Hacking the Classroom: Beyond Design Thinking

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Design Thinking is trending is some educational circles.  Edutopia recently ran a design thinking for educators workshop and I attended two great workshops at SXSWedu 2013 on Design Thinking:

Design Thinking is a great skill for students to acquire as part of their education.  But it is one process like the problem-solving model or the scientific method.   As a step-by-step process, it becomes type of box.  Sometimes we need to go beyond that box; step outside of the box.  This post provides an overview of design thinking, the problems with design thinking, and suggestions to hacking the world to go beyond design thinking.

Design Thinking

Design thinking is an approach to learning that includes considering real-world problems, research, analysis, conceiving original ideas, lots of experimentation, and sometimes building things by hand (http://blogs.kqed.org/mindshift/2013/03/what-does-design-thinking-look-like-in-school). The following graphic was developed by Design Thinking for Educators to explain the process of design thinking:

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As a further explanation of this process, here is an exercise by the d.School about how to re-design a wallet using the design process.

Here is another take on the design thinking process as applied to learning within a community setting:

“What does it take to create education in this age of imagination?” was the theme of the following Ted talk.   Imagination, play, and social interaction become important to the learning process.

To further learn about design thinking, visit:

Problems with Design Thinking

Bruce Nussenbaum, in a Fast Company article, Design Thinking Is A Failed Experiment. So What’s Next?, discussed the benefits of design thinking but also noted it has become a type of flavor of the month for corporations.

Design Thinking broke design out of its specialized, narrow, and limited base and connected it to more important issues and a wider universe of profit and non-profit organizations. The contributions of Design Thinking to the field of design and to society at large are immense. By formalizing the tacit values and behaviors of design, Design Thinking was able to move designers and the power of design from a focus on artifact and aesthetics within a narrow consumerist marketplace to the much wider social space of systems and society. We face huge forces of disruption, the rise and fall of generations, the spread of social media technologies, the urbanization of the planet, the rise and fall of nations, global warming, and overpopulation.  Design Thinking made design system-conscious at a key moment in time.

There were many successes, but far too many more failures in this endeavor. Why? Companies absorbed the process of Design Thinking all to well, turning it into a linear, gated, by-the-book methodology that delivered, at best, incremental change and innovation.  CEOs in particular, took to the process side of Design Thinking, implementing it like Six Sigma and other efficiency-based processes (http://www.fastcodesign.com/1663558/design-thinking-is-a-failed-experiment-so-whats-next).

I fear a similar outcome for design thinking within educational settings.   As I stated in the introduction, design thinking, being a type of problem-solving model, is it’s own type of box.  It attempts to solve problems via a specific process in order to come up with a new solution or product.  John Media, in If Design’s No Longer the Killer Differentiator, What Is?, emphasizes the limited perspective that design thinking can create:

Designers create solutions. But artists create questions — the deep probing of purpose and meaning that sometimes takes us backward and sideways to reveal which way “forward” actually is. The questions that artists make are often enigmatic, answering a why with another why. Because of this, understanding art is difficult: I like to say that if you’re having difficulty “getting” art, then it’s doing its job.

Paul Pangaro, a technology executive, who combines technical depth, marketing and business acumen, and passion for designing products that serve the cognitive and social needs of human beings, further critiques design thinking in his video, The Limitations of Design Thinking.

If we stop with design thinking we won’t solve those problems that those in design thinking say they want to solve.    Paul Pangaro

Hacking the World

All of this leads to the question of what types of learning in today’s classroom would help students acquire knowledge, skills, passions, and attitudes for living, working, and playing in today’s world.  Design thinking is one process for creative problem solving, but to really survive and thrive in a world of such constant and rapid change, kids need to go beyond design thinking and be able to hack their world.  Not only is it important to be able to use a creative process to solve problems, it is equally important to be able to identify problems to solve. As humans living within systems that are safe and comfortable for them using the tools and strategies that are familiar to them, it becomes difficult for many to step outside of that comfort zone to critically analyze these systems to identify problems and to discover better ways of living for themselves and for others.

Hacking is a way to do so.  Hacking can be defined as:

Hacking is research. Have you ever tried something again and again in different ways to get it to do what you wanted? Have you ever opened up a machine or a device to see how it works, research what the components are, and then make adjustments to see what now worked differently? That’s hacking. You are hacking whenever you deeply examine how something really works in order to creatively manipulate it into doing what you want.

The real reason to be a hacker is because it’s really powerful. You can do some very cool things when you have strong hacking skills. Any deep knowledge gives you great power. If you know how something works to the point that you can take control of it, you have serious power in your hands. Most of all, you have the power to protect yourself and those you care about (Hacker High School).

In an NPR article, At This Camp, Kids Learn To Question Authority (And Hack It), Michael Garrison Stuber, whose daughter participated in the camp, stated:

“Why would I do this?” he asks, while laughing. “Fundamentally the world is about systems. And we work within systems all the time, but sometimes systems are broken, and we need to be able to subvert them. And that is a life skill I absolutely want her to be able to have.”

In developing hacking as a skill, an attitude, and/or as an approach to construct and de-construct the world, it is more than just hacking in terms of computer science.  In order to hack the world, we need to tear it apart, deconstruct it and analyze its components parts and how they operate in relation to one another within various systems.

The following icebreakers are designed for web design, but they could also be used to establish a climate of thinking outside of preexisting mindsets which, in turn, becomes a goal of hacking: to develop alternative mindsets.

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http://hivenyc.org/hacktivityGrid.html

To get a broader perspective on helping young people become white hat hackers (folks who enjoy thinking of innovative new ways to make, break and use anything to create a better world), see:

Although I am currently looking towards hacking as a way to facilitate creative thinking and positive (world) change, it also has the potential to become a more standardized process as is the issue with design thinking.  Hacking, but its very nature, should force learners and learning to the limits, but attempts to scale any movement can inadvertently and unintentional create the type of standardized, procedural system it is trying to avoid.