The Extended Classroom: Responding to the Changes and Challenges

My presentation for a design workshop at the University of Warwick, involving architects, Learning and Development Centre, Institute for Advanced Teaching and Learning Students’ Union, audio-visual services, Estates, Library and Academic Technology.

The point about ubiquitous computing being ubiquitous in everyday life, but still quite a challenge in university spaces, was reinforced by me having to physically plug my iPad into the projector using a very short VGA cable! Fun, but challenging. I used it to illustrate how, for many people today, the transition between working at home (with Apple TV etc) and operating in a university space, feels “jarring”.

The workshop covered a lot of ground, including the necessity of old fashioned blackboards. Good to hear that we’re not just thinking about official indoor teaching spaces. Warwick has always been a campus university, with teaching and learning happening in all kinds of places, especially outdoors in the summer. See this article by Sue Thomas for an intro to cyberparks. I’ve also added in a photo taken outside Senate House in the middle of the university, showing students using bean bags (on a sunny day) provided by the PGHub. An ad hoc library space.

The Extended Classroom1 The Extended Classroom2 The Extended Classroom3 The Extended Classroom4 The Extended Classroom5 The Extended Classroom6 The Extended Classroom7

Ad hoc library with bean bags

The Extended Classroom8 The Extended Classroom9

Ubiquitous computing and the pedagogy of the iPad

Since its release on April 3rd 2010, iPad ownership and use has spread rapidly amongst all kinds of people and into all kinds of activities. The iPad has brought digital content and processes into our lives in seemingly unanticipated ways. It is a paradigm shift in how we use technology, and perhaps in the very nature of being human. Education has not been immune. However, the adoption of the iPad as a teaching tool has not yet lived up to the hype. This workshop addressed the question: what is “the pedagogy of the iPad”?

Did you know that the iPad concept was invented in the mid 80′s by a collaboration of anthropologists, designers and computer scientists at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Centre? The PARCPad was just one component in a much more revolutionary vision: ubiquitous computing. The PARC collaborators built the first ubiquitous computing environment, complete with wireless networking, cloud computing and a full range of mobile computing devices with various form factors and specialisations. It quickly became clear to the Xerox team that they were doing more than just inventing cool gadgets. They had started a revolution that would lead to a new approach to working and learning. We now know this as ubiquitous learning.

In the Pedagogy of the iPad workshop we looked at how the iPad (and its broader ecosystem of apps and clouds) is an imperfect but powerful implementation of the ubiquitous computing model, enabling an equally imperfect implementation of ubiquitous learning. Students are already working out ways to make the most of these new affordances. The implications for teaching are significant.

The workshop slides include suggestions for apps which can significantly enhance academic capabilities, as well as diagramatic representations of the Apple system (and its restrictions).

You can watch a video of the workshop here (Warwick members only).

Download the workshop slides as a pdf.

Download the workshop text as a pdf.

Read Weiser, Gold & Brown (1999) “The Origins of Ubiquitous Computing Research at PARC”.

Watch an insightful presentation by Sara Hattersley (CLL) on Collaborative Approaches to Teaching Using iPads from the 2013 Warwick Teaching and Learning Showcase (2nd item on the page).

Find out about Allan Carrington’s Pedagogy Wheel, a diagram for mapping between pedagogy and iPad apps.

Multi-modal lectures – design ideation

On Thursday I’m presenting a set of scenarios on the theme of The Extended Classroom. This is for a mixed meeting of academic technologists, architects, AV, teaching development specialists, teachers and students, at the Students’ Union.

My job is to push them to consider how radical things might change, and to get them being imaginative and practical about how we can implement these ideas.

Here’s an example, exploring how lectures will become multi-modal:

The traditional lecture takes place synchronously, at the same time and in the same room, for all participants. Lectures can become multi-modal in various ways, for a range of good reasons. For example:

A quarter of the lecture’s participants are in a traditional lecture theatre, watching and listening to the lecturer in a recognisably conventional manner.

