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What Is Design Thinking and Why Is It Important?

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Design thinking is generally defined as an analytic and creative process that engages a person in opportunities to experiment, create and prototype models, gather feedback, and redesign. Several characteristics (e.g., visualization, creativity) that a good design thinker should possess have been identified from the literature. The primary purpose of this article is to summarize and synthesize the research on design thinking to (a) better understand its characteristics and processes, as well as the differences between novice and expert design thinkers, and (b) apply the findings from the literature regarding the application of design thinking to our educational system. The authors’ overarching goal is to identify the features and characteristics of design thinking and discuss its importance in promoting students’ problem-solving skills in the 21st century.
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Review of Educational Research
September 2012, Vol. 82, No. 3, pp. 330–348
DOI: 10.3102/0034654312457429
© 2012 AERA. http://rer.aera.net
330
What Is Design Thinking and Why Is It
Important?
Rim Razzouk, Valerie Shute
Florida State University
Design thinking is generally defined as an analytic and creative process that
engages a person in opportunities to experiment, create and prototype mod-
els, gather feedback, and redesign. Several characteristics (e.g., visualiza-
tion, creativity) that a good design thinker should possess have been identified
from the literature. The primary purpose of this article is to summarize and
synthesize the research on design thinking to (a) better understand its char-
acteristics and processes, as well as the differences between novice and
expert design thinkers, and (b) apply the findings from the literature regard-
ing the application of design thinking to our educational system. The authors’
overarching goal is to identify the features and characteristics of design
thinking and discuss its importance in promoting students’ problem-solving
skills in the 21st century.
Keywords: design thinking, design process, expertise, expert and novice.
Being successful in today’s highly technological and globally competitive
world requires a person to develop and use a different set of skills than were needed
before (Shute & Becker, 2010). One of these skills is called design thinking.
Design has been widely considered to be the central or distinguishing activity of
engineering (Simon, 1996). It has also been said that engineering programs should
graduate engineers who can design effective solutions to meet social needs (Evans,
McNeill, & Beakley, 1990). Like problem solving, design is a natural and ubiqui-
tous human activity. Needs and dissatisfaction with the current state combined
with a determination that some action must be taken to solve the problem is the
start of a design process. In this view, many scientists have been designing and
acting as designers throughout their careers, albeit often not being aware of or
recognizing that they are performing in a design process (Braha & Maimon, 1997).
According to Braha and Maimon (1997), engineering lacks sufficient scientific
foundations. Historically, engineering curricula have been based on models that
are devoted to basic science, where students apply scientific principles to techno-
logical problems. However, this practice produces engineering graduates who
were perceived by industry and academia as being unable to practice in industry.
This concern caused leaders of engineering departments and colleges to recognize
RER457429RER10.3102/0034654312457429Design Thinking and Its ImportanceRazzouk
and Shute
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Design Thinking and Its Importance
331
the intellectual complexities and resources demanded to support good design edu-
cation (Todd & Magleby, 2004). This awareness has resulted in the improvement
of existing courses to include industry-sponsored projects where companies pro-
vide real problems along with real-world expertise (Bright, 1994; Dutson, Todd,
Magleby, & Sorensen, 1997).
Design thinking has also started to receive increased attention in business set-
tings. This is because the design of products and services is a major component of
business competitiveness, to the extent that many known companies have commit-
ted themselves to becoming design leaders (Dunne & Martin, 2006). And although
design thinking has become an integral part of the design and engineering fields as
well as business, it can also have a positive influence on 21st century education
across disciplines because it involves creative thinking in generating solutions for
problems. That is, in academic environments, students are required to read criti-
cally, think and reason logically, and solve complex problems (Rotherham &
Willingham, 2009). Thus, to help students succeed in this interconnected, digital
world we live in, educators should support students in developing and honing 21st-
century skills (e.g., design thinking, systems thinking, and teamwork skills) that
enhance their problem-solving skills and prepare them for college and career
(Rotherham & Willingham, 2009; Shute & Torres, 2012).
These skills are consistent with the theoretical traditions of situated cognition
(Lave & Wenger, 1991), developmental theories (Piaget, 1972), and constructiv-
ism (Bruner, 1990). What’s new is the growing extent to which individual and
collective success is seen as depending on having such skills. In addition to busi-
ness settings, design thinking has received a lot of attention in engineering, archi-
tecture, and design majors in universities because it can change how people learn
and solve problems (e.g., Dym, Agogino, Eris, Frey, & Leifer, 2005; Fricke, 1999;
Nagai & Nagouchi, 2003). The topic of expertise in design has also been receiving
increasing attention in design research. In support of these claims, consider the
large number of research articles published on the topic of design thinking (e.g.,
Do & Gross, 2001; Goldschmidt & Weil, 1998; Owen, 2007; Stempfle & Badke-
Schaube, 2002; Tang & Gero, 2001). Among these research papers, there are stud-
ies of expert or experienced designers and comparisons of the processes of novice
versus expert designers (e.g., Cross & Cross, 1998; Ericsson & Smith, 1991; Ho,
2001). Within this large body of design thinking research, experimental and quasi-
experimental studies are lacking. Most, if not all of the studies are qualitative.
Goals and Focus
The dual aims of this article are to (a) summarize findings from the literature of
design thinking to gain better understanding of its characteristics, processes, and
differences between novice and expert design thinkers and (b) apply the findings
from the literature regarding design thinking to our educational system. Our over-
arching goal is to identify the features and characteristics of design thinking and
show its importance in promoting students’ problem-solving skills needed to succeed
in the 21st century. The major questions addressed in this review include (a) What
are the characteristics of design thinking, (b) what are the differences between a
novice and an expert design thinker, and (c) why is design thinking important?
