The Design Thinking Signature Pedagogy, Feedback and Co-Design with Students


A quick response to a question about how we collect and use feedback from our students.

Based on the modules I teach with Dr Bo Kelestyn.

We have a set of interdisciplinary Design Thinking modules, all taught using the same approach:

  • IL924 Design Thinking for Social Impact (Humanitarian Engineering MSc);
  • IL029/129 Introduction to Design Thinking, for undergraduates (IATL);
  • IL925 Design Thinking for Social Impact (IATL).

In 2021 this is being taught almost entirely online (with a combination of Moodle, Teams, OneNote, Padlet and Vevox). We use the full range of collaboration tools in Teams (videoconferencing is a small part of our use of it).
The IATL modules are taught over ten weeks, with one-to-two (student + 2 teachers) and whole-class online support up until the assessment deadline. The Engineering module is taught in an intensive 5 day block, followed by online support. The intensive module allows for tighter feedback loops, but perhaps gives the students less time to reflect and respond.

Design Thinking is both an interdisciplinary research tradition (into how design and innovation works) and an approach to developing design capabilities within organisations and communities, with the aim of enhancing their own capability for developing a shared understanding of design challenges, problem solving and innovation. It emphasises the importance of diversity, reflection, collaboration, co-designing. We are developing a signature pedagogy for teaching this (collaborating with the Design Research Society Distance Pedagogy group). The goal is for students to become “designerly change agents”, able to use DT concepts, knowledge, experiences and techniques to apply DT in the real world. We represent this to the students as a journey of personal and collective transformation. They complete a series of design challenges, individually, in pairs, and in small design teams. It is highly experiential, with continuous reflective activities. We position ourselves as “consultants” to guide them through the journey and to help them gauge their strengths and weaknesses.

The intensive version is structured with a “reflective jam” at the start of each day. This is a chance for the students to share their ideas, inspirations, challenges and feedback. We often use Padlet for this, which works brilliantly (when teaching on campus we used whiteboards and chalkboards for this, but Padlet is even better). The students then work in small groups on challenges throughout the rest of the day, with ad hoc huddles (in Teams) for feedback and support. Video, audio and text content is provided through Moodle. At the end of each day the students need to complete a reflective activity and a checklist (in Moodle). The students complete their design studies (responses to the challenges) in OneNote, and we are able to give feedback as required (we can see all of the notebooks) – it is the responsibility of the students to ask for feedback and guidance, and in turn we frequently ask for feedback and guidance from the students. One-to-two consultancies happen in Teams chat, during scheduled periods of teacher availability. Further consultancy and feedback happens through Teams channels. We also use Vevox for more structured feedback as needed. The 10 week modules will operate in a similar way, but with events sequenced differently (as the sessions will happen on Fridays).

Our signature pedagogy for Design Thinking is built around constant feedback and collaboration. Formal structured feedback has become less important, especially as we now have so many channels for dialogue of many kinds. Digital platforms have completely transformed the conversation. This however has detracted from formal feedback. The students were not keen to complete the end-of-module feedback form for the intensive. That may be in part because they don’t see the value of it. But also, our module now actually stays live after the teaching has ended, right up to, and beyond, the assessment deadline. We will aim for more structured feedback after that time. We also hope to do more formal research into the effectiveness of our signature pedagogy – when we get time!

Dr Robert O'Toole NTF

Senior Teaching Fellow, Arts Faculty, University of Warwick. Fellow of the Higher Education Academy, National Teaching Fellow, Warwick Award for Teaching Excellence.

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