Design Thinking 2.0 – Interview with a consultant?

We have had some very successful workshops in the first week of working with the second year students from Werklund School of Education.  We had both elementary and secondary classes working through the famous “Three Little Pigs” design thinking scenario with mixed results although most students came up with a convincing pitch to share with the class.  From the “Cattlepult” to a “wonderful community where pigs and wolves live in harmony,” pitches for a “solution” to the pigs versus wolves problem abound.

Our final workshop on Friday afternoon offered us the least number of comments in the definition phase.  We couldn’t cluster ideas or look for outliers.  We were left with very few ideas to talk about or work through to a solution stage.  Perhaps, students weren’t engaged enough to give back any evidence collected in the empathy phase but it was difficult to maintain any momentum through ideation, prototyping and the testing loop.

So here is the change we made to help with the definition stage.  We backed up to the Empathy phase and instead of having pigs and wolves empathize with each other, we introduced two “consultants” into each group to ask questions and gather information from wolves or pigs.  Each consultant was provided with a package of documentation containing some basic information about the pigs and the wolves that could prompt some entry points to begin to gather information.

This morning we worked through a class incorporating this change.  We did get many more ideas to write up on the board for our definition stage and some great statements to anchor the ideation and prototypes.  And, we gathered statements from each one of the four groups.  We will try this approach again on Tuesday.

The ironic feedback we received on just one form was “…if the student switch roles. …can have a better understanding of different roles.”

We will work with the consultant model for now but we will keep an open mind depending on more feedback that will come with future workshops.



Virtual Reality and Empathy

A recent article in The Star entitled, “Virtual reality project takes student through time at black orphanage in Nova Scotia,”  begins to open up the connection between students and history in a whole new way.  Imagine donning a pair of VR goggles and visiting the inside of the black orphanage while listening to the first person memories of adults who were there as children.  This experience will be piloted in four Grade 11 classes in Nova Scotia this fall with the help of Oculus Rift headsets. A few safeguards will be put in place like advance warnings that the content is graphic and may be disturbing to some students.  The authentic voice given to the reconstruction of this time and place will be a valuable tool in the deep learning of these students.


In a similar vein, students can use Google Maps to visit Vimy Ridge  using 2D technology or VR.  And Google Expeditions  makes many more global locations a click away for many classrooms.

The Herchinger Report weighed in on the subject of virtual reality with a column entitled, “Can Virtual Reality Teach Empathy?”  And the conclusion of the column was “yes” virtual reality can help students develop empathy and self efficacy when they “experience” various VR scenarios.  The New York Times 360 virtual reality series focuses on the refugee experience in various hot spots throughout the world.  Students become more empathetic to these refugees through a VR lens.  Imagine the learning that is possible as students virtually visit many scenarios that, until now, have seemed a half a planet away.

As learning to solve problems through Design Thinking become more workable in the K-12 environment, VR meets the needs of many students to allow them to experience real empathy for many situations.


Design Thinking – First Feedback

Contributor: Tammy Flanders

I’m only going to take up three points that came from the student’s feedback in today’s workshops.

1.A few of their points, we felt came from not meeting their expectations. Even though we set up the introduction to outline our objectives and how we meant to achieve them students felt that we had come up short.

For example, they wanted to see specific examples of design thinking in a physics, math and English classroom. Someone else wanted to know “Why design thinking?”. Finally, more students wanted to be even more involved in some of the activities.

Let me elaborate.

As an introduction workshop, Paula and I did not consider presenting specifics about integrating design thinking in content areas. Or why design thinking was a focus within this particular course. These questions would be better addressed in their regular class and will likely become clearer as they engage in the process when doing their assignments.

So, how to better to meet student expectations? A stronger introduction stating what we will and will not cover, recommend the Design Thinking library guide for examples of different teaching situations, and following up with their instructors.

  1. The comments about having the students doing more of the work were excellent points. Having students write their own post-it notes as they generated ideas, questions, problems related to immigrants/refugees instead of Paula and I doing this work, we agree would be better. Or having students rework their ideas created during the ideation component would also be fantastic and reflects a more realistic process. Design thinking is about revisiting your work over and over again.

But TIME was our major factor here. Eighty minutes isn’t very much time when working through this.

