Design Thinking in Schools: Teaching to the middle!?

Have a comfy drive to work today?

There is a story all designers should know about the US air force during the space race. In short, as test pilots were being put into rockets they were crashing… a lot! Initially the seat was designed for the average pilot and pilots were selected who fitted the average. Crashes continued, and it turns out the average design, based on thousands of pilots, didn’t fit a single one of them. To get the full explanation you can read a more detailed account in “The end of average” by Todd Rose or the full research by Gilbert Daniels who took the measurements in the early 1950’s.

After becoming aware that their cockpit design for the average pilot, and subsequent recruitment of pilots who fitted in this small range of proportions was a problem the air force insisted on manufacturers changing, after some protestations adjustable seats, helmets, pedals and so on were produced and became standard. Because pilots were dying and expensive equipment being destroyed there was an imperative for the Air Force to insist on change. This is the beginning of adjustable chairs, such as those in your car.

Any system designed around the average person is doomed to fail.

This is quoted in Todd Rose’s book as the conclusion Daniels came to. Therefore should we consider whether our education systems are designed around the average. If it is… Are we doomed?

I became aware of a tool called Ally, from Blackboard, which scans content submitted by a course instructor through their LMS and gives accessibility metrics on the content. It suggests improvements and the student gets choice of the file type they want, without the instructor doing anything. I am not suggesting you all get this tool, however it shows what happens when you design for individuals. By being user focussed on students with accessibility issues a solution has been created which frankly benefits all students. Understanding their challenge has led to a design which makes the course more accessible for all.

You can find out a bit more about that specific tool below:

How might we design our curriculum for the individuals and not the average student?

This is the challenge we can take on in schools. It does not have to mean 32 lesson plans for each class but how can learning be adjustable because non of your students are average. If you approach this from a traditional teaching and learning standpoint I think the challenge is sizeable.

I was delivering a training session in Scotland on G Suite and the new generation of Chromebook that flip round from laptop to tablet and come with a stylus. As we delved into a task with the devices I noticed that despite the task being the same for everyone (criticism may or may not be fair) the Chromebook was being used in a variety of ways. Some had it in standard laptop mode, occasionally using the touch screen. Others preferred ‘tent’ mode with the stylus in hand. The Chromebook was on laps in tablet mode too. It struck me then more than before that technology is providing us with choice, sometimes about when we learn or what we learn, more significantly it can allow us to choose how we learn and select options we know suit us best.

In my training I was told some children need comic sans font on buff paper. Clearly giving a few students a different worksheet has it’s problems but with technology the student can choose. Who’s to know if they decide to click on the open dyslexia extension to stop words jumping around their screen? So what if they zoom in beyond 100% in the browser?

Teachers don’t have to differentiate, the learners can do it for themselves… IF! If they have an understanding of the options technology gives. Do teachers know Google Docs has a voice typing option for children to express themselves even if they type slowly? Do they know it understands most languages for the children who express themselves best in another language?

Gilbert Daniels discovered that if you design a cockpit for the average pilot it fits NONE of them.

If you design learning for the average learner….

Worth pondering

Enjoy

Advertisements

Design Thinking in Schools: Relish Change

Less chocolate is a change I am struggling with, I love the stuff! But non-the-less I am actioning that change thanks to getting a bit more educated about the way my body works. Better education and understanding has helped me embrace change and see it for the longer term benefits and impact.

 

I have been Inspired to write after listening to Jamie Casap, a Googler, talk about change in education. A keynote address I delivered at a few technology conferences including in New Hampshire and Sweden was titled “Change, the only constant?”. I suggest education hasn’t changed that much over time and it be something we as teachers get used to? Jamie, speaking on a Google Hangout on Air with educators split change into two.

Desirable change vs undesirable change

This struck a chord with me. Of course we like change that we perceive to have inherent benefits and are dubious or even avoid change we believe doesn’t improve our lot or in fact makes things worse. Sometimes it takes time or more education for everyone to see a change for the good it can bring and consider it from other people’s perspective or beyond the initial upheaval. I advocate change when I leave my day-job as a maths teacher to train teachers in the use of technology for learning. Do I always manage to frame that change as desirable or beneficial? My feedback forms suggest so, however is this feedback from educators who are already excited by the change technology can bring. Moreover, why would you book yourself on to a course which you felt was not going to be beneficial? I didn’t give my language classes at school the chance when I was 14 and dropped them at the first opportunity. I regret that now. Selling change for its benefits is not an easy job.

 

Later this week I am delivering training to a whole school, which should ensure we get a full and varied range of attitudes and perceptions to the change I am supporting them with. Will they all see the change as beneficial? If the change is to be worthwhile and to be realised then it had better be solving a decent problem or come with a compelling story.

