Opposite of Chance - design and education blog

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Complex challenges in teaching: can design thinking help?

Last week I participated and presented in TERNZ (Tertiary Education Research in New Zealand) 2011 conference. Participants were higher-education lecturers and researchers who came from across disciplines and had a common interest in research into teaching and learning in higher education.

This conference has a unique spirit that asks presenters to present a research work in progress rather than final results, and look at the conference as an opportunity to discuss their ideas and directions with colleagues. In this way, conference participants are helping each other in the journey towards better understanding higher education.

Another interesting thing about TERNZ is its unique format. Instead of the expected 15min presentation - 5min for questions, each session lasts 45min and is compiled of 10min presentation and 35min discussion. After each session, you go to your “host group”, in which you meet with about 9 colleagues and reflect on what you’ve learned from the session you participated in. Since there are 6 parallel sessions, when you get to the host group discussion you get to hear about some of the sessions you have missed.

The discussions in the sessions and in the host groups were so inspiring and I am now left with many new understandings, and mainly - new questions.

The session I presented was called “Complex challenges in teaching: can design thinking help?”. The abstract for this presentation is available here under Day 1, 1pm.

The design thinking process according to how I see it

(Above is a sketch of the design thinking process as I see it).

Basically, in this session I tried to give participants a quick experience of the design thinking process, as well as some design tools they can apply for solving complex teaching problems/challenges (e.g. prioritizing their expectations for a solution under what Must/Should/Could this solution contain?, ideation process - using de Bono’s “random word" as an inspiration for a solution to help break your patterns of thought…).

The challenge that was raised in the session was “How can we help students develop critical thinking across disciplines?”. Obviously, we didn’t get to solve this question in the time-frame we had, however, we did use the process to address it and gain some of the strategies that are being used in the design world and can be applied on teaching.

Personally, I was interested in learning more about the current thought processes teachers use to address challenges, as well as finding an answer to whether or not having an explicit thought process is helpful? If so, is design thinking a valid option for that?

I’ve gotten some answers through the discussion in the session, however, I’ll be intrigued to know what are your thoughts regarding the above questions?