The rationale for doing this the way we have was strictly done as a consideration of time. Based on Paula’s experiences teaching other workshops having participants generate ideas in this way or revisiting and reworking their ideas, requires a considerable amount of time.  Having experienced this, myself at conferences, being pushed through this process in a couple of minutes is frustrating and sometimes results in confusion.


The questions then are:

What other sections can be significantly shortened or removed from the workshop?

If one section is given more time than the others, will this make the other components weaker?

What else can we come up with to overcome time constraints yet still give a meaningful workshop?

How much tighter can we make the introduction (i.e. talk less about the process we’ve undertaken in designing the workshop) before there isn’t enough information there for students to get any real meaning?

For the moment, we’re sticking with our format but will consider if there are other ways of doing this.

  1. Another point that a few students brought to our attention was the ’inauthenticity’ of the scenario we had them work through. As Paula has described above our scenario was based on immigrants and refugees settling into a country different from their own and how to go about meeting their needs in terms of employment, accommodation, food and finding community. We thought by using the two books to give them the mindset of a new arrival and talking about what they knew about Syrian refugees, or other situations based on their own experiences that would be enough for them to take on the role of either an immigrant or a social worker. By interviewing each other as a way to derive more information about the problems associated with a new arrival, we thought we had addressed empathy in an interesting way, a technique that could be used in their own classrooms, perhaps.

However, some participants felt this was a difficult undertaking and were not comfortable being an immigrant or refugee in case they misrepresented or based their representation on stereotypes.

Paula and I are not convinced that this is a real problem (at this point, at any rate). It may not be entirely authentic, granted, but taking up roles is a way to learn about what our biases are, what other kinds of information we need to learn about to really understand the situation and problems that come with living in a new country. This only highlights the importance of empathy for us. In the real world, you would of course go beyond an interview and research data from multiple sources.

What this really speaks to, in terms of our own teaching is the challenge of task design. To read more about designing task please visit a couple of other posts Paula has written, one from October 19th, 2015 and October 27th, 2015.

Stay tune, folks.   We are making changes to the workshop as we go and we’re so much through this process. Hopefully, you will too.



Design Thinking – Iteration #1 and 2

And so we began, first thing this morning, to introduce 2nd year Werklund Education Students to the Design Thinking process using the prototype of our own workshop to show them, through a humanities based task, to incorporate empathy, definition and ideation (and not present but also discussed, prototyping and testing) into their teaching.

We began with our objectives and what the workshop meant to us.  We showed the video from 1996 (some students mentioned how old it was) from Nightline that showed the whole process in the IDEO studio to design a shopping cart that is safer and easier to use.

During the second workshop, we felt that a tight summary of what went on in the video would be a good idea.  Examples were given from the video for empathy, definition and ideation.  The summary tied it together for students to give vocabulary to the vignettes they saw in the news story.

Again, we walked students through our experience, having conversations to create the empathy piece in our workshop and showed our thinking process through the definition stage.  We have all of the outlines we used as the evidence of the ideation process but did not present them in either workshop.

We, then, moved to student work.  Tammy presented the story of Home and Away by John Marsden and Matt Ottley while I showed the pictures from the book using the document camera. This picture book powerfully records the experience of an ordinary family, forced by war in their country, to become refugees.  In the interest of time, we chose this book for the secondary level pre-service teachers because of its impact and message.

Prepared packages of images from The Arrival by Shaun Tan, featured immigrant experiences captured in his graphic novel of finding food, shelter, employment and community in a new country.  In the second workshop, we removed the general immigrant experience images from the package and just left the specific subject area images.

Students used these images along with their own personal reading and watching of social media to form an impression of the immigrant experience in a new country.  Table groups were asked to brainstorm ideas about this immigrant experience within the context of the four areas mentioned above.

In order to experience empathy with the scenario at hand, students were divided into groups of two, where one student took on the role of the immigrant and the other was an aid worker.  We made some assumptions for this activity like that all immigrants could speak English, that you use all the general information you know about this issue to facilitate your understanding and that money is not an object.  Once the interviews took place, we asked students to tell us the identity they had assumed and the ideas that had come from their interviews.