The lecturer is aware of, and occasionally shifts focus to, a feedback stream (Twitter-style messages from the students). She is able to match the portrait image next to each message with a face in the lecture theatre. At one point she breaks-off from the lecture to respond to a student directly, clarifying a point. The student had tagged their message with the “hands-up please clarify” icon. The lecturer could have waited until after the end of the lecture to respond, once she would review the messages and other data on the lecture timeline. But in this case she had pre-marked the timeline with an icon indicating that “this concept might be tricky”.

A little later, there is another message that can’t be ignored. This time, the item on the timeline is highlighted as coming from a “telepresence student”. Some of the students are participating through telepresence from other locations on campus and even in France. In this case, the message has not come from a student, but from a local facilitator in the telepresence room in France. She would like some terminology clarified, as there are translation difficulties. The local facilitator’s role is to help the students in their room to understand and make the most of the lecture. Some of the telepresence rooms are in other countries, some of them are actually in the same building as the lecture – in this case, students have opted to attend the lecture as a smaller group of students, with a facilitator, and followed-up with a seminar in which they can review the recording of the lecture and the timeline of events.

In some of the overseas telepresence rooms, the lecture is also being simultaneously translated into other languages.

Some other students are participating live but dispersed at home and in offices around the world.

As well as the feedback channel, at points in the lecture the students are asked to answer questions. All of the participants, wherever they are, respond using a simple interface on their mobile devices, laptops or desktop computers. At the end of the lecture, the recording is bundled with the event timeline, to allow students to watch again, or (if they couldn’t attend the event) to watch for the first time. This is embedded into a VLE, with access to appropriate resources, discussion forums, and further activities.

Thesis/book plan latest version

I’m just a few weeks away from my next, and possibly last, long period of writing. The plan is now settled as follows:

Fit, Stick, Spread and Grow

- a transdisciplinary study of Design Thinking for Higher Education.

Research question: “The IDEO Design Thinking approach is an effective strategy for achieving and sustaining ‘success’ in complex business ecosystems. How can we adapt this approach to the challenge of making ‘excellent’ teaching and learning in Higher Education settings where individuation and diversification are important goals?”

There will be four parts, plus some supplemental material concerning methodology.

Part 1: an introduction to HE challenges, contentions and wicked problems. What are “HE settings where individuation and diversification are the goals”? What does “‘excellent’ teaching and learning” mean in these settings? How does it “get made”? What are the challenges, contentions and wicked problems? Illustrated through case studies.

Part 2: an introduction to Design Thinking. What is Design Thinking? [a way of thinking and behaving associated with professional designers, and an innovation strategy that gets non-designers thinking and behaving like professional designers] What makes it different to other kinds of thinking? What does it do? How is it identified? How is it developed?

Part 3: Design Thinking and complex business ecosystems. What are complex business ecosystems, and what is “success” in that context? How is this related to broader developments in technology, society and economics? How does Design Thinking help? How does this relate to Higher Education?

Part 4: Design Thinking for Higher Education. How might Design Thinking help us to address the challenges identified in Part 1? Case studies considered through the lens of Design Thinking. Cases modified with the use of Design Thinking. This will include my work on e-portfolios, the Undergraduate Research Support Scheme, flipped classrooms and the Arts Faculty E-Squad.

Chapter synopsis: 2. An Introduction to Design Thinking

The essence of the Design Thinking approach is the realisation that professional designers alone are often not an effective source of design innovations. They do not easily have access to the insights, inspirations, tacit knowledge and will-to-change required to create designs that fit with their intended users, stick in everyday or specialist use for a reasonable length of time (once the halo-effect of their newness has worn off), spread through the domain and beyond, and enable further innovations to emerge and design capability to grow. And at the same time, most people who do not consider themselves to be designers actually are  unconsciously designing things as part of their work and their everyday lives – they are designing events, communications, ways of integrating technologies into their practices, teaching, learning, spaces, workflows and much more. However, this everyday designing does not usually benefit from the wisdom and techniques of professional design disciplines.

