Design Thinking in K-12 Planning

In education we have been big fans of the long-range plans. What good is a long range plan when change is so rapid? How much can our worlds change with one elections cycle? In a former district I helped build a 5-year plan that included iPad adoption. Two years into that adoption, leadership changed and the district moved in the Chromebook route. Chromebooks weren’t a viable option when the plan was initially created. Was time taken to see if the new device selection was a good match for the district’s needs, or was it just based on market trends? Plans are a good thing, but how long should they be and how do we decide in what direction to go? How should we get information to make those decisions?

Traditionally districts create a _________ Committee and that group sits around a table and discusses topics. Those discussions turn into a plan that is potentially blessed by the school board. That plan moves forward from there. Based on experiences those discussions are based on the point of view of those around the table. Sometimes a survey is sent out and that information can be used like gospel or dispelled as irrelevant. Having been an author or co-author of these plans across 3 different districts I never felt the plans actually meant anything because little was followed in the state mandated timelines. I felt that there had to be a better way to engage with our students and staff in productive conversations on what they need.

What I’ve found to be powerful is to leverage Design Thinking processes shared by the at Stanford. The crux of the process is getting information back from you users – in our case I’ve chosen to focus on students and teachers – to find out what they need to meet learning objectives. Based on that data, you create prototypes that you take back to the users for more feedback on the way to making a decision. As a technology department in a 1:1 district we’re tasked with purchasing devices for students yearly. This gives us the opportunity to constantly review what our students and teachers need and to assess what tools are out to help meet those needs.

It’s my opinion that face-to-face feedback you get with students is so much more impactful than percentages from a Survey Monkey responses. Some of the feedback surprises you, for example when students who are using computers with a 1.4 GHz process tells you that their computer works much better than the one they have at home. You can hear what works for them, and what frustrates them – like a lack of desktop computers to use high-end Adobe graphics programs. They have the opportunity to articulate their needs and what they think would be a good solution in a way that an “Other:” box in a survey never could. I’ve taken on the task of interviewing extreme users – so I have been talking with a diverse cross-section of learners.

If you’re interested in getting to know more, I highly recommend going through the Wallet Project. I’ve done it multiple times, and it’s a joy to interact with someone to try and figure out what their dream wallet would look like. I suggest pairing that exercise with Doug Deitz’s TEDx talk on how Design Think helped him transform the design of health care products for GE.

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