Once we had recorded this information on post-it notes, we looked for patterns and clustered like ideas. From here, students were asked to ideate, picking a problem they wished to focus on and to start to write these ideas on a big sheet of paper with markers.  They were asked to draw or capture an idea that may be an outcome or a solution to their problem.


We had some interesting ideas from an all-in-one living and services building to people who would take public transportation with the new immigrant to places to get familiar food for them.

After a quick review of the process they had just experienced, we returned to the discussion of our “workshop as prototype” and asked for written feedback from them about whether or not we had reached our objectives.

Students, overall, felt they had a better understanding of the process and especially the three points we covered in the task:  empathy, definition and ideation.  We will address several of the comments over the next several blog posts and reflections.

For us, the number one factor in the design of a new workshop was addressing the limited amount of time most workshops allow for processing all of the Design Thinking process.  Most of the initial feedback we have received mentioned that the time allotted was suitable.  More comments came in about task design and the practical application of Design Thinking especially in the secondary classroom.  We will address more of these concerns in following blogposts.

Design Thinking Workshop Prototype

And this is the last peaceful moment we will enjoy at the Doucette for some 5 weeks.  Beginning on Monday, what seems like the sprint to the finish for 2nd year Werklund pre-service teachers will begin with the shot of a starting pistol (only figuratively) and continue at a break neck speed until February 14th.

Not that we, here at the Doucette, have been quiet.  Quite the opposite.  We have been developing a workshop for those same 2nd year students as they test the process of Design Thinking within their grade level and specialty teaching areas.  In order to end with a bang that we are metaphorically beginning with, a Maker Faire will be held here to showcase all of the prototypes of their learning on that final day, February 14.

Back to the workshop.  My partner in teaching, Tammy and I have been generally frustrated by each Design Thinking Workshop we have attended.  We began to visualize what the perfect workshop would look like in order to savour the language and process of Design Thinking.  During the brainstorm of our successes and disappointments, the number one reason for most of our frustrations was TIME.

In infomercial style, many workshops offered complete Design Thinking Training in 30 minutes or less.  And in order to experience Design Thinking, we bought into these workshops to soak up the process we had been reading so much about.   Let’s face it, spending two minutes to empathize with a real world problem is not enough.  Coming up with ideas to alleviate said problem with a 5 minute deadline is dreadful.

Developing our own workshop using the Design Thinking process embedded us in the steps to create a great learning experience for our students.  We decided, (listen carefully), to develop the workshop using the Design Thinking process making the workshop our prototype and having students test and give us feedback.  With me?  Okay, then we developed two humanities based scenarios to work with students through the first three defined steps of Design Thinking: Empathy, Definition and Ideation.

And so we begin the journey of walking 300+ students through the Design Thinking process using our workshop as prototype.  Beginning Monday, I will try to blog at the end of each day to let you know our successes and inspirations to change for new iterations. Notice how the word failure does not appear in this blogpost.  “Inspirations to change for new iterations” is the new failure where failure is, clearly, not an option.

Hang on, it is going to be a bumpy ride!



Design Thinking and the Undergraduate Student

The beginning of January is the harbinger of another whirlwind term for our second year undergraduate education students.

The coursework for much of their time centers on design thinking and working through the process to successfully complete a task based on the tenants.  Many instructors call on us, Tammy Flanders and I, to walk their students through our “Introduction to Design Thinking” workshop.  There is one problem – time.

The perennial problem with every design thinking workshop we have ever been to is time.  Not enough time.  In working through the five steps of the design thinking process:

  1. Empathize
  2. Define
  3. Ideate
  4. Prototype
  5. Test and Re-Test

students are expected to work through an authentic task to develop their knowledge of the process.

If we do our workshop and help them to learn the Stanford-inspired language for Design Thinking and how we have worked through each individual step, then we are forcing the experience and requiring creative solutions on the spot.

In our most perfect world, our Design Thinking workshop would take place over days, in which students would have time to empathize with the end user of their prototypes.  They would have time to define the task at hand, mull it over and return to further define the task.  Upon further contemplation, various parts of the solution would occur to each group and there would be time for them to consider each aspect of each solution.  Prototyping would come quickly with on-the-spot feedback and testing and re-testing would prove to be a valuable learning experience.