The Design Thinking strategy builds upon the potential of everyday designing and designers, augmented with the lessons learned by professional design disciplines. It uses a range of methods and tools to devolve design agency (the ability and responsibility to do design change) to collaborations of domain experts – all of the people for whom a design innovation has impact, and anyone who might usefully contribute to design innovation (legitimising peripheral participation). The collaborations are facilitated by professional designers, following protocols and procedures that allow for imaginative freedom where appropriate, and rigour and constraint where necessary. The facilitators ‘coach’ the design collaboration through what can be a difficult and messy process, sustaining their energies and enthusiasm, and guarding against recognised pitfalls. And most importantly, design capabilities are embedded into the contexts in which Design Thinking takes place, amongst the participants who can make it happen.

That is just the essence, just enough to get us started. There is, as will be seen, a lot more to Design Thinking than these inspiring ideas. The concepts of ‘fit, stick, spread and grow’ are complex in themselves, despite already being a simplified and systematised interpretation of designerly concerns. Each of the terms in this formula for successful designing has several attendant academic and professional disciplines. For example, ‘diffusion of innovations’ researchers specialise in explaining why some designs stick and others do not. Understanding how non-designers can be encouraged to understand and apply these concepts, individually and collectively, for concrete goals that emerge as a result of the process, is in addition, even more of a challenge.

This first chapter provides a thorough grounding in the Design Thinking approach. It explores the strategy and methods described by practitioners from the IDEO company, with whom Design Thinking is now most closely associated. This initial basis, from IDEO, is extended significantly with coverage of the academic literature on design and designing. The canon of  design research stretches back to well before the emergence of IDEO’s Design Thinking, forming into a discipline in itself with works of Nigel Cross, Bryan Lawson and Donald Schön, and the journals Design Issues and Design Studies. The aim is to provide a solid, detailed, accessible and usable account of what it means to use the Design Thinking strategy and its methods. This initial step is essential for my ultimate goal of considering how Design Thinking might be ‘adapted to create a viable strategy for success in academic practice.’

Along the way, concepts drawn from philosophy, psychology, engineering and social science are used to clarify, simplify and systematise the ideas drawn from IDEO practitioners and from design researchers. This additional synthesis has been necessitated by the complex pathways in which the discourse on design and designing has proceeded, spread across many different professional and academic domains. As will be argued in later chapters, the ubiquity of concern with design and designing, emerging in many disconnected disciplines, is not accidental. The current explosion of technological innovations (especially ubiquitous computing and long-tail e-commerce) are presenting people with design choices and design agency in every aspects of life, work and study.

The synthesis through which this chapter has passed has been the most transversal of interdisciplinary endeavours. In researching this thesis, I have visited almost every part of the University Library, and have used online sources, often well beyond the mainstream academic provisions. With the rise of Design Thinking into the broader public consciousness over the last year (2013-2104), television and radio have added valuable new resources to the repertoire.

In addition to these literature and media based sources, I have experimented with my developing understanding of the Design Thinking strategy by applying it in real situations. As the majority of these experiments have been conducted in an academic setting, I defer their inclusion until the later chapters dealing with academia, in which my principal question is addressed: how does Design Thinking transfer into academic practice? Also deferred, until chapter 2, is an exploration of the main context in which IDEO’s Design Thinking has emerged: the challenges created by the evolution of business practice into ‘complex business ecosystems’.

The goal of chapter 1, a thorough account of what it means to do Design Thinking, will be achieved by answering the following series of questions:

What is the IDEO Design Thinking approach?

What is a strategy, and what qualifies Design Thinking as a strategy?

What is ‘a design’?

How can we decide if a design is a good design?

How do designs work together and fit into emergent non-designed phenomena to constitute a design ecosystem?

What is the ‘fit, stick, spread and grow’ of a design (my own terms that bring together key elements of what Design Thinking is concerned about)?

What is ‘designing’?

Who are the ‘designers’?

What kinds of challenge do designers deal with?

