Grover from Sesame Street
Design Thinking,  Personalization of Learning

There’s a Fly in My Soup!

How many times have you found yourself trying over and over again to explain a problem, only to have the other person jump to solutions without quite hearing you? Reminds me of this Sesame Street routine.

What I love about Design Thinking is that the focus on empathy requires the designer to truly listen, observe, and immerse oneself into the problem through the lens of the user, and not the lens of the designer. It requires us to hear about the issue with the fly in the soup.

This hit home for me Saturday at #DesignCamp. I attended Ellen Deutscher’s (@Lndeutsch) “Nurturing Design Thinking Mindsets through Play and Improv” session. I told her I was attending because improv gives me anxiety and I needed to step outside my comfort zone.

Ellen is a wizard at leading people through collaborative experiences that build active listening and risk taking so I knew I was in good hands. At one point, after an activity, she asked if anyone wanted to share how that experience made them feel. She said, “Be mindful of your process. If you don’t like it, why force your students?”

How can a concept so seemingly simple not actually be so? Why do we, as educators, keep forcing processes on students that would make us cringe? Timed tests, novel selection by Lexile level, five-paragraph essays…

Perhaps it has to do with the fact that education tends to search for the middle ground, the average, and solve accordingly. Instead of being mindful of what makes us unique, it’s easier to solve for the middle.

The Air Force learned the flaw in this approach when they discovered that their cockpit, designed based on average measurements of hundreds of pilots, actually fit none of their pilots, resulting in many crashes … on one particularly rough day, 17 plane crashes!

Average doesn’t work in cockpits, and it doesn’t work in education. Randy Scherer (@RandellScherer) reiterated this in his “Design for Extreme Users” session. Randy explains how extreme users (or “radical people!”) lead us to “deep insights about why our designs sort-of, kind-of work.” When we set aside the concept of average, we can make a huge difference in the lives of students.

When we set aside the concept of average, we can be mindful of our processes. We can design education not for the average, but for every user. And when we do that, then we can truly take care of the fly in the soup.

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