Design Thinking in Higher Education: How Students become Dedicated Creative Problem Solvers

Design Thinking in Higher Education: How Students become Dedicated Creative Problem Solvers

Julia von Thienen, Adam Royalty, Christoph Meinel
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-0643-0.ch014
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This chapter introduces design thinking as an educational approach to enhance creative problem-solving skills. It is a problem-based learning paradigm that builds on three pillars: A creative problem solving process, creative work-spaces and collaboration in multi-perspective teams. This chapter discusses central elements of design thinking education and contrasts the approach to conventional education as well as other problem-based learning paradigms. In particular, design thinking classes harness a unique “look and feel” and “verve” to help students acquire and experience creative mastery. Furthermore, the chapter overviews empirical studies on design thinking education. Four studies are described in more detail: Experiments on the three pillars of design thinking and one case study where a university class curriculum has been changed to a design thinking paradigm. Finally, the chapter provides resources for readers who want to learn more about design thinking education.
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Fundamentals Of Design Thinking Education

Design thinking is an example of what the community calls “problem-based learning” (Barrows, 1996; Carleton & Leifer, 2009; Schmidt, 1983). Students work in teams on open-ended problems. They decide quite autonomously how to move their projects forwards. Formal lectures are rare and short. Teachers do not claim “authority of knowledge” (Zhou & Valero, 2016, p. 134). Rather, they act as facilitators.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Wicked Problem (in Design Thinking): A problem based on unsatisfied needs. Solutions can be better-or-worse, not right-or-wrong. Typically, creative solutions to wicked problems depend on creative problem views.

Comfort Zone: The behaviours, feelings and solutions someone is familiar with. Since creative solutions often entail the exploration of something new and unfamiliar, interventions to “abandon comfort zones” can support the development of creative problem-solving skills.

Creative Problem View: A problem view is creative when it is unusual and useful.

Problem Space: The range of possibilities how to frame a wicked problem. In particular, the problem space can cover multiple (a) persons/stakeholders, (b) needs and (c) reasons why a major need is unsatisfied at present.

Design Thinking Process: A process of creative problem solving. The process exists in many different versions, such as “Express – Test – Cycle”, “What Is – What If – What Wow’s – What Works” or “Empathize – Define View – Ideate – Test Prototypes – Bring Home”.

Creative Mastery: The ability to develop creative problem views and creative solutions.

Creative Verve: A psychological state characterized by a high level of energy, positive emotions towards a subject of interest (excitement, curiosity, amazement), the experience of passion next to a mindset of openness to different viewpoints and new experiences, creative confidence and readiness to persevere.

Look and Feel of Classes: Cues in education (room setup, appearance and behaviour of teachers and fellow-students) that suggest a specific scenario (e.g., more or less hierarchical), including roles, motives and emotions of stakeholders (e.g., fearful students that shall demonstrate literacy or excited students who want to showcase creative solutions).

Creative Solution: The solution to a problem is creative when it is unusual and useful.

Solution Space: The range of possibilities how to solve a wicked problem that is already framed in a specific way. I.e., it is clear what need of what person(s) shall be addressed.

Design Thinking: A work culture where multi-perspective teams seek and solve wicked problems or design challenges by applying a creative problem solving process and using adaptable work spaces.

Design Thinking Verve: The work atmosphere aspired in design thinking education. People partake in design thinking verve when they are excited about their projects, use a high pace of work, readily abandon comfort zones, experiment and learn from failures, lean trustfully into the process, regularly experience and share amazement. Verve is an essential element of design thinking. Many interventions focus on the development of verve.

Design Thinking Mindset: The design thinking mottos (focus on human values, bias to action, radical collaboration…) have become manifest in personal beliefs, values, skills and behaviour inclinations.

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