What is so special about how designers address these challenges?

In what way is this a special way of thinking – designers’ thinking?

How does this designerly thinking relate to designerly practice?

Why should people who aren’t professional designers adopt these designerly ways?

What specific problems does Design Thinking address?

How does Design Thinking help non-designers to address challenges by being designerly?

What difficulties do non-designer face in becoming designerly and doing Design Thinking?

Do some people have more trouble with this transition than others?

How do professional designers learn to work in this way?

What methods are used by IDEO to make Design Thinking work in diverse settings?

What is the role of the professional designer, as facilitator, in Design Thinking?

Can Design Thinking become embedded and independent of professional facilitation?

Operational and dynamic capabilities defined

I have developed these concepts and definitions for use within my design research and consultancy work (mostly concerning academic technologies and academic practice):

Your operational capabilities are the means that you can readily call upon to reliably and repeatedly achieve desired results in your work or studies. For example, I can find relevant articles on journal web sites, download PDF files to my filestore, and annotate them using my iPad. This capability is an important part of my “resource capabilities”.

Your dynamic capabilities are the means through which you improve your operational capabilities, addressing deficiencies, or adapting to changing circumstances and new opportunities. For example, I can identify a need, search for, find, evaluate and adopt new software to help me with my work.

My interviews and observations start with an exploration of seven operational capabilities, as they are implemented in the practices of individuals and groups. The capabilities overlap. The relationships between capabilities are important. We consider how and why these capabilities are constrained, and the effects of those constraints. We look to identify what aspects are essential (considering the context in which they are used) or especially effective (in terms of fit, stick, spread and grow). This then provides a starting point for exploring the dynamic capabilities employed to develop those operational capabilities:

Resource capabilities provide you with an ability to find, process, store, use, share and create physical and informational resources.

Project capabilities provide you with an ability to coordinate activities over time to achieve a desired goal, working coherently on different aspects of a project.

Evaluative capabilities provide you with an ability to make and communicate accurate and appropriate qualitative and quantitative evaluations of work, people, systems etc.

Theoretical capabilities provide you with an ability to find/create and evaluate theories that can help you to understand your work, people, events etc.

Social capabilities provide you with an ability to benefit from the help of others, and in turn to benefit others.

Physical capabilities provide you with an ability to get the most out of and look after your own body and mind.

Ethical capabilities provide you with an ability to create, evaluate and apply values, concerns, virtues, principles, priorities etc – to know what is right and good.

Motivational capabilities provide you with an ability to keep yourself and others engaged and productive.

Research question refined

Note – this is now an outdated version.

How can approaches used by professional designers and design-innovators be combined with research on structure, agency and change to create a viable framework for enhancing the micro-foundations of dynamic capabilities in Higher Education?

  1. What are the major challenges facing people in HE today? How can we usefully classify the nature of these challenges to aid our choice of strategy and the design of a framework?
  2. What are the common “micro-foundations of dynamic capabilities” (Teece, 2007) used in HE to address such challenges?
  3. What are the limitations of these current micro-foundations?
  4. What does the field of “design research” tell us about how professional designers and design-innovators respond to similar challenges?
  5. What is the mismatch between professional design-innovation practices and existing dynamic capabilities in HE?
  6. How can relevant research from other disciplines be used to explain the mismatch, and to suggest ways of bringing HE and professional design practice closer together?
  7. How can design research be combined with relevant research from other disciplines to create a viable framework for enhancing the dynamic capabilities used to produce design-innovations and design-change in HE?

