Design Thinking in Education Series

Episode 2 – The Teacher and Design Thinking

In this episode, Min and Nadia talk about the role of the teacher in design thinking and share some advice for teachers who want to start using the design thinking mindset in their classes. In this article, you will discover more about how design thinking fits with the concept of the growth mindset and I dive into research on how to facilitate different aspects of design thinking.

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Growth mindset

A growth mindset is the belief that your abilities are in constant development; your intellectual ability is not something that is set in stone. You have probably known students who said something like “I’m just not good at statistics”, this is an example of a fixed mindset. In her famous study, Carol Dweck found that students learning math who had the belief that they were not yet able to solve complex problems ended up achieving more progress than students who had the belief that they were not able to solve these problems.

Why design thinking is such a powerful way to teach a growth mindset is summed up in a quote by Carol Dweck:

“A growth mindset isn’t just about effort. Perhaps the most common misconception is simply equating the growth mindset with effort. Certainly, effort is key for students’ achievement, but it’s not the only thing. Students need to try new strategies and seek input from others when they’re stuck. They need this repertoire of approaches—not just sheer effort—to learn and improve.” (2015)

This concept of trying new strategies and seeking input from others is what is constantly happening during the design process. Students are encouraged to ‘fail fast’ by testing their ideas and iterating their solutions based on the feedback they receive.

A growth mindset can be trained but not by focusing on training growth mindset but by projects that teach students to pursue their goals even after things get challenging or they get stuck.

Facilitating design thinking

In teaching a course with design thinking you will train your own growth mindset. Facilitating design thinking is a skill that is different to transferring knowledge to students. There is no one right way of doing this and what is needed to move forward depends on the group and where they are in the process. This brings with it a certain kind of uncertainty and tension of the teacher/facilitator.

Henriksen et al. (2020) studied their design thinking facilitation skills through self-reflection using a survey and recordings of their planning meetings. They argue that facilitating design thinking elicits a certain essential tension. Essential tension is a concept introduced by Thomas Kuhn (1972) and can be explained as “the competing, necessary, and vital tensions that occur within scientific paradigms”. This essential tension is inherent to the design thinking process which asks facilitators to balance different needs in every phase.

The authors argue that the skills of facilitating this tension is key for groups to be able to persevere in the design process and come up with innovative solution. Facilitators bring knowledge of design thinking to the problem that the groups are trying to tackle and make sure it is used in a productive way that leads to a tangible outcome.

The authors look at four aspects of facilitation. The design process, the design artefact, discussion flow and group dynamics and interaction for each they describe the role and what they observed as effective facilitation strategies.

In the design process the role of the facilitators is to balance between guiding people back to the problem and to make sure the group keeps an open mind towards more solutions. Most important was the fact that there is no one solution on how to guide the process. Being able to recognise the tension between different goals and adapting your facilitation style to the current situation prepares teachers to lead the process in a constructive way.

Design artefacts concern the outcomes or focus of each phase; the role of the facilitator is to guide groups toward these outcomes without disrupting the flow of conversation too much. When groups lose focus, asking question to help groups realise this was considered a useful strategy.

Group dynamics and interaction was considered something the facilitators can learn through self-reflection. The importance of noticing tensions in once own behaviour and managing that was seen as an important intervention for guide the group dynamics and interaction.

To conclude, the role of the facilitator is described as “to support participants in addressing complex problems by guiding the process of design thinking both in tasks and discussions.”

Reflect on your own teaching

Another practical tip you can take away is that through the process of reflection facilitators can learn to navigate the tensions that arise in each phase. Reflection can take place before a sessions by asking yourself the question “what strengths can I use in the process ahead of me?; What am I anxious about and how might I deal with this during the session?”. After a sessions questions such as “What was a moment of success during this session?; What do I feel I am lacking and what are ways to train myself in this?”.

What strengths can I use in the process ahead of me?

  • What am I anxious about and how might I deal with this during the session?

After a class ask yourself questions such as:

  • What was a moment of success during this session?
  • What do I feel I am lacking and what are ways to train myself in this?”

Resources

  • Carol Dweck Revisits the ‘Growth Mindset’  
  • Essential Tensions in Facilitating Design Thinking: Collective Reflections. 
  • Henriksen, D., Jordan, M., Foulger, T. et al. Essential Tensions in Facilitating Design Thinking: Collective Reflections. J Form Des Learn 4, 5–16 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s41686-020-00045-3 

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Share your experiences

Are you experimenting with design thinking and do you want to share your story? Do you want to start experimenting and need help getting started? 

Please contact d.bosch@sea.leidenuniv.nl