Thinking as a Designer: Following a Protocol

Using Design Thinking to Refine an Action Plan

Today was the second Face-to-Face meeting of Cohort 21 and spent the time together following a Design Thinking protocol based on Design Thinking For Educators toolkit from IDEO.

We received a 7-page booklet as a graphic organizer to help us to:

  • add procedural structure to our process
  • capture our thinking and ideas tangibly in a visual way; and
  • scaffold the development of a focus question by exploring user needs, empathizing with various perspectives, answering challenge questions and clarifying the problem.

At my school, we want to inform the future development of what we are referring to as a technology position. Whether this becomes a scope and sequence or a strategic pillar or a technology curriculum is still not fully articulated, but we are beginning with the idea that we want to know what’s going on right now. In a variety of areas. For a variety of grades. Or divisions. Or academic disciplines – we aren’t really sure. So we started with the most broad possible question, “What’s Going On?”

Design 2015.11.21
Problem Focus template

First, we reflected on some challenges we were having and looked at the perspectives of a few individuals involved in or affected by this challenge. Considering two different students (one in Gr 3 and one in Gr 6), I tried to describe my motivation to look at this problem in terms of value to them. How would their lives be different if this challenge didn’t exist? I identified a few barriers (people problems, systemic problems) and worked towards a solutions-focussed articulation of a design question, phrased in the human-centred language of possibility, “How Might We…”


Action plan 2 2015.11.21
Ideation template

My favourite part of the process was the deep digging of initial responses to my working question. “Crazy Eights” is the idea that you use a mixture of speed and perseverence to generate 8 different ideas that might become solutions. You remove constraints such as time, money, personel, knowing how to do it, and other features usually associated with reasonability and just generate ideas, or ideate, in the lexicon of DesignIt is a wonderful experience to notice the moment when you are reaching beyond the low-hanging fruit, using the best worst idea to challenge your own thinking (“Hey, this aspect isn’t such a bad idea after all.”) and move rapidly enough to want to go back to add additional detail afterwards.

Action plan 1 2015.11.21
Sourcing input from ‘the crowd’

Having settled on a working question, “How Might We structure & implement a technology curriculum for teachers and students that enhances teaching and learning in our Junior School?”, we posted the questions to request feedback. This process of walking the halls, browsing the falls, digesting the working questions, providing feedback on any and all aspects of the question / possible solutions / challenge questions was really satisfying, but it took a long time!

I received a collection of ideas from some pretty smart and experienced cohort members. Thanks to @clovrics for helping me articulate my design question (good luck to her on her quest to organize independent Math learning) and to @crussell for providing a really great sample of something similar she has worked on.

3 Replies to “Thinking as a Designer: Following a Protocol”

  1. Adam,
    I’ve struggled with this as well. I’ve framed it as “what is our edtech landscape?” Is it full of peaks and valleys? Is it a dense jungle of different “species” or is a cultured garden of rows that bear fruit and vegetables? I struggled with this last year, and have settled on a pretty small garden metaphor.

    We are just focussing on the Microsoft environment – mastery of the Microsoft Office Suite, a deep application of OneNote Classroom Creator – within our students, faculty and admin. I want to grow this garden so that we might reap the rewards (am I mixing metaphors here:)) with the confidence and capacity that might have us looking to broaden the landscape and plant some more seeds later on…

    I welcome any feedback on this overwrought metaphor 🙂

  2. Adam,
    I really love the way you used the question “How would their lives be different if this challenge didn’t exist?” to frame your thinking. There’s a great tool created by the website Development Impact & You (DIY) called The Evidence Planner that uses a similar structure to frame a problem – here’s a link to it:

    I look forward to seeing the results of your action plan this year. I think that we often assume that because our students are “digital natives” they know how to use technology, but in reality teaching about the how/why and impact of technology is also really important. Just writing that sentence also reminded me of your earlier post about our contemporary definition of the term “technology”…which could open up another can of worms all together (history…etc).
    – Les

    1. Thanks for the Evidence Planner, Les – a really helpful tool. I’m also looking for something to add onto it that helps us track pre-work for these conversations. “What questions do we have, coming into the meeting?” “What could go wrong that we will want to consider how to prevent?”

      Like so many areas that mix content, skills and abilities, it feels increasingly important to view the use of technology as something rooted in a an individual’s personal development and action, and attached to a strategic or broader purpose.

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