In this current framework, we touch on the deeper thinking nature of the first three steps and hope the prototyping and testing will take care of itself.  We hope that this rapid introduction to the steps and process of design thinking leave them wanting more through the Doucette’s Research Guide.

And so we spread the word about Design Thinking and the authentic learning prototype it can bring to each classroom but we struggle to give it the time it needs to fully be explored.

Explaining Empathy

In the process that is Design Thinking, students are asked, initially, to empathize with the problem at hand.  Articulate the problem.  Look at it from different angles. Gain new perspective on the problem.

Empathy is not an easy point of view to take on so, while reading the news the other day, I found an example that really stands out for me.  It so happens that my first cousin is CEO of the Ottawa Hospital and in his position feels that he is responsible to oversee 21st century medical care for those patients and families who are served by the Ottawa Hospital service.  Jack is also married to an amazing cook!  This information will be important soon.  In the Ottawa Citizen article dated July 17, 2016, the managers and CEO of the hospital announced sweeping changes to the food served.  “Interesting,” you may say, “What would prompt these changes?”


Top level managers including Jack, were given hospital food to live on for a week.  Talk about empathy.  Imagine the distress when you are regulated to eat at 8am, noon and 5pm with no snacks or other treats.  And the food is …less than palatable.  Eggs were referred to by one patient as “a yellow puck of sadness.”  Here, managers experienced exactly what patients see, smell and taste at the hospital.  Now that’s empathy.

No amount of statistical analysis of product vs. waste or photos of suggested meals would have had the same effect that this 5-day experiment had on the outcome.

In many design thinking challenges, students must put themselves in the shoes of the person experiencing the problem to really empathize with the situation at hand.  Tasks that are authentic problems encountered by students are the best fodder for each step in the design thinking process. Students who are close to the problem and can “get in touch” with the experience will have a deeper learning outcome in each phase of the design thinking process.



Practicing Design Thinking

Masters and PhD education students are on campus for the next week.  Today they are celebrating the completion of their first week of classes.  In addition to these compact classes, the library tries to offer some PD for them.  This year’s PD is in the form of a three-lunch- hour workshop entitled Think.Design.Make.  Based on the Design Thinking Process and hoping to (in a hurried way) help educators work through an authentic process.

Day 1 – Empathize. Define. Cluster Ideas. Begin to ideate.  Okay that is in one hour with introductions.  Yikes.  As is all workshops, time is a friend and an enemy.  Here’s what we found.

  • Bringing your own problem to solve it much better than working from one chosen from the hat.
  • Empathy is really hard work and it can take more than an hour to empathize with your problem.
  • Working in a group to collaborate and share ideas allows the process to move more quickly and tasks to be done more thoroughly.
  • Sometimes Design Thinking is not a linear process.  Empathy. Define. Clustering of Ideas. And Ideating sometimes happen in a different order or all at one time.


Day 2 – We began with the IDEO news story showing the group going through the Design Thinking process to re-invent the shopping cart.

  • We should have shown this on the first day – many people could see the process happening and could relate to the steps.
  • For those who were unfamiliar with the process the video showed the actions associated with the particular vocabulary used in design thinking.

Then participants were asked to re-think their problem and use the information they now knew to change or continue to work on their problem.  Unfortunately, this is where the hard work begins so we had one student who tenaciously pursued his problem but others bailed.

Fortunately, we had a special guest who brought a 3D printer.  Many people talked with him about the benefits of having one at their own school so the time was not wasted.

Workshops are tricky things.  Time, in this case, was our enemy.  We needed to meet people where they were in the process and invest some time with them.  Participants were in the middle of an 8 hour class and this 50 or so minutes was, in essence, their only time “off” during the day.

On the positive side, many of the people who attended tried various kits and were mostly attentive to the process.  Many will take away more of a lesson on Making and Maker Spaces.  That’s okay. It is also time well spent.

Day 3 – ????? Remains to be seen.  Catch up next week with what happens.  I think it will be a big conversation about designing and making in various different school settings but then again, I could be wrong.  My workshop spidey sense is not working at all.

