October 2012
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Day 25/10/2012

DT4E: Design Thinking for Educators

This post was originally published on the Carney, Sandoe & Associates blog. Click here to read the blog.

Joy Hurd is a student at the Klingenstein Center at Columbia University Teachers College and a member of the rethinkED team at Riverdale Country School.  The Carney, Sandoe & Associates Placement Team was fortunate to hear a presentation on Design Thinking by Joy.  What follows is his explanation of Design Thinking and some real-life ways he and his team have applied this model in independent education.

Good design is an easy thing to miss. It’s easy to recognize the beauty of an Apple product, but only rarely do I stop and think about the clever old design of my whistling tea kettle. Bad design is almost impossible to overlook–just think about your last trip through airport security. Everything we use was designed by someone and designed–we hope–with us in mind.

Design Thinking (DT) is a way of creating possibility through innovation and collaboration. It’s been developed by educators at Stanford and by the Palo Alto-based design firm IDEO to design products and services with users in mind. Think of objects like the computer mouse and services like Bank of America’s Keep the Change program: these are allIDEO’s work, made possible through DT’s five phases of Discovery, Interpretation, Ideation, Experimentation, and Evolution.

The collaborative, problem-solving nature of DT has led a growing number of educators to incorporate this philosophy into K-12 and higher education. Stanford’s d.school has helped other Stanford schools implement DT in their curricula, and other universities, such as Harvard, have followed suit. It’s a versatile approach to innovation and problem-solving that requires students to be empathetic, optimistic, collaborative designers. Perhaps most importantly, it forces them to be resilient, to see early failures not as defeats but as steps necessary for success.

Design Thinking is catching on in K-12 education as well. Some schools, such as The School at Columbia, have built curricula around DT so that students can design and create to learn more deeply. Others, such as Riverdale Country School, have sought to help teachers think like designers, which, of course, they are by nature. Teachers design every day, planning their lessons, designing courses, and constructing their classroom spaces.

But do teachers recognize themselves as designers, and do they feel empowered to innovate? Do schools offer a “culture of permission,” in which teachers feel that they can run with their ideas? Do teachers take time to consider their students’ everyday learning experiences, instead of just how much material they have to cover by June? Do schools offer teachers and students the permission to fail that breeds resilience and grit?

These are some of the questions that Dominic Randolph, headmaster of Riverdale Country School, sought to answer as he learned more about DT. He partnered with IDEO to create the Design Thinking for Educators (DT4E) toolkit, which has been downloaded nearly 20,000 times.  With funding support from the E.E. Ford Foundation, DT4E offered a two-day workshop at Riverdale last June and a free online course developed in partnership with Edutopia.

DT4E has also created a team to help teachers rethink their practice and try new ideas. This rethinkED team is like a SWAT team, swooping in and working on projects generated by teachers. The team is made up of educators who know that it’s not easy to imagine and implement new ideas when there are emails to answer, phone calls to return, teams to coach, and papers to grade. At Riverdale, the rethinkED team is working with teachers to foster innovation.

So far this year, the team has worked with the Riverdale Chinese teachers to give students more opportunities to use their language skills outside the classroom. On October 5th we hosted an event at Teachers College, Columbia University, for Riverdale Chinese students to chat over lunch with native Chinese speakers studying at TC. To encourage the students to seek out and record personal interactions in Chinese, the team developed collaborative Google maps for each class, where students can mark their interactions geographically and record the experiences through journal entries, photos, or videos.

We’re also working with a teacher on the implementation of ePortfolios, which can allow students to reflect on their own work without relying solely on teacher and parent approval. Over the course of the year we’ll be working with math teachers who would like to enhance student engagement. As the year goes on, we look forward to working with more teachers who have ideas but want support to develop and implement them.

We believe that this model is replicable, that other schools can create “cultures of permission” in which teachers have the encouragement and resources to innovate and take risks. All teachers are designers, and we seek to support them as they design their students’ educational experiences.



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