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Collaborating With SCD = Education + Design Thinking

by Tom Hanlon / Sep 7, 2021

Siebel Center for Design instructors

The growing relationship between the College of Education and the campus' Siebel Center for Design stems from compatible missions related to education and shared promises to positively impact generations of teachers and students.

In Education 201—Identity and Difference in Education—students use design thinking to gain a better understanding of the people and organizations they work with in their placements.

“Design thinking is a problem-solving approach that is open to everyone—not just designers or engineers,” says Saad Shehab, who earned a Ph.D. in Curriculum & Instruction from the College of Education in 2019 and is head of assessment and research for Siebel Center for Design. “The processes of design thinking provide a flexible structure for people to collaboratively approach complex problems. The more we teach students about these processes, the more they will be equipped to solve problems anywhere in the future.”

Preparing Students to Become Problem Solvers

The Siebel Center for Design, located across the street from the College of Education, launched in 2018. SCD has established one of the country’s few research and assessment labs in higher education devoted to the impact of human-centered design (HCD), which employs design thinking in its approach to problem solving and is developing unique HCD-based curriculum and training for K-12 educators. Part of SCD's work is creating their own curriculum and collaborating with other campus units—including Education—on courses.

“We focus on the use of design thinking in the university and in the community, and on the aspects of empathy and iteration,” says Shehab. “We have one course called Introduction to Design Thinking and another called Design Thinking for Social Impact. These courses bring students together from all over campus to work in multidisciplinary teams on projects.

"But we don’t just put them in groups and that’s it. We teach them about design thinking, about human-centered design processes, so they can approach that project and come up with solutions for problems that they identify when they go talk to people. That relates to this idea of empathy. Then they run several iterations over time to come up with the best solution to that problem.”

Natural Partners

The College of Education and SCD are natural partners with a growing relationship because the two entities share compatible missions. The College prepares people who are committed to transforming learners of all ages—and educators can do so by using the human-centered design approach to problem solving, which is at the heart of SCD’s mission.

“Given that the College of Education is deeply concerned with how people learn across a wide range of disciplines, how we capture and measure this learning, and how education can impact the lives of everyone, the match between us and SCD is a clear and essential pairing,” says Michael Tissenbaum, assistant professor in Curriculum & Instruction.

Connections Between the College and SCD

Shehab points out several connecting points between the two entities:

Shehab himself is an obvious connection, having earned his Ph.D. from the College; he also taught an online course for Learning Theories in Science Education in 2019. Many more from the College are involved in SCD: Christopher Span, professor in Education Policy, Organization and Leadership and former associate dean of graduate programs,  got the ball rolling along with SCD Director Rachel Switzky in 2018 to incorporate design thinking in Education 201, now taught by Curtis Mason, teaching associate professor in EPOL. (“The Siebel Center for Design collaboration has been valuable in helping the teaching assistants and me develop and refine our course materials for EDUC 201,” Mason says. “Carrie and Saad attended our meetings, listened to our goals and concerns, and worked with us throughout the development process—all through a human-centered design perspective.”)

The aforementioned Tissenbaum, in collaboration with other College of Education faculty, has several grants in the works related to human-centered design and has been advising Shehab on research and assessment projects. Emma Mercier, associate professor in C&I, is Shehab’s former advisor and has collaborated with SCD on projects, as has Stina Krist, assistant professor in C&I, and Raya Hegeman-Davis, school university research coordinator for the Bureau of Educational Research.

Ph.D. candidate in C&I Carrie James, who is a Siebel Center for Design scholar, has used human-centered design with secondary English education majors in an introductory methods course, and is now using HCD in a course she teaches for the College on writing methods for middle grade teachers.

“Through our faculty, teaching assistants, and graduate students, we are developing very close relationships with Siebel Center for Design,” says Sarah McCarthey, department head and professor in C&I.

Course Integration of Human-centered Design
Incorporating design thinking in Education courses began with Ed 201, has continued with James’s introductory methods and writing methods courses, and the hopes, James says, is to go broader, at least in C&I. “We want these students to develop human-centered design practices,” she explains. “We want them to develop social empathy, which is empathy for people in groups other than your own.”

Tissenbaum is working with Shehab to develop approaches to not only design HCD interventions, but to assess the efficacy of those interventions. “Long term, if we want this work to be taken up broadly, we need the careful research that shows how, why, and in what situations it works,” he says. Adds McCarthey, “The Siebel Center has been using the Ed 201 class as a site for several years. This is a great example of Education and Siebel working together and informing one another.”

Research Opportunities
SCD offers College of Education graduate students “authentic research experiences through working on ongoing research projects,” says Shehab. “That summarizes the work that Carrie has been doing with me.” Shehab has also worked with many other graduate students with connections to the College. As for James, her own experience with Siebel Center for Design has transformed her research interests. “I started out focusing on preparing teachers to teach writing and the impacts of this on students' self-efficacy as writers,” she says. “I still do that, but SCD has broadened that to examine the ways that human-centered design can impact the instruction we do broadly as teachers and the ways that we teach writing/composing specifically.”

In the summer of 2019, SCD hosted a virtual internship program with about 25 students from various colleges on campus, including Education. “I also worked with three interns from the College of Education on how to conduct literature reviews and things like that,” Shehab says. “The Center provides a nice environment for people to work with us and experience research and learn from our ongoing projects.”

Shehab and James recently conducted a workshop for teaching assistants in the College on how to incorporate design thinking in courses, and plan to offer similar workshops for C&I faculty. “We’re going to be having a number of instructor workshops run by the Siebel Center that people from the College of Education can attend that would give them a deeper dive into the components of integrating human-centered design into the classroom,” James says. The workshop training in human-centered design, says McCarthey, “works very well with the strategies we have in place for working with TAs to be prepared to work with preservice teachers.” The workshop training in human-centered design, says McCarthey, “works very well with the strategies we have in place for working with TAs to be prepared to work with preservice teachers.”

A Growing Impact on Education

The working relationship between the College and SCD is having an impact on teachers and students, and that impact promises to grow.

“Teaching with human-centered design is very relevant and needed, especially these days where we’re trying to help educators be more inclusive and aware of students’ backgrounds to be able to create better learning experiences,” says Shehab.

When educators teach with human-centered design, James says, “they will be better primed to carry out culturally-sustaining pedagogical practices that help create more equitable situations in schools and help promote social justice teaching and learning in schools as well.”