27/05/2020 - 11:06

A future reimagined by design

27/05/2020 - 11:06


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OPINION: Business strategies are finding a place in schools to help bring about meaningful and long-lasting improvement.

Thinking outside the box is encouraged in the search for solutions. Photo: Stockphoto

OPINION: Business strategies are finding a place in schools to help bring about meaningful and long-lasting improvement.

We all have flashbacks to our time at school, with these memories among the earliest childhood recollections for many of us.

We might recall teachers, some of our classmates, the classrooms, playgrounds, and the way we were taught.

Our memories will be unique, though there will be similarities with those of others. For example, the way our chairs were arranged in rows or circles, a teacher’s desk parked at the front of the classroom, or a chalkboard spanning the full width of the learning space. 

As parents, many of us will share a similar view of the widening gap between memories of our own school experience, and the way children are taught today. 

As with business, change is constant and rapid for schools, and increasingly requires creative solutions.

In an evolving trend, some schools have turned to the business community to source models that can help bring about meaningful and long-lasting improvement.

One such business model, which appears to hold much potential for educational communities, is ‘design thinking’. 

Design thinking is a process used to reimagine the future. It has been adopted by companies such as Braun (to create a better Oral-B toothbrush), Procter & Gamble (to guide product development of the Oil of Olay brand), and GE Healthcare (to build a better MRI scanner experience for children by using paintings and storytelling).

Uber created its food delivery service through design thinking, and many airports around the world have used it to improve their customer experience.

Beyond business, design thinking has been successfully applied in medicine, law, engineering, physical and social sciences, and the arts.

The process draws on our innately human capabilities of talking with others to debate, discuss and develop dynamic solutions – something educators excel at.

Design thinking is based on the basic premise that, if we want things to be different, we must believe a better future is possible and develop the capacity to imagine beyond our experiences.  

Flagged by some experts as potentially the next revolution in education, design thinking is a solutions-based approach to solving real problems and a model that assists those in schools to think and act like designers – working to change or make something for the better.

In simple terms, design thinking involves gathering information, generating potential solutions, and then testing those solutions.

Its rise to prominence comes as school principals are rethinking their business and operating models, and teachers are reconsidering and reframing classroom practices in the wake of COVID-19.

In schools, leaders are adopting design thinking as a strategy for whole-school improvement, including at the classroom level.

Design thinking has five key steps that need to be followed. Unlike a cake recipe, those five steps do not have to be followed in a linear fashion, but can be adapted for particular situations.

Stage one involves empathising, sometimes described as the ‘secret sauce’; before even thinking about solutions, those charged with solving a problem must empathise with the end user of the product, service, or approach being developed.    

Empathy leads to a much deeper and authentic level of connection with the issue or topic being explored.

Understanding what others are experiencing underpins the second stage of the process: defining the problem to be investigated and coming up with a clear statement of the issue, challenge or opportunity.

Stage three, ‘ideation’, is about generating ideas. This stage requires the team to rapidly propose as many solutions as possible, even if those suggestions appear to be unrealistic in terms of required time and money. 

Out-of-the-box thinking is encouraged. The most actionable solutions then become the focus of a fourth stage, ‘prototyping’.

Prototyping focuses on coming up with an actionable model, which is subject to revision rather than something set in stone.

The final stage is ‘testing’, which involves testing a prototype to determine what works and what could be improved.  

In schools, the applications of design thinking are endless. Success depends on the capacity of those involved to have an open, as opposed to closed or fixed, mindset.

At the whole-of-school level, the process might be used to solve issues such as: 

• how to create a 21st century learning experience for students;

• how to reconsider a school to improve student attendance and engagement; and

• how to reimagine a school to build a stronger relationship with the school community.

It is important that those who use the design-thinking process to respond to a challenge are provided with training to support their endeavours.

For many school leaders, design thinking offers a fresh approach to complex school improvement and development issues. 

And there is an added bonus for those schools that adopt design thinking.  

Those familiar with the process can teach design thinking to their students, enabling them to solve real-life, 21st century problems.

Before you know it, your classroom is transformed into a Silicon Valley-style innovation lab in which students ask questions, develop prototypes and test solutions.

• Professor Gary Martin is chief executive officer at the Australian Institute of Management WA


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