Please: UX my school!

Have you ever heard of Tim Brown?

I hadn’t either, until I came across a TedTalk he did called Designers Think Big. That motivated me to scoot over to Amazon and purchase his book Change By Design: How Design Thinking Transforms Organizations and Inspires Innovation (Harper Business, NY, 2019).

It was a stimulating read to say the least. It got me thinking: how does this apply to teachers, students, and the learning context?  

Here are some of my thoughts.

Design thinking = Process > Product

One of the items Tim Brown talks about is how design as an activity as evolved into design thinking. He describes the exploratory nature of the process as a team of multi-disciplinary experts work through the inspiration, ideation and implementation stages of a project.

I like that because often as teachers we tend to look for results, for marks. We want those key indicators to inform us on a student’s success or failure. Yet which is more important in the long run: that the student is learning or that student has met a pre-established set of learning targets?

What if the learning targets were more like: can use multimedia tools effectively to produce a presentation of a topic of personal interest? Or can navigate the complexity of expressing and adapting views in the face of opposition during a dialogue with a classmate? Can evaluate the validity and accuracy of web-based sources of information?

In other words, what if the classroom was more like a laboratory than an assembly-line, and the report card was a graphic illustration of the trail the student has blazed over the course of time, as opposed to a statement resembling a balance sheet of debit and credit?  

Predictability  ->­­­  Boredom -> Loss of Talented People

Non-linear. Chaotic. Disruption.

These are words Brown uses to describe the design thinking approach. An approach where the team will fail early and succeed sooner, gain powerful insights that will cause them to rethink their initial ideas and loop back to continue more effectively. The results will still follow, but they may take a different form from the one initially envisaged.

This is a stimulating challenge for teachers who dare wander off the program path and brainstorm with the students, thereby inviting them into the process of carefully crafting a project, and then allowing the students to experience “the serendipity, unpredictability and capricious whims of fate”1 as they carry out the assignment.    

Chaotic, yes! But boring, definitely not! There is just nothing like that incredibly rewarding boost when a teacher suddenly notices the sparkle in the eyes of the students, the buzz of animated discussion, the lively gesturing and the palpable vibe of co-active learning.

The sighs and groans when the bell rings are just the confirmation that they are in flow and motivated to learn.  

Perhaps design thinking is the solution to eradicating ‘failures’ and ‘high school dropouts’?

Empathy = tune in + connect -> latent needs of audience

Brown defines empathy as the “effort to see the world through the eyes of others, understand the world through their experiences, and feel the world through their emotions.”2

Just as corporations deploy experts to study consumer wants and needs, expressed and more importantly, unexpressed, so as teachers we need to take the time to walk a mile in our students’ shoes.

Empathy […] the effort to see the world through the eyes of others, understand the world through their experiences, and feel the world through their emotions.

(Tim Brown)

I guess that’s why I used to love yard duty so much! There’s so much to glean from observing kids creating gourmet kitchens in snowforts and contemplating the behaviour of insects at recess time. Lessons on the importance of the little things, curiosity, awe, wonder, preoccupations, feelings… I always felt an extra jolt of energy when we burst back into the classroom. There’s a certain feeling of connection and understanding to the world at large that occurs during those twenty minutes when we are given the opportunity to see the world the way the student does.

Sitting the students in front of a video, clicking through another PowerPoint or distributing handouts mindlessly just doesn’t cut it anymore. These students are alive, ideas, feelings and questions are swarming their minds and they deserve an optimal UX (user experience).  No wonder teaching is exhausting! But all the more so, if students aren’t involved in the lesson design process and the administration isn’t supportive of disruptive learning environments that may spill over into other class spaces or times!

Alice in Wonderland. That’s how I see the ideal school environment. A place where kids love to go and explore, dream, discover and co-create with teachers who are more like coaches and facilitators and learning is not bound to programs, bells and percentages.

I leave you to ponder the concept of design thinking an Alice-in-Wonderland School into existence with these famous quotes from Lewis Carroll:

  • Curious and curiouser!
  • Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.
  • We’re all mad here.
  • “And what is the use of a book”, thought Alice, “without pictures or conversation?”
  • You’re entirely bonkers – but I’ll tell you a secret: all the best people are.

And my favorite of all:

  • Alice: This is impossible. The Mad Hatter: Only if you believe it.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it. It gets me dreaming! Let me know how it resonates with you!

Keep learning! – Claire :O)

[Photo credit: Himanshu Singh Gurjar/Unsplash]

[1 p. 29; 2 p. 56]

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