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Monday, 4 March 2013

Fostering innovation in classrooms through ‘Design Thinking’

Does “Design Thinking” sound alien to you? Then it’s time to reignite your mind by getting introduced to a mind-blowing process to structure your creative thoughts for crafting solutions to unsolved problems.

The objective of this article is not to discuss in detail about the process of ‘Design Thinking’ but the application of that process in classrooms. We have this simple visual for you to understand the process. 

The ‘Design Thinking’ process

“Necessity is the mother of invention” – A well said quote. Design thinking starts with the very same idea of discovering and acknowledging existing problems. But to give it a human touch we need to acknowledge problems with empathy. Imagine how Edison might have acknowledged the need for an electric bulb when everyone else was comfortable with lighting candles!

Do you wonder why you are reading this article in a non-profit education initiative’s blog? Design thinking is a process to structure thoughts in a sequenced manner to boost innovation. The need for innovation in education sector is at its peak.
  • In the Indian context with the RTE act, all the students will pass to the next class without having to prove their acquired knowledge in a particular class
  • According to the latest ASER report,
    • Reading levels continue to be a cause for serious concern. More than half of all children in Std. V are at least three grade levels behind where they should be.
    • The proportion of all children enrolled in Std. V who could not do division problems has increased from 63.8% in 2010 to 72.4% in 2011 to 75.2% in 2012.

Given these alarming bells in the context of education in India, a design thinking mindset is a must not only at the policy maker level but it has to get into every classroom. The challenge is that every classroom may be having a unique set of challenges and hence it’s important for them to craft a customized solution to their problem.

A sample way to apply design thinking to foster innovation in classroom is outlined below:
  • Step 1: School administration should organize open discussions with teachers and students inviting candid feedback focusing on challenges in delivering quality education. Few possible challenges could be:
    1. Students aren’t able to connect to real world applications of problems
    2. Teachers don’t have adequate facilities in class room to demonstrate concepts for better understanding
  •  Step 2: Further to acknowledging problems the school administration can focus on navigating alternatives to address identified problems and zero-in on one of the areas that can be a deal breaker and will change the way children learn in their class rooms.
  • Steps 3 &4:  Conduct brainstorming discussions (the ideation step) through focused groups of students and teachers on how to address the most important problem to change the way students learn in their school class room. Synthesize the insights emerging out of the discussion in a structured way. Design thinking toolkit [1] can be used to facilitate these discussions more effectively
  • Step 5:  Select 2-3 ideas and pilot them in different classrooms. Most important thing at this step is to have well defined metrics which can track the outcome 
  • Step 6: Get feedback and fine tune the idea at this step. If required, the school can choose to go back to Step 5 if fine tuning results in a major change in design
  • Step 7: Good is the enemy of great. Scaling the solution is a must to achieve the ultimate goal which is delivering quality education by changing the way we teach and learn.
  • This is an iterative process and hence innovation should never stop. School should go back to step 1, identify the next challenge and go through this process.

So, what can we do immediately?
  • Spread the word! Everyone reading this article can discuss how Design Thinking mindset can help classrooms to innovate and change the way we teach.
Before closing this article, we would like to thank the following sources that helped us with valuable information on the design thinking process in the context of education sector.

[1] Design Thinking for Educators: A website dedicated to socializing the application of design thinking to educators. It also provides a tool kit which can be used to structure thoughts

[2]IDEO:  IDEO is one of the pioneers in the design and innovation space for the past two decades.
We hope design thinking mindset makes every class room think and innovate for a better future.