Exploring Design Thinking in Education

Moien! My name’s Bianca, counselor-in-training and writer from Turin, an elegant town tucked near the Alps. One of the words that describes me better is curious, thus I want to start this introduction with a curiosity.

Do you know what’s the most viewed talk on TED? The winner out of more than 2900 videos? It’s a 20-minute talk, recorded in 2006, by Sir Ken Robinson. And it starts with a question.

“Do schools kill creativity?”

We learn, therefore we are

What’s interesting to me is that this video was made in 2006, and yet people still watch it today. Judging from its over 54 million views, it looks like Sir Robinson is right – everybody has an interest in education. Why shouldn’t we? Not only most of us have been at school at a certain point of their life, but the core of education, the act of learning, has been part of human life since its beginnings.

Our oldest myths, for example, are full of mentors. Of people who know the ways of the world and how to guide the young heroes, so that they may learn them as well. But our body too is always learning, with neurons making and reinforcing new connections, setting the old ones aside, observing, categorizing and storing every experience, every detail of our life. School is just one of the many places where we do this, only it is one of the few expressely built to deepend and widen our possibilities.

So we learn, we discover, we innovate. We make the world more complex. And we have to learn agin, and more than before, so to discover and innovate even more.

The potential in uncertainty

Now the world has reached a level of complexity that we could have never imagined. It is fascinating. It is scary. Complexity means uncertainty, and when we are uncertain, we want to understand more because understanding means we have the tools to transform what before was out of our control. All those views suggest one thing, and that is that we’ve already learnt something.

We’ve learnt that the complexity we deal with at school does not correspond to the complexity we deal with in our everyday life. There’s a gap. And now we are trying to understand this gap, explore it a bit more to see how and why it’s there, and then to find the tools to build something out of that gap.

When I sent an email to Art Square asking if I could volunteer with them, I had seen this same process happening again and again with people. When there’s a gap, an empty space in your life, it’s normal to be afraid; but in those gaps lies the potential for change and wellbeing in there. What I saw in design thinking was that same potential.

quote "replace fear of the unknown with curiosity"

Design thinking in schools

What I want to discover is what students need to learn today to tacke our complexity and uncertainty, and understand how design thinking, as a process, a tool, a mindset, can help them make this complexity their own. Specifically, my goal is to understand how design thinking can support the development of so-called “future skills.”

We’ve already heard about them – critical and creative thinking, empathy, problem solving, but also sense making, cross cultural competency, transdisciplinarity, media literacy… Why people should have these skills is widely recognized today. Employers, teachers, young people themselves know that they will be fundamental for the careers of tomorrow. But it’s the how – the learning paths to achieve them – that’s missing right now. Design thinking, with its human-centered approach, its iterative and collaborative process and holistic outlook on the real, concrete world, could be one of them.

What if design thinking became a core element of the students’ life?

How would it positively impact their careers?

How would it change our idea of what education should be?

These are the questions I’m seeking answers for.

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