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Method
Many articles in the design thinking literature were identified and then col-
lected. Table 1 lists and describes the online databases and Web sites that were
employed in this search-collection effort. The focus of the search was to access
full-text documents using various search terms or keywords such as design think-
ing, design cognition, design behavior, design studying, design reasoning, design
process, thinking of design, visual thinking, and prototyping. The search was not
limited to a particular date range or experimental studies. However, slight prefer-
ence was given to more recent research. In all, approximately 150 documents were
collected. From this set, a total of more than 45 documents met the criteria for
inclusion in the literature review. The inclusion criteria consisted of topical rele-
vancy of documents to the research questions in this article (e.g., design thinking
characteristics and processes, novice vs. expert design thinker, and the importance
of design thinking). Both experimental and nonexperimental studies were included
in this article.
TABLE 1
Databases used in searching for articles
Database and Web sites Description
ERIC A database that provides extensive access to education-related
literature from the following two printed journals: Re-
sources in Education (RIE) and Current Index to Journals
in Education (CIJE).
JSTOR A database of back issues of core journals in the humanities,
social sciences, and sciences. The gap between the most
recently published issue of any journal and the date of the
most recent issue available in JSTOR is from 2 to 5 years.
ScienceDirect One of the largest online collections of published scientific
research. It is operated by the publisher Elsevier and
contains nearly 10 million articles from over 2,500 journals
and over 6,000 e-books, reference works, book series, and
handbooks.
IEEE Xplore A database that indexes, abstracts, and provides full-text
for articles and papers on computer science, electrical
engineering, and electronics. The database mainly covers
material from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics
Engineers (IEEE) and the Institution of Engineering and
Technology (IET). The IEEE Xplore database contains over
2 million records.
Google Scholar Google Scholar was employed to search for and acquire
specific references. Google Scholar is a Web site providing
peer-reviewed papers, theses, books, abstracts, and articles
from academic publishers, professional societies, preprint
repositories, universities, and other scholarly organizations.
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Literature Review
Many authors have written about the nature of and different processes underly-
ing the design thinking process (e.g., Liu, 1996; Owen, 2007; Stempfle & Badke-
Schaube, 2002). We now present our review of the literature of this area, starting
with a description of the nature of design thinking, its characteristics, and pro-
cesses. Next, we present literature regarding expertise, expert versus novice design
thinkers, and expertise in design. We then present our design thinking model
adapted from Shute and Torres (2012). Finally, we discuss the findings from the
literature, showing the importance of design thinking and providing suggestions
for future research.
Nature of Design Thinking
In many fields, knowledge is generated and accumulated through action (i.e.,
doing something and evaluating the results). That is, knowledge is used to produce
work, and work is evaluated to produce knowledge. Creative people tend to work in
two different ways: either as finders or as makers (Owen, 2007). Finders demonstrate
their creativity through discovery. They are driven to understand and to find explana-
tions for phenomena not well understood. Makers are equally creative, but they are
driven to synthesize what they know in new constructions, arrangements, patterns,
compositions, and concepts. Given the fundamental process differences between
how finders and makers think and work, other factors might similarly reveal differ-
ences among professional fields and therefore help to define the nature of design
thinking. One such factor is the content with which a field works.
A conceptual map can be drawn to represent both content and process factors
(Figure 1). Two axes define the map. Separating the map into left and right halves
is an analytic/synthetic axis that classifies fields by process (i.e., the way they
work). Fields on the left side of the axis are more concerned with finding or dis-
covering; fields on the right are concerned with making and inventing. A symbolic/
real axis divides the map into halves vertically. Fields in the upper half of the map
are more concerned with the abstract, symbolic world, as well as the institutions,
policies, and language tools that enable people to manipulate information, com-
municate, and live together. Fields in the lower half are concerned with the real
world and the artifacts and systems necessary for managing the physical environ-
ment (Owen, 2007).
Four quadrants result from this division. The first is analytic/symbolic, which
includes fields like science that are heavily analytic in their use of process and their
content is more symbolic than real in that subject matter is usually abstracted in its
analyses. The second quadrant is synthetic/symbolic, which includes fields that are
concerned extensively with the symbolic content and synthetic processes. For
instance, law falls in this quadrant because it is concerned with the symbolic con-
tent of policies and social relationships, and most of its disciplines are concerned
with the creation of laws. The third quadrant is analytic/real, which on the content
scale involves reality and on the process scale is strongly analytic. Medicine, for
example, falls into this quadrant because it is highly concerned with real problems
of human health and diagnostic processes are its primary focus. The fourth is syn-
thetic/real, which involves fields, such as design, that include synthesis processes
and real content (Owen, 2007).
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In this mapping (represented by a circle), design falls in the fourth quadrant
because it is highly synthetic and strongly concerned with real-world subject mat-
ter. However, because disciplines of design deal with communications and sym-
bolism, design has a symbolic component, and because design requires analysis to
perform synthesis, there is also an analytic component (Owen, 2007).
It is important to note that a case can be made for the positioning of any field to
the left or the right of the map. However, mapping fields is relative and not abso-
lute, which is important because this mapping provides a means for comparing the
relationships among different fields with respect to the two dimensions: content
and process. Each of the four quadrants in this figure is important in education
because we want our students to develop higher-order thinking skills and be able
to analyze, synthesize, innovate, and thus readily deal with real-world problems.
According to Hatchuel and Weil (2009), design can be modeled as a relation-
ship between two interdependent spaces with different structures and logic: the
space of concepts (C) and the space of knowledge (K). Space K contains all estab-
lished knowledge available for designers, while Space C includes concepts that are
neither true nor false in K about an object. Design proceeds in a step-by-step par-
titioning of C-sets until a partitioned C-set becomes a K-set, that is, a set of objects,
well defined by a true proposition in K. Thus, for Hatchuel and Weil, design is a
reasoning activity that starts with a concept about a partially unknown object and
attempts to expand it into other concepts and/or new knowledge.
At its core, design thinking refers to how designers see and how they conse-
quently think (Liu, 1996). It is an iterative and interactive process where designers
(a) see what is there in some representation of problem-solving concepts/ideas, (b)
draw relations between ideas to solve the problem, and (c) view what has been
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FIGURE 1. Conceptual representation of content and process factors.
Note. Adapted from “Design Thinking: Notes on Its Nature and Use,” by C. Owen, 2007. Design Research
Quarterly, 2(1), 16–27.
