Design Thinking,  Educational Technology,  Teaching and Learning

Designer or Design Thinker?

Innovation is when something new is created and implemented that adds value. Inventions happen every day, and every year inventions find their way into our classroom. 

It’s only when an invention adds value that they become an innovation. A lot of times we get caught up in the invention, or the idea. I call this the glitter dust syndrome. 

Ever receive a card with glitter on it? It’s pretty and you’re excited to receive it. But after you read the card and put it out for display, you see it… glitter. It’s everywhere. It’s stuck on your clothes, your skin, your carpet.

It added no value to the card. In fact, sometimes the message of the card gets lost because you’re too busy cleaning up the glitter. If there is no value add, there’s no innovation. Just invention. 

So how do we determine whether something is going to be a value added innovation in our classroom or a case of glitter dust?

Design thinking.

We are all designers. Every lesson plan you write, every bulletin board you create, every assessment you assign, even the outfit you put together for today. But that doesn’t mean you’re a design thinker. Human-centered design requires us to step away from our own needs, our own assumptions, and look at the world through the lens of others. 

Design Your Mask

During my keynote presentation at SDCOE’s Learning and Innovation Summit Saturday, I asked everyone in the room to design a mask that they could wear without holding it. They also had to be able to see through it. One piece of cardstock paper was the only material provided. The timer was set for three minutes.

Just about everyone was able to design a mask and wear it. But then I asked them to trade masks with the person sitting next to them. Quickly, they realized that their mask didn’t quite fit their colleague as well as it fit them. Maybe the eye slits were off, or the way it latched on to their face didn’t quite work. Those who used their glasses to hold it on had to also give their glasses to the colleague, which caused some blurry moments!

Why didn’t the mask fit as nicely on the colleague as it did on the designer? What needed to happen for the mask to fit somebody else?

Innovation in Education

Human-centered design requires us to step away from our own needs, our own assumptions, and look at the world through the lens of others.

When considering innovation in education, it’s important to differentiate between invention and innovation. What is the value add for our students? Is there one? Schools implement adaptive tech programs that promise to increase reading scores. Tables on wheels are placed everywhere. Social-emotional curriculum is purchased. 

But whose face are we designing the mask for when we do so? Are we simply covering our students in glitter dust?

When we recognize that our mask doesn’t fit everyone else like it fits us, we realize how our bias, our experiences, our beliefs, impacts student learning. And we start becoming human-centered designers. 

This is the difference between designers and design thinkers. 

This blog post is adapted from a keynote I gave at SDCOE’s Learning and Innovation Summit Feb 8, 2020.

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