Iterate to Innovate: Design Thinking in hybrid classrooms

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The COVID19 pandemic has ushered a paradigm shift in pedagogy and technology; educators need to change strategies to cope with the demands of this paradigm shift. Unlocking this paradigm shift will compel educators across the world to reevaluate curriculum design to cater to a world where problem-solving and critical reasoning will be highly required skills. Pedagogy has to equip students with divergent thinking, out of box thinking and in contemporary terminology- design thinking (DT). 

The future is closer than expected; schools around the world are now struggling with this change or paradigm shift. The solution is to learn and teach a strategy that will equip students with problem-solving strategies-design thinking. DT will help teachers to create tasks that require students to think critically and creatively to solve problems by following the design thinking framework.  Another significant reason for teaching design thinking strategies is to meet the global skills deficit and to adapt to the dynamic needs of an ever-changing and dynamic world. A small change in pedagogy can be the key to future preparedness.

The five stages of the design thinking framework are; Empathise, Define, Ideate, Prototype, Test. The whole process engages the participant in looking for solutions. The DT framework is human-centric approach with strong focus on empathetic study of the problem. It is a very hands-on approach to problem solving. Here are a few ways it can be adapted to pedagogy.

Empathise: The very foundation of the DT framework is built on empathy; empathy towards the students needs. In a hybrid classroom, this is where a teacher has to understand the students online, their needs, their preferences and their personalities. Teachers have to be open-minded and willing to get insights from students that illustrate their needs. Some strategies for practising this human-centric approach are via informal Q&As with students and asking open-ended questions. Remember DT compels the design thinker (teacher) to listen and not to judge. This is a stage for the teacher or the design thinker to frame design questions to understand the students and their needs.

Define: After understanding the hurdles and challenges of the students in a hybrid classroom the next stage is to define the problem. But the major difference in the DT approach is to define the problem in terms of the students. The design thinker, in this case, the teacher, must synthesise all insights to frame a solution-oriented question, for example, ‘How can we…?’ One strategy for defining the problem is through structuring insights to create a problem statement.

Ideate: In this stage, the teacher needs to brainstorm tools and strategies with students to generate ideas stimulated by the challenge or problem. Some strategies to brainstorm solutions are 30-circle exercises, word ball, mind mapping, sketching, storyboarding, worst possible idea, etc. Encourage students to think divergently, any solution is a step towards solving the problem, even solutions that don’t make sense are important in the process of design thinking. Collaborate, collate, and eliminate to come up with the best solution to answer the ‘How can we…’ question.

Prototype: From identifying the potential problem it’s time to identify the best possible solution. Prototyping helps to create a new and better version of the solution. The teacher can experiment with the new strategy or solution at this stage to observe students’ responses to the new solution. Remember to keep it simple and allow iterations to come up with an innovative solution. 

Test: The most decisive phase where the teacher puts the solution in action and gets feedback from students to get a better outcome for all. This stage decides the future application of the solution. The teacher tests the new solution/idea and goes live with it, the students complete the action stage and give feedback to the teacher, which is used to inform the different stages of the design thinking framework. This iterative process starts at the end of the testing phase, hence it is necessary to ‘iterate to innovate’.

Design thinking is a dynamic, human-centric, collaborative and iterative process of finding solutions to the most impossible problems. Teachers need to try it, especially considering the new set of challenges being thrown at them in a hybrid classroom. An example is the problem of summative assessments, where students are in all different parts of the world in different time zones and teachers need to ascertain that the work is academically sound and permissible. In this case, a simple solution is to design assessments that do not require students to do a paper-pencil test, an online oral exam is a possible solution that has worked for me. This solution was brainstormed with students in the hybrid classroom environment and they suggested this to be the best approach to avoid plagiarism or academic malpractice. I am in the testing phase, based on the success of this solution I will make changes to this mini-DT approach to assessments in a hybrid classroom. I encourage you to join this iterative process to innovate solutions to problems in your milieu. 

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