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drawn as informing further design efforts (Do & Gross, 2001; Lloyd & Scott,
1995). Designing often begins with a diagrammatic depiction that is gradually
transformed to more complex graphic representations by adding detail. These
design diagrams facilitate the designer’s reflection, dialogue, and self-critique and
therefore serve the purpose of representing and testing the designer intent. In other
words, diagrams serve as a primary vehicle for thinking and solving problems (Do
& Gross, 2001; Nagai & Noguchi, 2003).
Braha and Reich (2003) viewed the design process as a generic process where
designers modify either the tentative or current design or the requirements and
specifications, based on new information that has become available. This ongoing
process of modification is performed in order to remove discrepancies and estab-
lish a fit between the problem space, expressed through requirements and specifi-
cations, and the proposed design solution.
In 2000, Suwa, Gero, and Purcell argued that designing is a situated act, which
means that designers invent design issues or requirements in a way that is situated
in the environment in which they design. The authors found a strong bidirectional
correlation between unexpected discoveries and the invention of issues and require-
ments. Unexpected discoveries are those instances when a designer perceives
something new in a previously drawn element of a solution concept. Not only do
unexpected discoveries become the driving force for the invention of issues or
requirements, but also the occurrence of invention tends to cause new unexpected
discoveries. These results emphasize the importance of rapid alternation between
different modes of activity during the design process (e.g., drawing sketches and
conceiving of design issues or requirements that are dynamically related to one
another). This also explains the opportunistic nature of design activity, as the
designer pursues issues and requirements in an evolving solution concept.
According to Dorner (1999), several forms of thinking can be observed in
designing. Design starts as a cloudy idea about how the design/product should look
like and how it should work. With time, this idea crystallizes and transforms into
a clear and complete image of the product. The cloudy idea comes from something
that the designer already knows about the product. This knowledge can be a source
of analogies. The second form of thinking involves the sketches and models that
bring the cloudy idea to a more concrete form. Sketches and models clarify the
characteristics of the product, helping to form a specific line of thought that facil-
itates the development process and forms the basis for the design thinking process.
The third form of design thinking is the “picture-word cycle,” which involves
putting ideas into words that helps the designer clarify and elaborate on ideas.
However, whatever the form of thinking, the design thinker should demonstrate
specific characteristics in addition to creativity.
Characteristics of a Design Thinker
Table 2 summarizes some of the design thinker characteristics that Owen (2007)
described. Although the nature of design thinking and what makes one person a
design thinker and another not remain elusive, a number of characteristics have
been identified and can be useful in understanding how a design thinker thinks and
approaches issues. These characteristics are also helpful in understanding the
nature of design thinking. In addition to these characteristics that a design thinker
should possess, there are several processes underlying the design thinking process.
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Processes in Design Thinking
According to Braha and Reich (2003), the design process is characterized by
being iterative, exploratory, and sometimes a chaotic process. It starts from some
abstract specifications, or what Hatchuel and Weil (2009, p. 182) call a “brief,” and
terminates with the description of a product while gradually refining the product
specifications. Intermediate states of the design process might include conflicting
specifications and product descriptions. Specifications may change in reaction to
proposals or to unexpected problems discovered during the process. In this case,
design follows cycles of mutual adjustment between specifications and solutions
until a final solution is reached (Hatchuel & Weil, 2009).
During the design process, designers engage in several different cognitive pro-
cesses. Kolodner and Wills (1996) specified three processes required in design
TABLE 2
Design-thinker characteristics
Characteristics Description
Human- and environment-centered
concern
Designers must continually consider how
what is being created will respond to human
needs. They should also consider envi-
ronmental interests at a level with human
interests as primary constraints for the design
process.
Ability to visualize Designers work visually (i.e., depiction of
ideas).
Predisposition toward
multifunctionality
Designers should look at different/multiple
solutions to a problem and keep the big pic-
ture of the problem in mind while focusing
on its specifics.
Systemic vision Designers should treat problems as system
problems with opportunities for systemic
solutions involving different procedures and
concepts to create a holistic solution.
Ability to use language as a tool Designers should be able to verbally explain
their creative process forcing invention
where detail is lacking and expressing rela-
tionships not obvious visually (i.e., explana-
tion should go hand in hand with the creative
process).
Affinity for teamwork Designers need to develop interpersonal skills
that allow them to communicate across disci-
plines and work with other people.
Avoiding the necessity of choice Designers search competing alternatives before
moving to choice making or decision mak-
ing. They try to find ways to come up with
new configurations. This process leads to a
solution that avoids decision and combines
best possible choices.
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thinking: (a) preparation, (b) assimilation, and (c) strategic control. In the prepara-
tion process, designers need to learn what to focus on and what is relevant. During
this phase, the specifications and constraints of the problem, reinterpretation of
ideas, visualization, problem reformulation (including situation assessment and
elaboration), and others evolve. The assimilation process involves making sense
of the proposed solution, data, and observations coming from the design environ-
ment, such as feedback from experiments with prototypes. In the strategic control
process, designers must make many decisions over the course of a design (e.g.,
which idea to elaborate or adapt next, which constraints to relax, how to set pri-
orities). They also move among various tasks, subproblems, and design processes
in a flexible and highly opportunistic manner.
In 2002, Stempfle and Badke-Schaube examined a theory of what design teams
actually do while designing. They looked at theories of creativity and problem
solving and cognitive theories of human decision making. The basic elements of
design thinking that the authors proposed as cognitive operations to deal with any
kind of problem were generation, exploration, comparison, and selection. The first
two elements (generation and exploration) widen a problem space whereas the last
two (comparison and selection) narrow a problem space. When widening a prob-
lem, solutions are generated and then examined in relation to the goal. Then, in an
iterative process, solutions may be modified or new solutions may be developed
until an optimal solution is found. Narrowing a problem entails comparing two or
more ideas and then selecting the solutions based on specific and relevant goal
criteria. These elements represent a model that can be applied to understand
designers’ thinking while working in a team. Designers working in groups have to
communicate what they are thinking, thus showing their basic thinking processes.
