Last Friday after school I had an opportunity to facilitate a 60 minute panel discussion about “design thinking” with Brad Ovenell-Carter (@Braddo) in Vancouver, BC, Canada and Brian Lockwood (@BrianLockwood) in Copenhagen, Denmark for the K12 Online Conference (@k12online). I invite you to not only check out the archived video of the panel discussion, but also John Spencer’s keynote on design thinking which preceded our Google Hangout. Follow John on Twitter @spencerideas. These video links and all others from the 2016-17 K12 Online Conference are available on the conference schedule page. Follow @k12online on Twitter and the conference hashtag #k12onlineconf for updates and to interact with others learning from this year’s presentations. In this post, I’ll share some of my learning points and takeaways from the panel discussion.

Moral Obligations for Meaningful Learning

The most powerful statement from our panel discussion which resonated with me had to do with the kind of relevant projects, learning and work which design thinking can facilitate for students and teachers. I used the website Vibby (@vibby) to create a highlighted segment of the panel video starting at 31:53, when Brad talked about real world problems, “problem finding,” student engagement, and meaningful work. Here’s the summary of the Vibby excerpt, and the actual video clip embedded below. If you watch anything from this hour long panel discussion, watch this!

Students need to be solving REAL problems at school! Design thinking starts with PROBLEM FINDING, and giving students time to solve those problems. People experience suspended civil liberties if they are arrested and when they are at school. This imposes a high moral responsibility on teachers to help students engage in meaningful work!


Great Professional Learning Opportunities Outside of Education

Both Brad and Brian talked about how energized they are by professional learning opportunities outside of “traditional” educational circles. Local MakerFaire events, visiting MakerSpaces, meetups for local app developers and entrepreneurs, and other kinds of technology conferences/events which aren’t specific to education or educational technology were mentioned. Brian recommends attending SXSW in Austin. I am reminded of different meetups I’ve learned about through co-working spaces here in Oklahoma City. We now have at least 3 co-working spaces (CommonwealthThe 404 and The Barn) and at least two hacker/makerspaces (Prototek and Ohmspace) in Oklahoma City. Stephen Bell’s (@stephenjbell) July 2015 post, “Freelancer’s Paradise: Finding the Ideal Home Business Workspace in OKC,” includes links to all of these.

Here’s my challenge to you as well as myself: In the next month, find some time to visit a local co-working space in your community or a neighboring larger city. In addition or alternatively, visit a local makerspace or attend a technology meetup which isn’t education-specific. I haven’t been able to attend regularly in awhile, but I’ve really enjoyed attending our local OKC WordPress Meetup which gathers the last Monday of the month at Oklahoma Christian University. Look beyond education for some engaging professional development opportunities… but also, don’t miss a local EdCamp which may be in your area. Our next EdCampOKC event takes place on Saturday, March 4th at Del City High School!

Embrace a Localized Design Thinking Process

Design thinking means different things to different people and groups. Both Brian and Brad talked about how they have modified formal design thinking steps and processes to fit their needs and contexts. After watching John Spencer’s keynote on design thinking for the K12 Online Conference, I’m eager to read his book (“Launch: Using Design Thinking to Boost Creativity and Bring Out the Maker in Every Student”) and get more familiar with the DT process he and co-author A.J. Juliani (@ajjuliani) recommend and have adapted.

Now that I’ve been exposed a bit more to some design thinking basics, I’m seeing important and practical applications for it in my work as a school director of technology. As we work on teams and committees to discuss digital citizenship, STEM/MakerEd/Coding and Computer Science, as well as digital literacy and technology integration, I see complex situations which cry out for a design thinking approach. I loved the way Brad talked in our panel discussion about the ways we often oversimplify situations and problems, and underestimate their complexity as well as the nuanced approaches we need to constructively address them. I’m planning to not only learn more about design thinking in the weeks and months ahead, but also apply its concepts to some different challenges we face at school which I have an opportunity to help address as a leader.

Walk “the Design Thinking Walk” at School

Both Brian and Brad shared inspiring stories about how students at their schools (currently and in the past) have had opportunities to “live” the design thinking process in the development and construction of classrooms and buildings. What an empowering prospect! When Brian was working in China with John Rinker (@johnrinker) in Nanjing, they opened a new design studio building which wasn’t already filled with furniture. Students had an opportunity to engage in design thinking, including the “question finding” phase, to help brainstorm and recommend the furniture and classroom layouts which were needed for the type of learning environments they wanted to create.  I LOVE this idea. It certainly would take a great deal of courage as well as faith in students, staff, and the design thinking process by administration to support this kind of initiative. Along with David Jakes’ keynote on learning spaces, the K12 Online Conference this year really has me thinking more deeply about potentially reshaping some of our classrooms and collaboration areas at school in innovative ways.

Find Personal Contexts to Apply Design Thinking

I’ve already addressed this final takeaway a bit already: It’s vital to find personal contexts to APPLY these design thinking ideas. Whether you are a classroom teacher, a school administrator, a parent volunteer, or a student, it’s possible to use design thinking principles to better understand and address challenges we encounter. As I hoped they would be as an organizer for the K12 Online Conference, I found both John Spencer’s keynote and this panel discussion on design thinking to be illuminating as well as inspiring. I hope you’ll take some time in upcoming weeks to watch both presentations, and share your learning with others! If you find the ideas in this post helpful, please leave me a comment below or reach out on Twitter @wfryer.

Go forth and use design thinking to make a positive contribution to challenging problems and situations where you live and work!


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