Design, Education, and Life
Design. It is a scary word for people lacking creativity. I’m the girl who searches Pinterest for new, exciting, and creative ideas. The teacher who “steals” other people’s ideas for lesson plans and tweaks them to match my students. I have never seen myself as a “designer.” However, after going through the design method myself and focusing on engagement in the classroom, my eyes have opened up to a whole new world.
Empathize. The first and easiest step to design thinking. As teachers, we empathize everyday. For example, I purposely don’t give homework to my students because I know many of them do not have the support or the time at home. Teachers choose lessons that they know will be engaging and helpful to their students. This is proven by the fact that teachers are always revamping their units with each year and each new group of students. When a lesson doesn’t go well, we often ask ourselves, our peers, or even the students “why didn’t this work?” We put ourselves in their shoes. We empathize.
During my own empathize phase, I enjoyed finding out what engaged students and why students chose the favorite teachers that they did. Mostly, it was the relationships that teachers formed with their students or how they made learning fun. It was also interesting to see a teacher’s perspective of engagement in the classroom. A select few of teachers blamed the students with comments such as laziness. However, the majority of teachers truly thought about lack of engagement and blamed the lesson or a lack of sleep on the student’s part.
Define. In my opinion, the hardest step to design thinking. How do you take a problem and truly define it? We have thought about our users, and found a problem. But how do we narrow it down without being too broad and without being too narrow? Without this step, the entire process could fail. However, there are things that can be done to help you. Asking why? This helped me the most. Why am I thinking about this problem? Why is this problem important? Why do the users care? Why? Why? Why? It is important to be specific and to see an end goal. What do you want the users to be able to get out of this solution and how will this help the users?
Defining was tough for me. How do you define the problem of engagement? I was trying to find that sweet spot between being too broad and too narrow. Going through the steps of asking why and creating a mad lib helped me define a problem that truly encompassed what I wanted to solve. My problem ended up being:
As I teach a class, I often look out into the audience (or my students) for reactions to my lessons. Sometimes, I see students who can’t wait to come to class and brag about the fun things we are doing in class. Or I hear crickets with students’ eyelids drooping and a lack of participation. How do I get students to be excited and bragging about what we are doing in science on a daily basis? How do I get students engaged?
Ideate. Probably the funnest step of design thinking. Dream big is what I think of when I hear ideate. Any crazy idea will do. I often think of Tim Burton and Walt Disney when I think of ideate. They dreamed up these wild, crazy places (and movies) and brought them to life. If the world was your oyster, how would you see your solution? Make it grand. Make it crazy. Make it amazing and you never know what can come from ideate.
In my own process, this is where my lack of creativity came into play. I am not one to find crazy, out there ideas. Instead, I like to follow rules, guidelines, and ideas. So, coming up with my own crazy ideas is tough. However, talking to peers and attending the MACUL conference helped me realize the power of implementing technology. Not only is this engaging, but it also helps students become excited to come to class.
A road block can sometimes occur. Sometimes this road block can be frustration. Frustration from a lack of understanding. Frustration from a lack of solutions. Or frustration from thinking too hard about the problem. You may need to take a step back and think about something else for some time. It is surprising how this can help you figure something out. Don’t we all do this all the time? When writing a paper, don’t we take a break to get the creative juices flowing again? When putting something together (especially from Ikea!), don’t we take a break before we throw it across the room (or is that just me?)
Prototype. I always saw prototype as building something. But sometimes a problem doesn’t call for that. If your problem is “how to make students engaged?” you can’t really build something to solve it (unless you are building a time machine to take them back to World War II). It is important to be specific. It is important that your prototype is something that can be used in your classroom (or in your problem) right away. During your prototype stage, you might realize that your solution is missing something. Or your solution isn’t turning out the way you expected. And that is OK! Maybe, you just have to go back to ideate and dream bigger (or in some cases, dream smaller).
The second hardest step for me was prototype. How do I build something that deals with engagement? I definitely failed at this (and that’s ok!) I learned that a prototype must be specific and ready to be implemented. Even if you aren’t building something, your plan must be in place as to how your solution will work, what it will look like, and how it will solve the problem. This way, when you test, you don’t have to think of extra steps. Through my prototype phase, I decided to focus on trying Edpuzzle, Plickers, and Kahoot in the classroom.
Finally, it is time to test. This has to be the scariest, nerve wracking experience. How are the users going to react? What if they don’t like it? What if it fails and all of that hard work is for nothing? It is important to have a protocol. You also want to make sure that you are unbiased and ask each user the same thing. If you change your prototype or your questioning, you may get different results for inconsistent reasons.
Testing was the most fun step. I couldn’t wait to see how my students reacted to these new technologies that I was introducing into the classroom. Of course, they loved Kahoot. Their competitive natures and their game playing generation ate it up! However, as a teacher, I didn’t see much educational value to the technology. Edpuzzle from a teacher’s standpoint is amazing. A teacher can see if a student gets a concept by watching a video. However, students hated it. They thought it was boring and didn’t get them engaged and they did not request to use edpuzzle again. Plickers were a winner. Not only did the students think they were the coolest thing since sliced bread, I, the teacher, was able to judge formatively whether or not a student was understanding a concept. When I asked the students what they thought, they were very honest and stated how easily it was just to tell your neighbor what the correct answer was, which is definitely a con.
Whew. Design thinking. What an amazing concept. Throughout the learning process, I felt frustration, excitement, disappointment, fear, and even insecurities. One thing I learned is that designing is not an overnight event. You have to take the steps and truly think about the solutions you are creating for your problem. It is important to marinate your ideas before testing them. And sometimes, that means going back to square one and starting over in order to truly get to the solution that solves your problem. A second lesson is how important it is to bounce ideas off of other people. Throughout my learning process, I talked to fellow teachers, friends, classmates, students, and attended a conference. You never know if someone can open your eyes to a bright new idea. You never know if talking to just one person can get you excited and motivated to try new things with your problem. A third lesson is don’t be afraid to fail. Your first idea may not work. Or your second. Or your third. But don’t give up. You never know when you will strike gold and make the solution that answers your problem.
There are so many different ways to use design thinking in education. For one, how great would it be to use it for Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports or PBIS? For one, we would need to think about the students and ask ourselves “why are they acting like this?” My principal always states how important it is to get the “whole story” before judging a student. By empathizing with the student, we can begin to define problems with the behaviors in the school instead of making excuses. Are the students acting out because there are no procedures? Have the students forgotten the expectations? Creating a problem to define is easier when we begin to ask ourselves “why are the students behaving this way?” We can then begin to think about how to solve these problems.
Another way design thinking can be used in the classroom is by having students go through the process. I currently teach a lesson on scientific method where the students build a bridge out of toothpicks to try to hold the most weight. The students research different types of bridges and build a bridge. They then test it to see if it holds weight or not. I could definitely see this lesson going in a different way in which the students go through the design process. First they could empathize with people who use bridges or build bridges to see what they would want in a bridge. Then they could begin brainstorming their ideas and create a prototype of the bridge. Finally, they could test their bridge and see if it will truly work or not. If not, they may need to go back to the drawing board.
Recently, I accepted an E-learning Instructional Designer position. I can’t wait to use my new found learning on design thinking in my new position. I will empathize with the students to make the class engaging and with the professor to make the class user friendly. I will define problems and try to find solutions by asking why or talking to peers or researching new ideas. I will test my ideas and tweak them as students take courses and I learn what works and what doesn’t work. Learning about design thinking has made me believe that I can be a designer. Something that I never thought was possible.