How can teachers embed technology into design thinking, to promote creativity, empathy, and real-world problem-solving skills?
What is Design Thinking?
ISTE Student Standard 4: Innovative Designer is centered around students using a design process to help problem-solve and create solutions. As I began to explore potential inquiry questions connected to this standard, I was introduced the process of design thinking through a podcast episode I found from Standford Radio. In this episode, Stanford education professor Shelley Goldman, an author of the book Taking Design Thinking to School, helped me to build an initial understanding of the concept design thinking. In addition to giving examples of how design thinking can be used in the classroom, Shelley Goldman also explains how empathy is an integral, foundational component to design thinking. As Shelley Goldman and Zaza Kabayadondo (2017) explain, “Design thinking involves empathizing with end-user(s), learning to work collaboratively, and employing hands, minds, and intuitions in ways that drive creative problem-solving” (p. 1). Design thinking and its idea of shifting the way in which students not only engage in their learning through hands-on practice but also begin with the process with developing empathy, empowered me to research more about this learning process.
Design thinking offers many possibilities for educators and their students, but it also requires the support of administrators to provide educators with more flexibility and autonomy in their lesson design. As Lily Barnett (2019) mentions, One challenge for educators is fitting design thinking into a traditional curriculum or school schedule. Design thinking “resists standardization” and is “non-traditional,”’ (n.p.). While it may feel like it would be difficult to integrate this type of model into your classroom, I believe that this pursuit is extremely important. Design thinking promotes authentic, practical learning opportunities for students, and works to empower students to think creatively. By partnering design thinking with educational technology, educators can support their students in fostering creativity, empathy, and solving real-world problems.
Fostering Creativity, Empathy, & Problem-Solving
One of the first components of design thinking that drew me to my inquiry question is the opportunity that design thinking provides students to think creatively. Identifying a problem and developing ideas for potential solutions are important parts of design thinking that push students to think creatively, but can also require students to think in new, challenging ways. According to Danah Henriksen (2017), “Because the open-endedness of creative work is challenging, people need a flexible structure to guide creativity, as a way to “intentionally work through getting stuck”’ (p. 140). In my own classroom, I also witness my students feeling very challenged and anxious during creative work. I believe that design thinking can provide a scaffolded structure that can help students navigate through the design process. Through practice, collaboration, and scaffolding, students can grow in their creativity and begin thinking about real-world problems that want to solve that show up in their own lives and in their surrounding community. Design thinking fosters creativity and helps students to think outside the box.
The process of fostering empathy in design thinking was what captivated me the most about this process, and had me envisioning what this could look like in my own classroom. In this video by Edutopia, second graders at Design 39 Campus begin with building empathy around a global problem, by researching how other people access water. I think that the empathizing phase of the design process is an incredibly vital step in problem-solving, and I appreciate that this is the first step in the process. Henriksen (2017) elaborates on the empathize phase by stating that, “designers observe users and their behaviors, interact with and interview them, and immerse themselves in understanding the experience and perspective of the user. These insights allow designers to approach the rest of the process with a stronger understanding of the context and problem” (p. 142). At my school, we do SPARK projects, which are inquiry-based learning experiences that partner science and social studies content knowledge with social justice topics. I believe that these SPARK projects would fit really well with the design thinking model. I am interested in exploring how I can utilize empathy and design thinking in the work we are already doing. For other educators, finding ways that design thinking can already fit into the work you’re doing can help to make this integration feel more feasible.
Solving Real-World Problems
Through the design thinking model, educators are presented with the necessity to provide their students with opportunities to tackle real-world problems. These experiences can also help to inspire students to develop new ideas and create innovative solutions. As Sara Matlock (2015) explains, “Design thinking is a process of problem-solving that places an emphasis on understanding real-world problems in the attempt to collaborate to create meaningful solutions” (n.p.). By placing importance on solving real-world problems, students are encouraged to look at their surrounding community and investigate more closely the problems that are essential to tackle. Additionally, I believe it is important for educators to explore ways to integrate technology into solving these real-world problems as well. Technology can be especially useful in developing prototypes that could be used in student-created solutions. While some solutions may not have the ability to be fully developed, designing and sharing out solutions digitally may help to inspire others to continue to develop an existing prototype. Solving real-world problems also requires students to collaborate, provide feedback to their peers, and reflect on their experiences. These are all important steps in the design thinking process.
What tech tools support Design Thinking?
Tinkercad is a wonderful tech tool that promotes engineering, design, and creativity. This free, online computer-aided design (CAD) program helps students to take control of the design process and makes it really efficient for students to design and 3D print objects. Their student and teacher tutorials are extremely helpful for learning how to use these different components. In addition, Tinkercad’s Codeblocks feature allows students to take their creativity and coding to the next level. Students are now also able to connect their Codeblocks creations with Minecraft Education and continue the building process there. From my experience, Tinkercad is easier to navigate for students and educators new to CAD platforms, which also makes this a useful tech tool for younger learners. Tinkercad promotes design thinking and serves as a great opportunity for students to explore many different phases of the design thinking process.
DIY is a unique digital tool that encourages students to think creatively, partner problem-solving with scientific thinking, and explore presented challenges. DIY is a useful website that helps students get access to project ideas and share their own projects with the community. This seems like it would be a helpful digital tool for the ideate and prototype phases of design thinking. As students are developing and prototyping their ideas, DIY can serve as a way for students to get access to generated ideas from the DIY community. Additionally, this could be used by educators as a platform for their students to share out the results from the testing phase of design thinking.
KidsThinkDesign is a design resource educators can use to provide their students with understanding more about several different types of design. Within each design type, KidsThinkDesign provides information on the qualifications, examples of projects and real-life designers, and a DIY project for students to explore. As educators are developing a design thinking project, this may be a helpful resource for extension opportunities for students. Additionally, under the “learn more” tab, educators and students can find other websites as well as books to check out that are connected to the specific design field. This digital tool would be valuable for providing students with inspiration and information in the ideation phase of the design thinking process.
If you’re interested, here are more design thinking tools for students from Common Sense Education.
Additionally, if you have other design thinking resources you have found to be particularly useful with your students, I’d love to hear about it. Please comment below!
Barnett, L. (2019, May 17). Design-thinking trickles into elementary school classrooms. Retrieved from https://blog.sfgate.com/inthepeninsula/2019/05/17/design-thinking-trickles-into-elementary-school-classrooms/
Design thinking for kids? How teachers can bring this creative problem-solving process into the classroom. (2018, February 28). Retrieved from https://ed.stanford.edu/news/design-thinking-kids
Design Thinking: A Problem Solving Framework. (2018, September 19). Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/video/design-thinking-problem-solving-framework
Design-Thinking Tools for Students. (2019, October 16). Retrieved from https://www.commonsense.org/education/top-picks/design-thinking-tools-for-students
Goldman, S., & Kabayadondo, Z. (2017). Taking design thinking to school: how the technology of design can transform teachers, learners, and classrooms. New York: Routledge.
Henriksen, D., Richardson, C., & Mehta, R. (2017). Design thinking: A creative approach to educational problems of practice. Thinking Skills and Creativity, 26, 140–153. doi: 10.1016/j.tsc.2017.10.001
ISTE Standards for Students. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.iste.org/standards/for-students
Matlock, S. (2015, October 19). Design Thinking for Student Ownership of Learning. Retrieved from https://www.gettingsmart.com/2015/10/design-thinking-for-student-ownership-of-learning/