I will demonstrate the need for a framework (concepts, instruments, methods and roles) for creating “design studies”, a framework that is effective in the many different contexts that make up the target HE setting. The studies should be able to describe, explain and predict the success and failure of design-innovations in a hyper-inventive, loosely-coupled higher education ecosystem. This will enable better management of the design-innovation process, eliminating inefficiencies and missed opportunities. Design-innovation success is evaluated through four virtues:

  1. the design-innovation achieves adequate fit with specific people in specific contexts, fitting with their practices (including skills and concepts), their projects (including projects to transform their own practices) and their concerns and values (concerning the world and their own projects and practices);
  2. the design-innovation sticks with specific people in specific contexts for a length of time that justifies the effort involved in adopting-adapting;
  3. the design-innovation spreads to further people and contexts, thus enhancing its value and its viability (through efficiencies of scale and the network effect);
  4. the design-innovation enables and even provokes further design-innovation, creating a growth in design knowledge, expanding the repertoire of available designs, and further enhancing dynamic (developmental) capabilities.

According to this schema, a successful design-innovation may be said to have achieved fit, stick, spread and grow (FSSG). The design-innovation might itself be transformed as a result, or aspects of the innovation (even just conceptual aspects) may still have valuable long or short term impacts. FSSG, as criteria for success, is a complex measure. The “design study” method is especially important as a reflective exercise that promotes growth in the dynamic capabilities necessary for further design innovation (virtue 4). Sometimes this collateral benefit might be the most significant aspect of a design-innovation’s impact. As such, it is essential that the design studies approach involves and is useful to all participants in the process of designing. In a university where design agency is radically devolved, that entails an approach to creating and using design studies that is accessible to all. It is essential that the design studies approach can itself achieve fit, stick, spread and grow.

I will demonstrate how such a framework is essential for the development of teaching and learning at all levels. This will be established as being a consequence of the deep connection between learning and design-innovation.

I will specify the challenges that such a framework must address. Frameworks may then be evaluated for their ability to address these challenges.

I will explore the limitations of a conventional “diffusion of innovations” approach, a “communities of practice” approach, and a “design patterns” approach. Based upon the lessons learned from these evaluations, combined with my interdisciplinary studies of design and designing, I will create a new framework: the Dynamic Capabilities Based View for Higher Education.

I will test my new framework by developing and evaluating a series of design studies:

“Embracing interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary challenges in technology-enhanced learning projects”.

“Developing students as design-innovators: a reflective account of the Arts E-Squad project using a Dynamic Capabilities Based View”.

“Flipping the classroom : a design study of the adoption and adaption of new pedagogy in a higher education context”.

“A report on e-portfolios : design features, uses, benefits, examples & emerging trends”.

“Pedagogical strategies and technologies for peer assessment in Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs)”.

This WordPress post was posted using Siri on an iPhone


Here is a photograph of Kenilworth Castle that I took on the iPhone. I then created a post in the WordPress app using the photograph. The text was written using Siri, all I had to do was speak into the iPhone, and Siri would convert my voice into text.

Student as Design Thinker presentation for the HEA Conference

This is the talk that I gave at the HEA Conference at Warwick in July 2013. It will be the basis of a working paper to be published soon.

Design Thinking for HEA.001

My name is Robert O’Toole. I am a member of the Academic Technology team at the University of Warwick. As part of that role, I create designs combining technologies and academic practices to enhance learning, teaching and research. The designs cover all of the important aspects of thinking and acting, and span across the digital and the analogue.

Here is an example of our work: an online portfolio system for the Warwick Undergraduate Research Internships. It was created with Nathalie Dalton-King and Charlie Cosham from our Careers and Skills Service, with me and Steve Ranford of the Academic Technology team.

Design Thinking for HEA.012

Sometimes, as in this case, the design work uses university provided technology services. Perhaps developing them by small increments. More often now it requires serious consideration of how to fit together a range of technologies and practices from a range of different sources – things that users bring with them, or discover independently along the way. I am necessarily open minded on this. We have to be, the institution is no longer in control. People bring their own ways of working to the mix, and then they change in unpredictable diverse ways. They construct their often unique blends, increasingly independent of any specific context in which they work, carried across the mesh of intersecting contexts that make up lives in late modernity. I personally believe that the development of robust well designed individuality is good. Furthermore, Warwick is a very decentralised institution. A traditional diffusion of innovations model just doesn’t apply. We rarely see significant cases where experts design solutions and users adopt them following the patterns described by Everett Rogers.

