Exemplified through Sheer, Noweski, and Meinel’s research, Transforming Constructivist Learning into Action: Design Thinking in education, “Design Thinking gets teachers empowered to facilitate constructivist learning in order to foster 21st century skills” (Sheer, Noweski & Meinel, n.d., p.8). Constructivist learning is when students learn by interacting and responding to their environment that will produce experiences that modify further interactions (p. 9). Thus, students are trained in skills that will motivate exploration, encourage an openness for new ideas, and practice creative thinking and other metacognitive competences; readiness to face the world and solve real problems (p. 11).
By applying this design to student learning, teachers are required to be knowledgeable in the content, pedagogy and technology they use. The TPACK framework emphasizes the balance of these three areas in order to meet specific learning goals, in different phases of learning, and address issues and needs of students (Schrum & Levin, 2015, p.147). TPACK “stands for what teachers know about the content they teach, their pedagogical knowledge about the processes and methods for teaching and learning, including their knowledge of learners, and their technological knowledge about both new and old technologies available for teaching and learning” (p.147). As identified here, teachers have numerous factors that steer their practice.
More so, to recognize how to change teaching and learning approaches, teachers must also acknowledge how students of today’s generation have changed. Students of the current millennium have evolved significantly in comparison to those in the past. We could identify them to:
- have brains wired for the fast delivery of content, data, and images from computers, video-games, and the Internet
- be driven by graphics in learning
- comprehend complex graphics better than previous generations
- dislike lecture-test classrooms
- be constant multi-taskers
- have random access to information
- explore using their own routes
- have fun
- receive instant feedback
- customize their digital world along with their education (p. 40).
Therefore it is critical that we ensure students’ educational experience is geared towards meeting these demands. With the mass amount of information ready at their fingertips and technology quickly advancing, it is no surprise that this generation is “better educated, more environmentally conscious, and more long-lived…” (p. 40). It is our responsibility as educators to teach and guide our students to maintain a healthy use of technology as a means to enhance their lifelong learning and not as a replacement for other important facets in life.
Furthermore, as standards and legal mandates change as well, teachers are required to adopt and adapt new material into their classrooms. As mentioned earlier, 21st Century Skills are essential components to “survive and thrive” (p.15). Four particular skills are to be developed and practiced by both students and teachers. They are called the 4 C’s which include critical thinking, creativity, collaboration and communication.
Critical thinking consists of 8 tenants that impact the Design Thinking process from beginning to end (Ward, 2015, Critical Thinking). This particular skill, which includes healthy skepticism, helps filter through all the information dealt our way; asking questions, reflecting, and accepting the opinions of others. Collaboration actually consists of three Critical Thinking tenants, open-mindedness, deferred judgement, and questioning (Ward, 2015, Collaboration). As for Creativity, although a broad term, it could be practiced in numerous ways and is ideal for problem solving. The final C, Communication, is fundamental in every aspect of the process to connect and share. Although, face-to-face interactions will never replace virtual encounters.
These four 21st Century Skills, are also standards that could be represented by the P21 framework, a “rainbow” of student outcomes interconnected: Core Subjects and 21st Century Themes; Learning and Innovation Skills; Information, Media, and Technology Skills; and Life and Career Skills. They are supported by four systems consisting of: Standards & Assessment, Curriculum & Instruction, Professional Development, and Learning Environments. Together, these skills enable “students [to be] more engaged in the learning process and graduate better prepared to thrive in today’s global economy” (P21 Framework Definitions, 2015). Similar to the TPACK framework mentioned earlier, the 21st Century Skills are interconnected with both teacher and learner, and in many areas of life relevant to today’s generation.
Design Thinking uses these 21st century skills to improve the school system. The Design Thinking process entails 5 phases, each consisting of a number of steps that participating members work through, focusing on a challenge that needs to be addressed. Success will be the result of innovative planning and decision making. The phases are: Discovery, Interpretation, Ideation, Experimentation and Evolution. In understanding each of these phases, we can define specifically who our End Users are within the educational community audience (staff, students, and parents), and analyze how their needs can be achieved with optimal outcomes.
In the Discovery Phase, the challenge is identified and investigated. There is plenty of questioning, humility and open mindedness; which are aspects of Critical Thinking. In a team-based environment of Communication and Collaboration, the challenge is defined, experts are consulted, audience is determined, and what is known is collected and reported (Ward, 2015). This phase also requires an extensive research plan by consulting End Users, especially through interviews and surveys. A graphic organizer or visual is recommended to carryforth into the next phase as a reminder of the established focus.
The second phase, Interpretation, breaks down the research and analyzes them. Initially, stories are shared so that the whole team will be able to empathize with the End Users (another Critical Thinking tenant). Key points are collected onto a brainstorming platform, utilizing tools that are digital or physical to allow movement for academic conversations. From there, the Question Formulation Technique produces a QFocus or theme and more questions are developed and considered in order to fully visualize the user’s Point of View (Leu, 2015). Feedback from a third party helps evaluate the progress before moving on to the next phase.