The researchers applied this model to three mechanical engineering teams con-
sisting of four to six students. The teams were assigned to design a mechanical
concept for an optical device to project images of celestial objects. The teams
interacted with a simulated customer at three fixed points in time during their one-
day working period. Team communication was recorded. Results from protocol
analysis revealed that the teams spent only 10% of their time on clarifying the goal
and spent the remaining 90% of the time planning a solution.
The Stempfle and Badke-Schaube (2002) findings described differ from those
observed by McNeill, Gero, and Warren (1998) in electronics engineers. McNeill
and colleagues reported that across the whole design episode, the designers spent
most of their time analyzing the problem; synthesizing the solution took the second
greatest amount of time, and the remaining time was spent on the evaluation of the
solution. The authors concluded that a designer begins a conceptual design session
by analyzing the functional aspects of the problem. As the session progresses, the
designer focuses on the three aspects—function, behavior, and structure—and then
engages in a cycle of analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. Toward the end of the
design session, the designer’s activity is focused on synthesizing structure and
evaluating the structure’s behavior. Similarly, in a team of three industrial design-
ers, Goldschmidt and Weil (1998) found that the process of design thinking is
nonlinear and that designers follow a forward (breaking down) and backward
(validating) reasoning strategy. Although research is not consistent about how time
is spent during the design thinking process, findings indicate that there is a learning
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progression during the design thinking process that eventually transforms a novice
into an expert design thinker.
Expertise
Expertise is the result of a dedicated application to a specific field of interest
(Cross, 2004). According to Ericsson, Krampe, and Tesch-Romer (1993), deliber-
ate practice guided toward improvement of performance is necessary to reach high
levels of performance and the acquisition of expertise. Ericsson et al. added that
the achieved level of performance of an expert is closely related to the accumulated
amount of practice. Therefore, the development of expertise passes through differ-
ent phases. Something happens in the development from being a novice to becom-
ing an expert.
The major difference between experts and novices is that experts have accumu-
lated a large number of examples of problems and solutions in a specific domain
of interest. A key competency of an expert is the ability to mentally stand back
from the specifics of the accumulated examples and form more abstract conceptu-
alizations related to their domain of expertise (Akin & Akin, 1996; Ho, 2001).
Experts are believed to be able to store and access information in larger cognitive
chunks than novices can and to recognize underlying principles rather than focus-
ing on the surface features of problems (Dorner, 1999; Nigel, 2004; Purcell &
Gero, 1996; Suwa et al., 2000). Therefore, the accumulation of experience is crit-
ical in the transformation from a novice to an expert.
In many areas, like sports and music, the benefits of dedicated practice are well
known and there are established programs of training for novices to help them gain
experience and expertise over time (Cross, 2004). It may be beneficial in other
areas as well to focus on the transformational phases (i.e., novice through expert),
such as in design thinking. In design education, there are well-established practices
that are presumed to help the development from novice to expert, but there is still
little understanding of the differences between novice and expert performance in
design.
Novice Versus Expert Design Thinker
In general, a good designer should be able to flexibly use different problem-
solving strategies and choose the one that best meets the requirements of the situation
(Akin & Akin, 1996; Eisentraut, 1999; Weth, 1999). Regardless of the given prob-
lem, successful designers clarify requirements, actively search for information (i.e.,
critically check given requirements and question their own requirements), summa-
rize information of the problem into requirements and partially prioritize them, and
do not suppress first solution ideas (Badke-Schaub, 1999; Fricke, 1999).
According to Nigel (2004), novice behavior is usually associated with a depth-
first approach to problem solving, that is, identifying and exploring sub-solutions
in depth and sequentially. The strategies of experts are usually regarded as being
predominantly top-down, breadth-first approaches. The expert designer uses
explicit problem decomposing strategies, which the novice designer does not pos-
sess. In 2001, Ho examined the search strategies used by expert and novice design-
ers in solving problems in industrial design. Using protocol analysis, the researcher
found that the novice participant focused only on the surface level without decom-
posing the problem, while the expert used explicit problem decomposing
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strategies. However, both expert and novice used similar bottom-up (working-
backward) problem-solving strategies.
Christiaans and Dorst (1992) conducted protocol studies of junior and senior
college students in an industrial design course. They found that some students,
mostly the juniors, got trapped gathering information rather than progressing to
solution generation, but most of the senior students did not face this difficulty. That
is, senior design students did not gather as much information, but they were able
to solve the given problem. They asked for less information, processed it directly,
and built up an image of the problem. They also prioritized activities early in the
process.
A similar finding was reported by Gunther and Ehrlenspiel (1999), who con-
ducted a set of experiments with a total of 20 novice and expert designers of
mechanical devices. The researchers found that experts were able to clarify a task
in a shorter time, whereas novices had to invest much more time in clarification.
These findings (i.e., Christiaans & Dorst, 1992; Gunther & Ehrlenspiel, 1999) cor-
roborate findings from Atman, Chimka, Bursic, and Nachtman (1999), who con-
ducted protocol analysis studies of engineering students. They found that novices
(i.e., freshmen with no design experience) spent a large portion of their time defin-
ing the problem and did not produce high-quality designs. Therefore, and similar
to the industrial design students in the Christiaans and Dorst (1992) study, some of
the freshmen engineering students in the Atman et al. study were stuck at the level
of defining the problem, which hindered their progress in the design process.
However, senior students defined the problem adequately, which in turn resulted
in good designs.
Ahmed, Wallace, and Blessing (2003) studied differences between the behav-
iors of novice and experienced designers in engineering. The authors found clear
differences between the behavior of new graduate entrants (i.e., novices) to
the engineering design profession and experienced designers. The novices used
trial-and-error techniques of generating and implementing a design modification,
evaluating it, and then generating another evaluation through several iterations.
Experienced engineers, however, made a preliminary evaluation of their tentative
design decisions before implementing them and making a final evaluation. In con-
trast to the novices’ trial-and-error approach, the experienced designers employed
integrated design strategies.