Design Thinking for HEA.003

There are also very few strongly defined communities of practice.

Design Thinking for HEA.004

Communities of practice are not taking the lead on innovation. Instead, innovation tends to occur within ad hoc heterogeneous collaborations that come together for a short time and then dissolve.

Design Thinking for HEA.005

They are collaborations driven by the highly autonomous reflexive strategies described by Margaret Archer in her recent longitudinal study of Warwick undergraduates. My own interviews carried out with successful students, National Teaching Fellows and other award winning academics at Warwick confirms this interpretation. People are increasingly focussed on creating their own solutions in an ad hoc manner to attain their own social and economic targets. Margaret Archer also found a growth in the number of people she describes as meta-reflexive, more concerned with the ethical and social implications of the means by which ends are achieved. But I have found that meta-reflexives are not often driving design innovation and the diffusion of innovation within the university – with some interesting exceptions.

Designing for innovation in this context is challenging.

But we do have clear criteria for success. If we can hit this sweet-spot, then new designs may provide significant benefits. The criteria are:

Design Thinking for HEA.006

My car is an example of a design that fits well and sticks. I bought it in 1999, and it has always just performed the function for which it was purchased. It now feels entirely natural. I don’t ever really think about it much. I just get in and drive. But in no way has the practice of using it grown. It performs the same function today as it did in 1999. And the design has spread only in so far as car ownership has grown in general. There’s no major innovation or diffusion of innovation going on.

My motorcycle, however, is a different story. It fits perfectly, and I have had it since 2001. I’ve covered 100,000 miles in Europe and Africa. But the way in which it fits with me has grown. I have found many new things to do with it, travelling in new ways to new places. It has transformed my capabilities, opportunities and experiences. An aspect of that has spread into other things I do: the ability to manage risk, to plan, to be observant, to be in control at speed even in difficult conditions that comes with riding a motorcycle of that kind. These characteristics have spread to other people too – people who are prepared to go on adventures with me.

The portfolio system was designed with these aims in mind.

The new design had to fit with the existing structure of the scheme, and the enablements and constraints hardcoded into it. The scheme is administered by our Careers and Skills Service. Around 250 students a year are given bursaries to undertake research projects, usually based in their home departments, but sometimes working overseas. Most of them start at the same time, most of them go on for about four months. Some follow different patterns. They are expected to attend a workshop at the start, and undertake a series of reflection and planning tasks at intervals over the length of their project. You can see these constraints and enablements represented in the Ribbon interface on this example portfolio.

Design Thinking for HEA.011

Each task has a scaffolded reflection page on which the student works within their portfolio.

Design Thinking for HEA.013

They are supported by a mentor, who will give them feedback on their reflections and plans, once a task has been marked as completed. They are also supported by an academic supervisor in their department, who will want to keep a watch on progress. Finally, they make a public presentation of their work and its impact. The portfolio homepage performs that part of the task. 

Design Thinking for HEA.012 The design also has to fit with the enablements and constraints of the available technologies – it pushes our web publishing platform in new ways. And of course it needs to fit with the cognitive, social and epistemic practices of the students, as they develop interactively through the experience of undertaking the project.

The design has to be sticky for the length of the projects, for the four kinds of participant (admin, mentor, student and supervisor). We want them to keep returning to it and use it in the correct way. But we also want the planning and reflection practices to be sticky beyond the project, beyond the  portfolio and the specific technology platform. We want the students to carry on using them in their other activities.

 And ideally, we would like all of these academic practices, especially undergraduate research to spread more widely. And then to grow, for the individuals, for the institution and beyond. The design should be able to develop with these growing and spreading practices.

The design collaboration between Careers and Skills and the Academic Technologists pooled our knowledge of this particular context and the participants, along with good practice in the discipline of Interaction Design for Learning. We created a design that seems to be very good.

 So does it work? Does it fit? Is it sticking? Spreading? Growing?