In the Ideation phase, the Critical Thinking tenant that is practiced is deferred judgment. This will enforce creativity to come into play. Brainstorming around end goals and in generating a mass of ideas still requires a discipline of mind to focus on the End Users’ need and to follow guidelines set by the Design Thinking team. True collaboration occurs when all members are given a safe space to share and voice their thoughts while trusting one another. Therefore, agreed upon protocols are made; necessary for reviewing, narrowing and selecting ideas to create prototypes. By categorizing the ideas, such as inspirational or rational, and as either physical, digital or experiential, we could then refine and brainstorm the corresponding benefits and constraints.
The success of the Ideation phase is based mostly on the application of Creativity. In reference to Tim Brown’s TED talk, “Tales of Creativity and Play,” Creativity could be hindered by one’s own fear to share ideas. The concern of what our peers think make us conservative, embarrassed, insecure, sensitive, and uncomfortable. The Ideation phase is all about brainstorming without restrictions, wrong answers, or limitations. High quantity over quality is considered better, even if they are outlandish, because they generate a direction towards a solution. Essentially, the engagement in openness allows creative results to occur naturally. Together with Critical Thinking, Creativity will make students become better problem solvers.
However, a solution does not come without Experimentation. This next phase is to prototype the ideas established in the Ideation phase. In order to do so, we first reflect on the development in the prior three phases and ensure the prototype meets the original end goals for End Users. Then, a pro-con list identifies the benefits and constraints of the prototype. End Users are asked to participate to provide their input after they are presented with an outline and simple model. The feedback will be responded to by incorporating or making changes to the prototype. Additional revising and trial runs could occur as many times as necessary.
After testing, the final phase of the Design Thinking process is Evolution. A checklist of indicators recognizes the successes of the project and whether or not the design goals were met. Sharing individual reflections and reviewing experiences as a group will open up any areas that still need work. This step to reflect is thinking metacognitively, another Critical Thinking tenant; and is evidence of Communication imbedded in Collaboration. The next step shares the prototype to an outside audience to collect another perspective that is not from End Users and provides insight to components that may be overlooked.
Overall, it is evident that throughout Design Thinking, the 4 C’s are noticeably tools that drive the process towards success; and more importantly, dictates how innovative results arise from their implementation. As for the technological aspect, it is relevant to note that all phases could be accomplished digitally. Working through the tools to do so is just as crucial as working through the steps. Web 2.0 makes it possible for asynchronous communication. That is, separating the inconvenience of committing to a specific place and time to meet and discuss.
The 21st century is filled with these tools that are readily available over the Internet at no additional cost providing interconnectivity with others over social media and discussions through wikis and blogs at the least; while “...documents, materials, and pictures are stored online and, thus, are available from any computer” (Schrum & Levin, 2015, p. 115). No longer are we required to limit our connectivity. Having high speed wifi access at every school in the Vancouver School District will make it possible to enrich the school curriculum via Internet. With proper integration of technology we will find that the options to connect students are limitless.
Technology that is appropriately integrated in curriculum is when:
- an outside observer sees the technology activity as a seamless part of the lesson;
- the reason for using technology is obvious to the teacher, students, and others;
- students are focusing on learning rather than on technology;
- the teacher can describe how technology is helping a particular student;
- the teacher would have difficulty accomplishing lesson objectives without technology;
- the teacher can explain what the technology is supposed to contribute; and
- all students are participating with technology and benefiting.
To sum it up in Schrum and Levin’s words, “...using Web 2.0 tools and social media, as we have argued above, doesn’t insure that students will develop these important skills. Rather, it is savvy leaders and teachers who will insure that these skills are taught, practiced, and reinforced” (Schrum & Levin, 2015, p.115). When done properly, there is no replace for teachers even when everything else is changing. Today, educators have a wide range of standards to uphold in the school system and the Design Thinking process will take us one step at a time to reach the quality teaching and learning experience that all our students deserve to have.
Brown, T. (2008, November 10). Tim Brown: Tales of creativity and play. YouTube: TED. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RjwUn-aA0VY
Cifuentes, L., Maxwell, G. & Bulu, S. (2011). Technology Integration Through Professional Learning Community. Baywood Publishing Co. doi: 10.2190/EC.44.1.d Retrieved from http://baywood.com
Leu, S. (2015, July 14). Question Formulation Technique. YouTube: Sleuis. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lylcxjmXtkg
P21 Framework Definitions. (2015). The Partnership for 21st Century Learning. Retrieved from http://www.p21.org
Scheer, A., Noweski, C. & Meinel, C. (n.d.). Transforming Constructivist Learning into Action: Design Thinking in education (pdf). Design and Technology Education: An International Journal 17.3. Retrieved from https://blackboard.sdsu.edu/bbcswebdav/pid-2885035-dt-content-rid-56137346_1/courses/EDL655-V1-Summer2016-ExtEd/EDL655-V1-Summer2016-ExtEd_ImportedContent_20160515091910/Design%20Thinking%20in%20Education%20.pdf
Schrum, L. & Levin, B. (2015, April 21). Leading 21st Century Schools: Harnessing Technology for Engagement and Achievement. Corwin. Kindle Edition.
Ward, C. (2015). DT_Discovery_P1 (Screencast). Retrieved from http://www.screencast.com/users/cherylward1/folders/DT
Ward, C. (2015, July 8). Critical Thinking EDL 655. YouTube: Sandra Leu. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dd2YkKsXMUk
Ward, C. (2016, June 3). Collaboration Presentation. YouTube: Sleuis. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SzhxteRQqJg