In 2001, Seitamaa-Hakkarainen and Hakkarainen investigated the relationships
between visual and technical designing using qualitative analysis. That is, they
examined differences between two novices and two experts in the field of weaving
design. Protocol analysis results revealed that the experts integrated the visual ele-
ments (e.g., color, size, patterns) and technical elements (e.g., material) of weav-
ing, and generally considered them in a parallel way during the design process.
Iteration between the visual and the technical space was a significant aspect of the
experts’ design process. The experts continuously moved from one design space
to another to carry out very detailed processes of search for design solutions. In
contrast, the novices organized their process around the composition space and
rarely moved to the construction space to explore how visual ideas could be real-
ized in weaving.
Similarly, using data from protocol studies, Kavakli and Gero (2002) compared
the cognitive performances/actions (i.e., looking, perceptual and functional
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actions, and goals) of a novice and an expert architect. Using protocol analysis, the
researchers investigated concurrent cognitive actions of designers and found sig-
nificant differences in output between novice and expert designers. The protocol
was divided into segments. A cognitive segment consisted of cognitive actions that
appeared to occur simultaneously. They found that the design protocol of the
expert included 2,916 actions (i.e., chunks) and 348 segments, whereas the nov-
ice’s protocol included 1,027 actions and 122 segments. Each segment consisted
of 8 cognitive actions on average. Considering that the same amount of time was
given to both participants, the expert’s design protocol was 2.8 times as rich as the
novice’s in terms of actions. There were also 2.8 times as many segments in the
expert designer’s session as in the novice’s. Therefore, the expert had more overall
fluency in relation to divergent thinking skills. The expert’s cognitive actions con-
tinuously rose throughout the activity, while the novice’s cognitive activity started
at a peak and then declined. The authors also found that the expert seemed to have
more control of his cognitive activity compared to the novice. Because the expert’s
cognitive actions are well organized, he was able to govern his performance more
efficiently than the novice.
These findings align with those by Tang and Gero (2001), who found substan-
tial differences between a novice and an expert architect. Using a retrospective
protocol analysis, the authors found differences between the novice and expert
designers in relation to four design levels: (a) the physical level, which refers to
the instances that have direct relevance to the external world, comprising drawing
and looking actions; (b) the perceptual level, which concerns the instances of
attending to visual-spatial features/relationships in an automatic perceptual mech-
anism; (c) the functional level, which relates to the instances of functional refer-
ences mapped between visual-spatial features/relationships and abstract concepts,
including meanings and functions; and (d) the conceptual level, which represents
the instances that process abstract concepts and the instances that process physical
and perceptual actions. The expert seemed to create more meaning at the physical
and perceptual levels than the novice.
Differences between novices and experts performing design-related problems
were also studied by Göker (1997). The author examined novices and experts on
a task involving computer-simulated construction of machines. Göker found that
the experts, skilled in the use of computer simulations, did not reason toward a
design concept in an abstract way, but relied more on their experience and visual
information. In contrast, novices depended more on abstract reasoning.
Experts During the Design Process
Expert designers solve complex problems more easily than novices (Cross,
2004). During a conceptual design process, experienced designers do not just syn-
thesize solutions that satisfy given requirements, they also invent design issues or
requirements that capture important aspects of a given problem that assist in solv-
ing the problem at hand (Liu, 1996). From protocol studies of experienced engi-
neering designers, Lloyd and Scott (1994) found that the manner by which experts
approach a problem is related to the degree and type of previous experience. More
experienced designers tend to use generative reasoning (i.e., an inductive approach)
compared to less experienced designers who employ more deductive reasoning
(depth-first approach). In other words, designers with specific experiences related
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Design Thinking and Its Importance
341
to the problem type approached the design task through solution assumptions/
conjectures instead of problem analysis. This hypothesis suggests that experience
in a specific problem type enables designers to perceive the design problem in
terms of relevant solutions that they have previously encountered.
Designers also tend to change goals and constraints as they design. They are
flexible in selecting and trying different solutions. However, when designers face
unexpected difficulties and/or shortcomings in the solution concept, they tend to
stick to their principal solution concept as long as possible through the design
process. For instance, from case studies of professional architectural designers,
Rowe (1987) observed that the designers’ choices for problem-solving directions
were influenced by their initial design ideas. Furthermore, the designers made
every effort to make these ideas work whenever a problem was encountered, rather
than adopting a new idea.
And although this fixedness proclivity may sound maladaptive, Ullman,
Dietterich, and Stauffer (1988) observed the same phenomenon in their protocol
studies of experienced mechanical engineering designers. Ullman and colleagues
found that experienced designers typically pursued only one design proposal. And
even when major problems had been identified, the designers preferred to modify
the initial proposal rather than rejecting it and developing a new one. Likewise,
Ball, Evans, and Dennis (1994) drew a similar conclusion from their studies of
senior electronic engineers conducting real-world projects. The researchers stated
that when the designers generated a less than satisfactory solution, they refused to
discard the original solution or spend time and effort coming up with an alternative
one. Rather, they tended to improve the solution by developing different versions
until a workable solution was achieved. Again, the designers indicated a fixation
behavior on initial concepts (Ball et al., 1994). Nonetheless, adherence to initial
concepts seems to comprise normal expert design behavior. Finally, in a study of
experienced software designers, Guindon (1990) also found that designers came
to a solution very early in the session and quickly rejected alternative solutions.
Since a problem cannot be fully understood in isolation, expert designers use
conjectures as a means of helping them to explore and understand the formulation
of the problem. From protocol studies of experienced industrial designers, Dorst
and Cross (2001) asserted that the designers start by exploring the problem and
find, discover, or recognize a partial structure. Afterwards, they use this partial
structure to generate initial ideas for the form of a design concept, then expand and
develop the partial structure. Thus, their goal is to create a matching solution to the
problem. Having more than one solution concept should stimulate a more compre-
hensive evaluation and understanding of the problem (Cross, 2004). From the
analysis and synthesis of the literature, it appears that there are a number of com-
petencies that designers should acquire and hone. The more experience a designer
builds in these competencies, the more he or she advances along the novice-expert
continuum.