 Yes, to some extent. For some students it fits well and is sticking. For others, less so. For some, not at all. Worse still, we had no certainty in advance that it would work for any of them. And we’re still not satisfied with the progress we have made, even though it is a very good design.

 This leads me to the question that got me interested in the Design Thinking strategy described by Tim Brown, David Kelley and Tom Kelley of the IDEO Design Company. An approach that has become widely used in leading American businesses and business schools. IDEO also asked the question: How can I work differently so as to create designs that fit, stick, spread and grow with more certainty? And answered it publicly. 

Design Thinking for HEA.014In his influential Harvard Business Review paper on Design Thinking from 2008, Tim Brown describes how he, and many other designers, found themselves facing these same problems, and wanting to know how to create more successful designs. The answer is simple: stop designing! Or at least, do less of the designing.

Design Thinking is a designerly conversation amongst the diverse but interconnected people who might interact with a design from their own various angles. A conversation amongst radically diverse people like our students, admins, mentors and supervisors. The aim of Design Thinking is to stimulate designerly conversations amongst all of the people who matter to a design, in a more democratic and inclusive manner. The designer hands their design agency back to the people. That’s what we need to do, to increase our chances of finding a design that works widely. Get the students, mentors, supervisors and administrators designing. And then go further – get employers and other communities  involved.

Design Thinking creates an extended community of design thinkers.

But it’s not that easy. There aren’t many people who are able to naturally think and act like designers – in the kinds of designerly ways described by Bryan Lawson, Nigel Cross and Donald Schön in their classic studies.

Design Thinking for HEA.015

There are many important strategies and techniques that designers use. We used some of them in the portfolios design project. For example:

1. Your first ideal solution will probably be wrong, don’t jump straight to implementation – my colleagues all agree that in HE this is hard, people often find that they have to hype-up a big technical solution just to get other people motivated to initiate a project.

2. Collect and listen to stories from all perspectives, try to cross-pollinate inspirations from other unrelated domains, when you think you are certain, find fresh perspectives that disrupt your certainty.

3. Keep reviewing assumptions about constraints and enablements, they will need to change as people learn through the design process and as new things become possible.

4. At the same time, get people prototyping. As Tom Kelley says, Build to Think, even if your prototypes are lo-fi creations, sketches, scripts, storyboards, toilet-roll and sellotape models – just good enough to see what fits, sticks, spreads and grows. Failure is good. As they say Fail Early to Succeed Earlier.

5. Always keep the people who can implement the design connected. People will put more effort into Design Thinking if they can see a real possibility that change will happen.

6. Guard against over-protective service owners, techies and crafts people, but keep them involved, use their knowledge and skills, and help transfer it into prototyping.

That last point is critical. Higher education is full of people with precious crafts developed through years of pain – academics for example. We need to get this into perspective and reflect upon the power and responsibility that comes with craft – Richard Sennett is a good guide on this: 

Design Thinking for HEA.016 In Design Thinking the role of the designer is to facilitate collaborators in using these strategies themselves. But it has to be a wider, more inclusive, open conversation. Brown describes how at IDEO they use a three-spaces approach to facilitate and scaffold this conversation.

Design Thinking for HEA.017The design thinking conversation takes place in all three spaces equally. We don’t rush to implementation, we aim to accumulate results over time. The Inspirations Space is of equal importance. It is the place for telling stories and sharing impressions – not just linguistic, formal and functional, but also aesthetic – anything that adds to our collective understanding and experience, and from which we can draw upon for the design prototyping experiments that we create in the more focussed, more selective Ideation Space.

In the Ideation Space, people Build to Think. Designers sometimes say that in prototyping they immerse themselves in an interactive conversation with materials and technologies, with the affordances, constraints and enabling constraints that they find in them. Sometimes the conversation flows. A prototype works well, survives our efforts to test it, and forms an object of collective belief. It should then be picked up by the Implementation Space to make it real. But even when success seems guaranteed we should return to the Inspiration Space to see if our certainties can be usefully disrupted. The conversation stays open. Experiences, prototypes and results accumulate. We collectively learn, and enrich our Design Thinking and design knowledge for the domain in which we are collaborating.

