were working in groups to solve a community problem by using the design thinking process. I overheard a teacher say, “I want to see the answer. So I can cheat and see what to work towards.”

The thing is, there is not just one answer or an optimal answer. No one knows the answer. In a world where we are trying to solve the unknowns or disrupt status quo, we need a different way of thinking and problem-solving. This is where design thinking comes into play.

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Unlike traditional school assignments, in design thinking:

  • there is no pre-conceived optimal solution or answer

  • the end product may not resemble anything close to the starting idea

  • the project develops through the iteration of: prototyping > user observation and feedback > making improvements

  • student learnings are observed within the design thinking process and not in the final outcome of the product developed

  • collaboration is key, there is less likelihood of success as an individual

Design thinking is a process of problem-solving and solution design that encompasses exploration, ideation, rapid prototyping, testing assumptions, evaluation of solutions, user-focus and feedback, trial and error, reflection, iterative development, and collaboration.

Design thinking is now an integral part of the Australian primary school curriculum with the introduction of two new Technologies subjects:

  • Digital Technologies

  • Design and Technologies

These two subjects foster three modes of thinking:

  • design thinking

  • computational thinking

  • systems thinking

The design thinking workshop started by setting the scene of the types of problems we were going to solve.  The overarching desired community outcome was to develop an inclusive community. The desired community outcome was detailed with personal stories from various people. These personal stories involved: people with disabilities, elderly with mobility issues, issues with connecting with the community, etc.

We sat and worked in a group for the workshop activities. We started the design thinking process by selecting a specific problem (or personal story) to create a solution for. We were taken through the design thinking process step-by-step with a worksheet for each step:

  1. Investigate and Reflect (identifying and exploring)

  2. Generate and Reflect (think creatively and ideate)

  3. Produce and Reflect (implementing and creating prototypes)

  4. Evaluate and Reflect (has the design solution met the success criteria)

When the teacher-participant in the design thinking workshop said, “I want to see the answer. So I can cheat and see what to work towards”, we need to understand where this comes from. Recognising the difference between a traditional school assignment and a design thinking project helps us to be aware of how we have been trained in the past and in which direction we need to head towards and grow into. Design thinking is about the journey, not the destination.

In responding to a traditional school assignment the student:

  • receives an assignment brief

  • conducts research

  • drafts a report or project

  • submits the draft for teacher review and feedback

  • completes final version of the project

  • receives a grade for the assignment which is marked against achieved student outcomes

This old school approach to school assignments works in some specific circumstances like preparing one for the university, but it is not necessarily helpful in innovating and disrupting.

Design thinking teaches us that it is ok to not know what to do, have faith in the process, make hypotheses, experiment, use trial and error, test our assumptions, learn from user observations, get it wrong a few times and then, collaborate, reflect, and with a bit of resilience, you will find a solution. It may not be the most optimal solution, but it is a working solution, a prototype, and a stepping stone in the right direction.