Design Thinking Competency Model
As a result of this review of the literature, we have created a design thinking
competency model (Figure 2), adapted from Shute and Torres (2012). This model
displays a hierarchically arrayed set of variables (or nodes), from general to more
specific when viewing from left to right. This competency model represents an
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342
operationalization of the design thinking construct and may also help drive the crea-
tion of appropriate activities that would allow for the collection of relevant evidence
to inform variables in the model. For example, consider the variable “Iterate
Diagrams” in Figure 2. Skills associated with this variable include tinkering, creat-
ing, and testing ideas via diagrams. Testing, in turn, entails initial testing of the
design idea, getting feedback, modifying the design, reevaluating it, and making a
decision to accept or reject the modeled idea. To assess students’ competency levels
relative to the iterate diagrams variable, we would have to put them in a situation in
which those constituent skills could be employed, such as in a game or simulation.
Diagnostically, the model could provide the framework for evaluating the degree to
which students are demonstrating particular design thinking skills at various times
and at various grain sizes relative to the model (for more, see Shute & Torres, 2012).
FIGURE 2. The design thinking competency model.
Note. Adapted from “Where Streams Converge: Using Evidence-Centered Design to Assess Quest to Learn.” In
M. Mayrath, J. Clarke-Midura, & D.H. Robinson (Eds.), Technology-Based Assessments for 21st Century-
Skills: Theoretical and Practical Implications from Modern Research (pp. 91-124). Charlotte, NC: Information
Age Publishing.
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Design Thinking and Its Importance
343
The design thinking competency model is useful for assessment and diagnostic
purposes. That is, once the key knowledge and skills have been identified, then
tasks and activities can be developed in line with the model’s variables. Another
relevant question concerns whether these skills are learnable. With sufficient prac-
tice within meaningful environments, along with scaffolded support and formative
feedback, we believe that students can learn design thinking skills. Moreover,
pedagogical approaches that involve problem-based learning, project-based learn-
ing, and inquiry-based learning can be used to enhance students’ design thinking
skills within the context of evocative and consequential classroom activities (Dym
et al., 2005).
Such learner-centered approaches can help to raise students’ awareness about
good design processes and generally enhance their interest in solving complex
problems. Associated activities could be designed in a way that requires students
to generate ideas/solutions, receive support for their emergent design thinking
skills, as well as ongoing feedback about the feasibility of various solutions.
Educators can support their students in developing these skills by providing them
with multiple and varied opportunities to design and create prototypes, experiment
with different ideas, collaborate with others, reflect on their learning, and repeat
the cycle while revising and improving each time.
In summary, the premise is that by improving students’ design thinking skills
through having them apply processes and methods that designers use to ideate and
help them experience how designers approach problems to try to solve them, stu-
dents will be more ready to face problems, think outside of the box, and come up
with innovative solutions. We believe that design thinking is more than just a skill
to be acquired and used in limited contexts. Rather, we view it as a way of thinking
and being that can potentially enhance the epistemological and ontological nature
of schooling.
Summary and Discussion
In this article, we reviewed the literature related to design thinking. Expert
designers are solution focused rather than problem focused. This appears to be a
feature of design thinking that comes with education and experience in designing
(Cross, 2004). Specifically, building experience in a particular domain allows
designers to quickly identify the problem and propose a solution. Generating, syn-
thesizing, and evaluating a solution are frequently identified as key features of
design expertise. Some research studies (e.g., Dorst & Cross, 2001; Guindon,
1990) have found that creative and productive design behavior seems to be associ-
ated with frequent switching of types of cognitive activity (e.g., analysis, synthe-
sis). Designers should be able to assess the conditions of a given situation and
quickly adjust their actions depending on the current set of needs (Stempfle &
Badke-Schaube, 2002).
Helping students to think like designers may better prepare them to deal with
difficult situations and to solve complex problems in school, in their careers, and
in life in general. Current educational practices, though, typically adhere to out-
dated theories of learning and pedagogy, evidenced by a so-called content fetish
(Gee, 2005). That is, schools continue to focus on increasing students’ proficiency
in traditional subjects such as math and reading, via didactic approaches, which
leaves many students disengaged. We can and should move beyond that limited
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Razzouk & Shute
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focus and consider new educationally valuable skills (e.g., design thinking, multi-
tasking, digital literacy) to value, assess, and support.
As described earlier, enhancing students’ design thinking skills may be achieved
through incorporating authentic and intriguing tasks into the classroom and pro-
viding many opportunities to apply design processes. In our design thinking model
shown in Figure 2, imagine tasks that are designed and developed for each of the
low-level nodes. As students work on the tasks, evidence is accumulated to evalu-
ate their performance. Such information can help educators monitor the student’s
performance, infer current states of strength and weakness relative to design think-
ing variables, and provide targeted feedback to improve the student’s performance.
Our goal as educators should not focus on preparing our students to perform well
on standardized exams, but to equip them with powerful skill sets that can help
them succeed both within and outside of school.
This article presented relevant research that has provided the basis for under-
standing (a) the nature of design thinking, (b) experts’ behavior in design, and (c)
differences between novice and expert designers. Most of these studies were qual-
itative and employed protocol analysis, which has some limitations as a research
method, especially for investigating design activities. For example, it can be a
weak method when researchers aim to capture designers’ nonverbal thought pro-
cesses, which are critical in design thinking. The majority of the studies we
reviewed aimed to examine either the differences between novice and expert
designers or characterize expert behavior in the designing process. However,
experimental evidence is lacking in the field of design research.
Researchers who are interested in measuring and supporting design thinking
have great opportunities to conduct a wide range of experimental studies that can
lead to important findings. For instance, researchers may examine the effects of
the design thinking process on various learning outcomes. They can also investi-
gate the effects of different tasks and their complexity relative to enhancing design
thinking skills, which in turn are assumed to increase students’ learning outcomes.