We shouldn’t expect this to always work quickly, or to result in everyone pursuing the same ideas and adopting the same practices. And we certainly should not rush the learning process that is built into Design Thinking. But also, we have to make sure that people don’t drift away. Live workshops can help to set the right pace. Maintaining the three spaces as real physical locations in which activities are accumulated is the best possible approach. However such spaces are rarely available.

Design Thinking for HEA.018

To address this, I’ve been working on a design for online design spaces. You can see it in this screenshot. The three spaces are there, with a simple scaffolded system allowing participants to add content. Here is an example.

Design Thinking for HEA.019

The online space draws all of the diverse streams of activity together. It also makes an additional dimension easier to add, an additional personal-reflective dimension. Each participant has their own personal space in which to record their actions and reflect upon their designerliness, guided and facilitated by design mentors and supporting materials. My intention is to introduce a system based on Open Badges, to give a sense of personal growth and progress for all participants.

Design Thinking fits well with the Student as Producer approach. My next case study brings the two together.

Design Thinking for HEA.020

SIBE is a student owned social innovation company based at Warwick. They have about 50 active students, working independently from the university. But they are informally supported by the Institute for Advanced Teaching and Learning and IT Services. I have helped them with a room (now taken off us by the university), iMacs and camera equipment (NTF funded). They are well organised, with distinct roles and processes and their own training program. They are very designerly and increasingly meta-reflexive, but with plenty of craftspeople (film makers, journalists, programmers) to provide the essential ability to make prototypes and real products.

Here is a short video interview with the founder of SIBE, Sholi Loewenthal, describing their activities and approach. Sholi talks about a major project that included all of the elements of Design Thinking (the Hackathon approach is a good ideation exercise), even though they did not explicitly plan to use the approach. It just happened that way, as smart students worked out the best way to work.

A cMOOC investigating cMOOCs using Design Thinking and Student as Producer principles

Paul Taylor (Director of the Institute for Advanced Teaching and Learning at Warwick) has given me an interesting design challenge: create a cMOOC in which we can learn about cMOOCs and design cMOOC practice. Following IATL’s principals, it has to work within the Student as Producer pedagogy. That’s OK, as the cMOOC model fits nicely with Student as Producer. It also offers an opportunity to try using an Open Badges approach in this context. Also, given that the design of the cMOOC (and cMOOC practice in general) should emerge through the work of the participants in the cMOOC, it makes sense to use the 3-Spaces Design Thinking approach described by Tim Brown of IDEO. So I’m building a prototype, and parts of it are ready for people to look at and start the process of emergent design. So far there is some basic infrastructure (profiles, a brief, a forum). Very very soon (as in later today) there will be some example content and a peer-review and feedback mechanism. And then I’ll be onto the Open Badges.

If you want to try it out, give feedback and join the design/cMOOC collaboration, then email me at or tweet me at @robertotoole

Here is the brief (in its current form), followed by a screenshot of the homepage:

The Brief

The challenge is to collaboratively address the question: “how can cMOOCs enhance Higher Education?”. In so doing, we will create new practice, technologies and knowledge. We will do this using a cMOOC approach (this is a cMOOC about cMOOCs). By participating you will gain awards called “open badges” that recognize your contributions and your learning. This combination of learning and creating is essential to the approach (as described by Mike Neary).

We will combine experimental, creative and scholarly approaches, using the Design Thinking method described by Tim Brown (Harvard Business Review, June 2008). You can participate in at least 8 ways:

  1. create a new entry in one of the 3 spaces (Inspirations Scrapbook, Ideas Workshop, Implementation Reports);
  2. respond to an entry created by someone else;
  3. organise a live event (online + blended);
  4. contribute to an event;
  5. create an assessed challenge;
  6. complete an assessed challenge;
  7. contribute to the forum;
  8. help to design this cMOOC.