To Better Design, Add Empathy

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In today’s increasingly digital world, learning to code at a young age can set one up for future success in life. Over the last decade, the importance of developing coding and programming skills have caught on with more educators and parents. In many schools around the world, learning to code has become a “must-do” component in the teaching of STEAM subjects. 

 

Our school’s Media Tech curriculum, which starts from Grade 3, our students learn to code as part of a broader framework developed for real-world problem solving called design thinking. In other words, learning to code is a means to an end and not an end in itself. 

 

So what exactly is design thinking? Design thinking is is an iterative process in which we seek to understand the user, challenge assumptions, and redefine problems in an attempt to identify alternative strategies and solutions that might not be instantly apparent with our initial level of understanding. At the same time, Design Thinking provides a solution-based approach to solving problems. It is a way of thinking and working as well as a collection of hands-on methods.

 

And it is fast becoming popular in schools as a method for creative problem-solving using empathy during group project work.  Here at THS, we use design thinking to solve real-world problems during Media Tech. 

 

The five phases of Design Thinking are as follows:

  • Empathise – with your users

  • Define – your users’ needs, their problem, and your insights

  • Ideate – by challenging assumptions and creating ideas for innovative solutions

  • Prototype – to start creating solutions

  • Test – solutions

 

Students learn coding and robotics in introductory lessons early in the term before embarking on a task to solve a problem. They are taught to use design thinking to tackle the problem. Firstly, they begin by researching on the issue. They also conduct interviews with the people who are impacted by the problem in order to gain a better understanding. Empathy as defined in design thinking, and as explained in IDEO’s Human-Centred Design Toolkit, is a “deep understanding of the problems and realities of the people you are designing for”. It involves learning about the difficulties people face, as well as uncovering their latent needs and desires in order to explain their behaviours. Listening with empathy is central to this process. Students design products for people and prototype them. During the design phase, we encourage students to be innovative as well as use their empathy to develop solutions that will help others. 

 

Another trait required in design thinking is persistence. During the design-thinking cycle, students sometimes struggle with completion at the prototyping stage when prototypes fail and they are brought back repeatedly to the drawing board. At this point, it is tempting for adults to step in and help but keep in mind that struggles are good and is very much part of the learning process. 

 

Struggles with authentic tasks mimics real life so much more than completing typical types of tasks and assessments done. It is important for students to learn to power through and complete the tasks. It’s more about embracing persistence in order to follow through with a task to its completion. In many projects, I’ve observed our students actually become more motivated after several failures and they almost always create something beyond our expectations. 

 

Once upon a time, design thinking was thought of as a risky and unproven new way of teaching and learning. However, we’ve found that by incorporating design thinking into projects that focuses on problem-solving, relevance and collaboration, our students not only benefit by learning to code, design and build games and robots, they understand more deeply about how the world works and that they too can come up with solutions to create a positive impact.

 

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