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Digital Platforms: Demystifying and Democratizing the Design Thinking & Systems Approach for Learning

... Venkatesh Datla, Cofounder, Creya Learning & Research

We are hearing quite a bit about design thinking and (to some extent) about systems approach across board rooms and classrooms. But, what do design thinking and systems approach have to do with learning and teaching? Well, design has come far from the studios of select few mavericks focused on creating 'cool products' to being Design Thinking: the human-centered improvement of experience that subsumes products and services. Systems Approach (SA) complements Design Thinking(DT) by urging the problem solver to broaden the horizons and look at the interrelatedness of the moving parts, focusing on synthesis and not just analysis. So, to that extent, I will use DT to refer to both.

Why is it important to include DT in the classroom experience? For one, the 5-steps of the typical design thinking cycle: empathize, define, ideate, prototype and test provide any user a framework that can help them solve a problem and make the world better: the end goal of learning. Incorporating DT also widens the scope of learning beyond literacies to include development of skills such as creative thinking, critical thinking, collaboration and communication: essential for success in the 21st century world. No surprise that DT helps immensely improve the process of 'learning'. Having said that, wide-spread adoption of it is still not global due to challenges of costs, capabilities and, not the least, of mind-sets, begging the question:how can we demystify and democratize the adoption of DT in classrooms. I believe the advances and proliferation of different digital platforms and technologies hold the key. Let's look at a few of them.

Simulated Environments give students the chance to be 'in the moment' experientially without actually having to be there physically and help build empathy. Imagine students experiencing the horrors of wars virtually in the classroom, like no history class can ever give it. Beyond the gaming apps like 'World Rescue' or the 'Journey North' Project, it's the Augmented Reality(AR) and Virtual Reality(VR) tools that will bring in truly immersive experiences to classrooms. Adoption will increase steeply as everyone from Facebook (Oculus), Microsoft (HoloLens), HTC (Vive) to Google(Cardboard) are driving down costs and develop newer uses for learning and entertainment.

Defining and Ideating or brainstorming are best done working in groups with tools that help capture and communicate what everyone visualizes. Going beyond physical post-it notes and white-boards that limit you to a room, visualization and collaboration tools like Google Keep and 'Paper & Pencil by Fifty Three' suitable for k12, as well as the enterprise level Mural, Batterii and Trello will eventually become mainstream in schools and colleges.

While prototyping, the manifestation of the chosen idea into reality is the most critical and fun part for a learner, it is also the least amenable to scaling due to constraints of resources including time, materials, expertise and costs. There is some progress with digital design tools like the Tinkercad and 3D Printers like Makerbot. I posit that the intersection of VR/AR meeting CAD/CAM is going to truly make digital prototyping complete, comprehensive and adoptable.

Finally, testing lets you see if you are on the right path and improve based on feedback, and this reflection is important for learning to progress. Some of the digital platforms for this include simple shared drives and Digital Portfolio Systems like the Seesaw. While I have barely scratched the surface on how digital platforms can be used by learners and teachers for adoption of DT & SA, how policy makers can use it for making systemic and strategic changes will be the game changer of classroom experience, a topic for some other day.