It would also be interesting to know if design thinking skills mediate the learning
process. In other words, design thinking skill may serve as a mediator that clarifies
the nature of the relationship between an independent variable (e.g., problem-
solving skill) and a dependent variable (e.g., math test scores). So, rather than
hypothesizing a direct causal relationship between problem-solving skill and math
test scores, we may hypothesize that problem-solving skill enhances design think-
ing skill, which in turn leads to an increase in math scores. Another important study
could examine the domain-specific versus domain-independent nature of design
thinking. In other words, can design thinking skill be examined independently of
particular domains (e.g., engineering vs. marketing), or is it context bound?
Currently, we have found no valid performance-based assessments of design
thinking skills. This lack adversely affects the ability to collect good evidence
about the effects of these skills on learning (Rotherham & Willingham, 2009). A
major challenge, then, is to design and develop accurate, performance-based mea-
sures of these skills. Assessing these types of 21st-century competencies is beyond
the capabilities of most traditional assessment formats (e.g., multiple-choice test,
self-report survey). Therefore, innovative assessments that aim to reliably measure
those skills should be designed and developed to assist researchers in collecting
valid and reliable evidence. We suggest employing the evidence centered design
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Design Thinking and Its Importance
345
(ECD) framework (Mislevy, Steinberg, & Almond, 2003) for designing valid per-
formance-based assessments for 21st-century skills. ECD is a systematic approach
to the design of assessments that focuses on the evidence (i.e., student performance
and products) of proficiencies as the basis for constructing assessment tasks and
making inferences about competency levels (for more, see Mislevy et al., 2003).
ECD is especially suited for assessments that involve complex problems and
dynamic, interactive environments—which are exactly the kinds of contexts
required for design problems.
There is considerable empirical work to be done to establish a full understand-
ing of design thinking. The studies surveyed in this article show the characteristics
of novice and expert designers. Having good design thinking skills can assist in
solving really complex problems as well as adjusting to unexpected changes.
Although the design process involves in-depth cognitive processes—which may
help our students build their critical thinking skills (e.g., reasoning and analysis)—
it also involves personality and dispositional traits such as persistence and creativ-
ity. If we are serious about preparing students to succeed in the world, we should
not require that they memorize facts and repeat them on demand; rather, we should
provide them with opportunities to interact with content, think critically about it,
and use it to create new information. Preparation for future work situations requires
teaching learners to use their minds well. To turn the tide in education that is leav-
ing students “ill-prepared to tackle real-world, complex problems [we must change
our course] . . . we cannot directly adjust the wind (the future), but we can adjust
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Authors
RIM RAZZOUK completed her PhD in instructional systems at the Florida State University
(FSU), Tallahassee, Florida. She also pursued her master's in instructional systems and
obtained a certificate in human performance technology from FSU. Her research interests
focus on the application and evaluation of different learner-centered methods and strate-
gies, integration of mobile technology in education, and development of team-shared
mental models. Currently, Rim is working as the director of measurement and assessment
at Edvation in Seattle, WA; e-mail: rr05e@fsu.edu.
VALERIE SHUTE is a professor at Florida State University. Before coming to FSU in 2007,
she was a principal research scientist at Educational Testing Service (2001-2007) where
she was involved with basic and applied research projects related to assessment, cogni-
tive diagnosis, and learning from advanced instructional systems. Her general research
interests hover around the design, development, and evaluation of advanced systems to
support learning, particularly related to twenty-first-century competencies. Her current
research involves using immersive games with stealth assessment to support learning of
cognitive and noncognitive knowledge and skills.
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... • Keywords: ( "Service design thinking" OR "Design thinking" ) AND ( "secondary education" OR "vocational training" OR "VET" ) According to Shé, Farrell, Brunton and Costello (2021), following Rowe (1987), Design Thinking (hereinafter DT) is a design methodology focused on finding a solution to one or several problems in a user-centred way, being demonstrated in different studies how this competence is useful to address complex, ill-defined or unknown problems (Brown, 2008;Ejsing-Duun and Skovbjerg, 2019;Mahe, Adams, Marsan, Templier and Bissonnette, 2019;Razzouk and Shute, 2012;Wolcott, McLaughlin, Hubbard, Rider and Umstead, 2021). In this sense, Stefaniak (2020, p. 201) defines DT as "a process that embodies empathetic design of solutions and iterations of ideation and innovation while engaging in problemsolving". ...
... One of the most relevant benefits of DT in the educational field is undoubtedly the practical application of creative thinking in problem solving (Razzouk & Shute, 2012). Linked to this, Morkel et al. (2017) highlight that, in addition to creativity, the educational programmes of DT is the development of students' empathy towards the needs of other individuals (also evidenced in the study by Shé et al., 2021), as well as the orientation of their learning towards problem solving. ...
... DT can be defined as an analytical and creative process that involves a person in opportunities to experiment, create, and prototype, as well as gain feedback and redesign [11]. The DT methodology as a solution-based framework consists of five components: empathize, define, ideate, prototype, and test [12]. ...
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Due to the pandemic caused by the SARSCoV-2 virus, higher education institutions need to develop innovations to accelerate change adaptation and give way to new teaching–learning processes. Since design thinking is currently used in an inspirational way to find solutions to problems, this work presents the design of an Educational Systematized Design Thinking (ESDT) methodology based on a hybrid approach of Kano’s model and the minimum value product creation. Moreover, its implementation is carried out to generate the so-called ESDT platform, which is a tool that students, teachers, and educational researchers can use to work remotely. A case study to respond to a fundamental design problem in the community of a group of architecture students is presented to demonstrate the effectiveness of the proposed work.
... Three popular problem-solving approaches are design thinking, agile, and design sprint. Design thinking enables designers to rapidly troubleshoot and propose solutions (Razzouk and Shute, 2012), but several differences set it apart in practice from agile and design sprint. While these three approaches may solve problems, the difference lies in the philosophy and the processes to find solutions. ...
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Choosing a suitable problem-solving methodology is vital for project success. Three popular approaches are design thinking, agile and design sprint. To date, a comparative review of these three approaches is missing. This paper provides a comparative outlook between design thinking, agile, and design sprint through a literature review lens. Critical aspects of differentiation between the three approaches centre on time, team composition, flexibility, main focus, goal setting and challenges, whereas the similarities are around problem-solving collaboration and user-centricity. Design thinking applies human-centred design as a key to addressing problem-solving needs. Agile is known for its iterative and incremental processes and is beneficial when uncertainty prevails. Design sprint focuses on a unique five-day process for designing, prototyping, and testing to bridge the gap between design thinking and agile. This study offers insights that will benefit project managers, designers, engineers, or anyone wanting to choose an appropriate approach for problem identification and resolution.
