“With its focus on design thinking, technology education supports students to be innovative, reflective, and critical in designing new models, products, software, systems, and tools to benefit people while taking account of their impact on cultural, ethical, environmental, political, and economic conditions.” (Technology in the New Zealand Curriculum, Ministry of Education, 2017)
With the strengthening of Digital Technologies and Hangarau Matihiko within the Technology learning area in the New Zealand Curriculum, and the Hangarau Wāhanga Ako in Te Marautanga o Aotearoa, this has prompted change for schools, kura, and Kāhui Ako. While there is certainly much that is new to the learning areas, something that is not is design thinking.
Design thinking has always underpinned the Technology and Hangarau curricula because this these are learning areas that are process-driven. Both technology — in all its forms — and design thinking are about identifying problems, creating solutions for people, experimenting, refining, acting on feedback.
So, while we’re grappling with new concepts and content, perhaps the strengthening of Digital Technologies and Hangarau Matihiko is also an opportunity to put the spotlight back onto the process of design thinking and its mindsets.
What is design thinking?
Design thinking is a creative process that can be adopted to find solutions to complex problems. There are various models of design thinking, but one that is often cited is that created by the d.school at Stanford University. This has five phases, as can be seen below:
The NZC doesn’t suggest a particular model, but in the English translation of the draft Hangarau Matihiko document, the following steps were outlined:
- Dedication — to people and their thoughts and feelings and knowing the users and their needs. (Empathy)
- Define — the major issues and the available pathways.
- Propose ideas — formulating concepts, and outcomes / solutions. (Ideate)
- Original model — construct an original model. (Prototype)
- Experiment — test the model and adapt correspondingly. (Feedback)
The two models map comfortably onto one another. But, design thinking is about more than process, it is also about choosing to adopt innovation mindsets.
What are the design-thinking mindsets?
Again, Stanford’s d.school suggest the following mindsets as being key for design thinking:
Given the opening quote from the New Zealand Curriculum, and the design-thinking process suggested by Te Matauranga o Aotearoa, here, we will focus on three particular innovation mindsets:
- culture of prototyping, and
- bias towards action.
In the context of Digital Technologies and Hangarau Matihiko, the focus is on creating technology to support people. People are, and must be, at the heart of the design process. There is no use designing a solution to a problem that doesn’t work for the people concerned. This is why empathy, being human-centred, is the fundamental component of design thinking.
Culture of prototyping
When we think we have a solution that might just work, it’s important to get that idea out of our heads and into the real (or digital!) world. This allows the idea to be tested, for us to challenge our assumptions, and to find the flaws. Prototyping — making a model — invites us to use our creative and critical thinking. A prototype is primarily a vehicle for feedback from the very people for whom we are designing the solution. Based on their feedback, we refine, adapt, and change our solution: we iterate. This mindset calls on us to hold our ideas lightly, to be human-centred, and to be prepared to alter, or even abandon, our proposed solution based on new knowledge.
Bias towards action
When grappling with a problem it is easy to be stuck:
- What is the problem?
- Who is it a problem for?
- How do we know it’s a problem?
- What can we do about this problem?
- What if we try…?
A bias towards action mindset calls on us to acknowledge this learning phase and to move towards doing something about the problem. It is closely linked to the above culture of prototyping mindset. Identify and define a problem; let your imagination loose to find multiple ways of solving the problem; then filter down to one or two key possibilities that you make tangible and test. It is like being in ‘beta mode’. We are used to having to update the apps on our smartphones in order to make them work better and more efficiently. We don’t sit around and wait for everything to be perfect before we release the solution into the wild. We prototype, test, and refine. We innovate.
How might we…
Let’s not lose sight of the underlying design-thinking process and its mindsets when exploring the brave new world of Digital Technologies and Hangarau Matihiko. In fact, we could well use the design-thinking process to give structure to our exploration. Perhaps a starting question could be:
How might we integrate Digital Technologies and Hangarau Matihiko into our local curriculum?
If would like help with building a design-thinking approach to your curriculum, get in touch!
- iCubed: How design thinking develops lifelong learners
- What is design thinking?
- d.school K12 Lab Wiki
- Technology online
- Kia takatū ā-Matihiko | Digital Readiness
Philippa Nicoll Antipas
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