P.S. Later on Day 2, I was invited to a very successful presentation about Maker Spaces by 4 Doctor of Education students.  Their presentation, “Building Knowledge: Maker Spaces” made my heart sing.  These professionals are invested in having educational spaces and content that speaks to every student.  Great job.

IDEO Method Cards


The people of IDEO are determined to have us understand and incorporate Design Thinking into our schools and classrooms.  Although many books and articles are available describing the process, sometimes you need to experience the various steps of Design Thinking.

Empathy is a great Design Thinking step to work through with students or with your school staff to introduce the concept.  The kit contains 51 IDEO Method Cards and is divided into the categories: Learn, Look, Ask and Try. Each card has a somewhat outdated photograph on the front of it.  It looks like IDEO asked people to contribute photos from whatever was on their computer and then, without adding anything at the deadline, matched what they could to the writing on the backside of the card.  Finding a connection between the photo on the front and the writing on the back is a whole other lesson.

That criticism aside, the cards themselves challenge groups to Learn, Look, Ask and Try to create empathy about a real or practice problem.

For example, Learn contains a card that challenges the group to formulate Character Profiles.  Watch real people and develop archetypes based on their behavior.  What is the outcome of this exercise? You can look at your group of archetypes and see who would be your target customer or consumer of the prototype you are developing.

In the pile of Look cards, you are encouraged to do just that – look.  Join with your group to be a small group of flies on the wall.  Observe and record people’s behavior.  You are getting a minute to minute lesson on how real life use of an item happens and what, without consumers’ reflections, is the honest reaction of people to a particular situation.  Each of the cards contain a title, a “how” section, a “why” section and then an example of how this method was used at IDEO.  In the case of the “Fly on the Wall” card,  IDEO observed an operating room during some transplant surgeries before designing a transport box for organs.

The Ask section of the card deck is the interview process or some kind of verbal or visual feedback on a problem.  “Word-Concept Association” allows a group to ask individuals to do word associations.  Reaction to these words can help cluster consumers’ thoughts about a product and prioritize what they feel is important.

From the Try pile of cards, a group could use “Empathy Tools” to experience how individuals with various abilities respond to a prototype.  If your intended audience is senior adults with some dexterity issues and you are designing a prototype with buttons on it, this exercise ensures the buttons will be easily managed.

All in all, this set of cards would be a great Professional Development tool or classroom device to illustrate many ways to experience the empathy part of the design thinking process.  These cards are pretty comprehensive but it would be a great exercise to see what comes out of the discussion groups. The cards could be added to or particular ideas can be used for all the groups.

The IDEO Method Cards are an easy way to introduce the foundations of this process to teachers and students.

And there is an app, but it is pretty old school.  For $4.99 you get the complete set (they are $49.00 US for a real set).  The resolution is as bad as the photographs but worth a look.

What does a Prototype look like?

Okay, now that the Design Thinking process is familiar to you and you have walked through the steps a few times, let me ask, “what does a prototype look like?”

Interestingly, at a recent workshop for 2nd year education students, prototypes looked like “tweets.”  Yes, students worked through a scenario based on the shocking new picture book by John Marsden, Home and Away. See the in-house review here.imgres

This book brings the refugee experience during a war into our own personal frame of reference.  Students were read the book, journeying with the narrator from normal, everyday living, to a perilous boat escape to a refugee camp.  Journal entries become a presentation of horrific facts and experiences of the remaining members of the family.

Paired with the recent media attention brought to the plight of Syrian refugees and their recent opportunities to come to Canada, students had various facts and images to draw from personally when tasked with using the design process to create the most effective tweet, making the world aware of “their” situation.  Students, as refugees, were asked to tweet out in 140 characters, #Home, the raw experience of being a refugee.

Through the design thinking process, students were asked to empathize with the refugees, to personalize the experience, define, articulate and prioritize their experience, ideate or brainstorm key ideas and then prototype an effective tweet.

Some tweets were full of facts, some raw emotion, all hash tagged for greatest impact.  An interesting exercise for students to work through the design thinking process while not prototyping a physical “thing.”  This exercise was part of a larger experiment to see how the design process can fit into a humanities discipline.  Design Thinking and STEM is a natural combination but as we work through more examples of pairing design and social studies or language arts, we are exploring some new and uncharted territory.  Stay tuned…