Design Thinking

Design thinking is about finding good problems to solve, problems inherently worth solving. It also focusses on the “user” and take ethnographic data and builds a story around people and how we can help solve their problems. For this reason I think design thinking has a worthwhile and permanent place in education, making curriculum and learning design student centred and personal.

Problem Finding

The school I am supporting with training needs to learn the tools, granted but they won’t use them if there is no purpose. Therefore I want to help them to find desirable change by finding some problems worth solving.

“Technology for Learning or #Edtech is at its most impactful when no-one mentions it.”

Me, just now

Change is not a problem if it is worth doing. If someone has a good problem to solve they are happy to work hard at it and they will find the right tools to make it happen. This is my ever-evolving approach to supporting teachers with technology for learning.

To start finding a problem worth solving try the 5 whys activity. Write down your vision and the challenges in the way of getting there. Find a colleague who is fairly straight talking and get them to ask to why…

5 Whys

You: My challenge is to get teachers using new technology

Friend: Why would they want to use new technology?

You: New technology can provide new learning experiences

Friend: Why are the current learning experiences not good enough?

You: They are… but technology could open them up a wider audience

Friend: Why don’t the teachers already see that opportunity you do?

You: Because they are not keeping track of new technology developments

Friend: Why are they not up to speed on technology that is available?

You: Because they are too busy!?

With a good 5 Whys session you might find yourself with a problem worth solving…

How might we give teachers time to learn about new developments in learning?

Reframing a change from “Here’s a new tool for you to learn” to “We are going to use these new tools to save you time and develop learning” might be the catalyst for teachers to relish change rather than fear it. That is my hope for my upcoming training. Thanks to Jamie for making me think about it that little but more.

Enjoy

Design Thinking in Schools: Shadow a Student

Empathy and understanding the ‘what is’ forms the essential starting point of innovation and underpins design thinking. So what better way to get started in schools than to shadow a student. Check out the shadow a student website, which is aiming to get school leaders living a day in the life of a student.

Sign up to commit to shadow a student and learn more about your school than a month of meetings would tell you.

Try using empathy mapping while you do it, add it to an ethnographic wall in your staffroom and encourage others to add too. Father data from conversations, informal chats and observations made while walking the school. You might be surprised what you find.

wp-1455051585544.jpg

What you find might be the problem worth solving that leads to innovation…

Enjoy

Ben

Design Thinking in Schools: Which personas are in your school?

Students are categorised by grades, level of need, progress from starting points and in some cases background or ethnicity. There are other categories some teachers might wish to use too. Could we use very different characteristics to provide the best learning opportunities for all children?


Clearly I am not busy enough being head of maths for 3 days a week and Technology for Learning lead across a Multi-Academy Trust for the other two days. To fill in the slack I signed up to an online course on Coursera. The course title is “Design Thinking for Innovation” which has content and cohort discussion over 5 weeks with an assessed reflection at the end.

Why Design Thinking?

Design thinking provides a methodology and toolset for developing innovation (innovation is something we can all produce) and I am keen to apply it where appropriate to the way we work in schools. One aspect of the ground work needed to create conditions for Innovation is to go deeper rather than wider to understand the situation in which you are operating.

Ewan McIntosh’s book “How to come up with great ideas (and actually make them happen)” is a great place to start your design thinking journey.

How would it work in schools?

An example for a school would be to consider putting the whole school excel sheet to one side and take time to conduct interviews with 10 to 15 students. The interview in Design Thinking needs to be conducted carefully, taking time to listen. The themes that come from a few deep interviews can provide more understanding of a problem than data from 100s of students.

Personas

The course is not education specific, in fact it is mostly business focussed. However, I have found relevance in most of the sessions. One in particular led me to write this post.

A case study showcased the Design Thinking used by a healthcare start-up who interviewed 20 ‘users’ to define the things that influence their health and well being. From this work the company developed a set of personas to encompass their users, including strategies to help each persona improve their health.

Consider if in schools we used design thinking to get an understanding of the personas of our students in order to develop strategies for each that help them become better learners? Leaders may also consider this for their staff as recruitment becomes tougher it is valuable to know what will keep your staff motivated and happy. These things won’t be the same for everyone!

design-thinking-personas-1
Would this be of use to teachers and staff in your school? 

 

If your school takes an approach like this please do share. I will be using this idea as my reflection assignment for the course.


Further Reading

Have a look into design thinking in education via the Teacher’s Guild.

Other books you may wish to consider are:

  • Designing for Growth: A Design Thinkers Guide for Managers by Jeanne Liedtka and Tim Ogilvie
  • Edupreneur: Unleashing Teacher Led Innovation in Schools by Aaron Tait and Dave Faulkner

 

Enjoy

Ben