October 05, 2010

Design Thinking Solves Real Problems

Project-based learning, or PBL, that happens in schools nearly always seems to be based around fake problems. I don't know how we manage it as educators, but if we can find a lame problem that needs solving, we'll give it to the students. In turn, we largely end up with students who are happy to play the game of working our fake problems, and even proposing more fake problems themselves.

Design Thinking, the immersion, synthesis, ideation and prototyping process of creative thinking that I've witnessed in the creative industries for the past three years and have, for the past eight months tried to bring to more schools around the world, is about solving real problems. The type that affect real people's lives.

Part of this is to do with the physical space of the learning environment, something we can work on in small steps or in revolutionary renovations and rebuilds, as I described last week. Some of this we can do, though, through our aspirations and subsequent actions.

From the Stanford d.school site comes this story, showing how something as 'traditional' as "studying a book for English class" can be given the Design Thinking treatment and come out a far richer, far more educational and far more useful experience for all concerned:

Her students were reading the novel Monster, by Walter Dean Myers, and their design challenge was to "create a way for inmates to feel more comfortable in their cells." They used details from the book and pictures from the Internet to immerse themselves in imagining what living in a small cell would be like. Melissa gave her students cameras and Andy asked if he could take the camera to the jail where his father was currently serving time and bring back pictures to add to the class observation chart. Andy had not visited his father for quite some time.

At the facility, he was not allowed to take pictures. Instead, he took detailed notes. He also brought the book with him and read to his dad for over an hour. In recounting this story, Melissa said that she believed that Andy just needed a reason to visit his father and felt that he could contribute in some way to him though this project.

Soon after, she noticed that the book began traveling with Andy everywhere. It was always in his hand as he walked through the hallways, replacing his ever-present football. She believed that it became symbolic to Andy, representing a bonding moment between him and his dad, and a connection that he had been he yearning for. The following week, Melissa brought the class to the Elmwood Detention Center to prototype their designs. While there, Andy met Sergeant Liddle ,who tested their prototypes. After his positive experience at the prison, Andy has set a goal to become a police officer. Since that challenge, Andy has not yet been back to see his father and his football has returned to his hand. However, the design challenge became the hub of a wheel for Andy that brought together family, literacy and community.

Picture of the d.school learning space from my visit last week.


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Hi Ewan:

We have recently created a LinkedIN group for educators, researchers, designers and anyone interested in the role of design thinking and creativity in education. I would like to invite you to join this group.

The group is one of the actions of CREACIT project. The aim of CreaCIT is to develop an e-learning environment for product development, and its target group comprises students and teachers in the secondary and tertiary levels of education.

CreaCIT works closely within the defined EU strategy for innovation to foster the creative skills and lateral thinking required by the introduction of modular interactive teaching content focusing on those areas.

CREACIT is a Leonardo da Vinci transnational project coordinated by Alvar Aalto University (Finland)

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About Ewan

Ewan McIntosh is the founder of NoTosh, the no-nonsense company that makes accessible the creative process required to innovate: to find meaningful problems and solve them.

Ewan wrote How To Come Up With Great Ideas and Actually Make Them Happen, a manual that does what is says for education leaders, innovators and people who want to be both.

What does Ewan do?

Module Masterclass

School leaders and innovators struggle to make the most of educators' and students' potential. My team at NoTosh cut the time and cost of making significant change in physical spaces, digital and curricular innovation programmes. We work long term to help make that change last, even as educators come and go.

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