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Design Thinking" opens up new avenues for boosting current educational, creative thinking instructional, and innovation research paradigms. Design thinking approaches are widely being explored in various fields to meet the inspiration of the global era. It is now recognized as the learning experience through repeating activities in a problem-solving learning environment. With the growth of design thinking, much research has been conducted. The focus of this research is to look at the current state of design thinking research and make future research directions. This study also aims to provide up-to-date maps illustrating and organizing Scopus data sets relevant to design thinking research between 2000 and 2021. The study retrieved 1875 documents for further analysis using various tools. Microsoft Excel, Harzing Perish, and VOSviewer were used to complete the bibliometric review using standard bibliometric indicators. Visualization through maps based on-network data of scientific publications displaying relationships among researchers, countries, and scientific journals. The co-occurrence of phrases related to design thinking research was analyzed through author keywords. Based on what we have discovered,design thinking research is gaining popularity among scholars. The United States, followed by Germany, was the most significant contributor to design thinking research. Most articles connected to design thinking research have been published in computer science and social science. The top author keywords in terms of co-occurrence were "Design Thinking" "Innovation" "Design" and "Creativity" are all keywords used to express design thinking. The top-cited article from the Journal Of Engineering Education is titled "Engineering design thinking, teaching, and learning". Our findings will provide a clear grasp of design thinking research bodies' evolution trends. These current work analyses are valuable and essential resources for scholars and practitioners in design thinking academic researchers.
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Design Thinking" opens up new avenues for boosting current educational, creative thinking instructional, and innovation research paradigms. Design thinking approaches are widely being explored in various fields to meet the inspiration of the global era. It is now recognized as the learning experience through repeating activities in a problem-solving learning environment. With the growth of design thinking, much research has been conducted. The focus of this research is to look at the current state of design thinking research and make future research directions. This study also aims to provide up-to-date maps illustrating and organizing Scopus data sets relevant to design thinking research between 2000 and 2021. The study retrieved 1875 documents for further analysis using various tools. Microsoft Excel, Harzing Perish, and VOSviewer were used to complete the bibliometric review using standard bibliometric indicators. Visualization through maps based on-network data of scientific publications displaying relationships among researchers, countries, and scientific journals. The co-occurrence of phrases related to design thinking research was analyzed through author keywords. Based on what we have discovered,design thinking research is gaining popularity among scholars. The United States, followed by Germany, was the most significant contributor to design thinking research. Most articles connected to design thinking research have been published in computer science and social science. The top author keywords in terms of co-occurrence were "Design Thinking" "Innovation" "Design" and "Creativity" are all keywords used to express design thinking. The top-cited article from the Journal Of Engineering Education is titled "Engineering design thinking, teaching, and learning". Our findings will provide a clear grasp of design thinking research bodies' evolution trends. These current work analyses are valuable and essential resources for scholars and practitioners in design thinking academic researchers.
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Design Thinking" opens up new avenues for boosting current educational, creative thinking instructional, and innovation research paradigms. Design thinking approaches are widely being explored in various fields to meet the inspiration of the global era. It is now recognized as the learning experience through repeating activities in a problem-solving learning environment. With the growth of design thinking, much research has been conducted. The focus of this research is to look at the current state of design thinking research and make future research directions. This study also aims to provide up-to-date maps illustrating and organizing Scopus data sets relevant to design thinking research between 2000 and 2021. The study retrieved 1875 documents for further analysis using various tools. Microsoft Excel, Harzing Perish, and VOSviewer were used to complete the bibliometric review using standard bibliometric indicators. Visualization through maps based on-network data of scientific publications displaying relationships among researchers, countries, and scientific journals. The co-occurrence of phrases related to design thinking research was analyzed through author keywords. Based on what we have discovered,design thinking research is gaining popularity among scholars. The United States, followed by Germany, was the most significant contributor to design thinking research. Most articles connected to design thinking research have been published in computer science and social science. The top author keywords in terms of co-occurrence were "Design Thinking" "Innovation" "Design" and "Creativity" are all keywords used to express design thinking. The top-cited article from the Journal Of Engineering Education is titled "Engineering design thinking, teaching, and learning". Our findings will provide a clear grasp of design thinking research bodies' evolution trends. These current work analyses are valuable and essential resources for scholars and practitioners in design thinking academic researchers.
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Existen diversos espacios de aprendizaje informal que pueden resultar útiles a la hora de repensar el aula. La cultura maker es uno, en particular, se conforma de colectivos que tienen fascinación por crear y, en general, utilizan para tales propósitos las tecnologías digitales. Establecer puentes con dichas prácticas puede ser un camino posible que contribuya a mejorar las prácticas educativas. Desde la Universidad Pedagógica de la Provincia de Buenos Aires se han emprendido una serie de proyectos que exploran estas líneas de trabajo.
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Roger Martin, dean of the Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto, is interviewed on the subject of "design thinking"—approaching managerial problems as designers approach design problems—and its potential impact on management education. Under a design-thinking paradigm, students would be encouraged to think broadly about problems, develop a deep understanding of users, and recognize the value in the contributions of others. In Martin's view, the concept of design thinking can potentially address many of the criticisms currently being leveled at MBA programs. The interview is followed by a discussion and critique of the themes Martin raises.
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We recently hosted an assessment symposium at Florida State University which served as the basis for this book and focused on how to integrate assessment and instruction to improve student learning and education. The chapters in this book address the general issue of integrating assessment and instruction, and additionally provide innovative solutions to hard questions such as: What would an assessment, suitable for the needs of the twenty-first century, look like? How could it be standardized? Should it be standardized? How could it satisfy the current obsession with “metrics”? What is the role of the professional teacher in making twenty-first century assessments possible? What constraints would be faced by those who would implement such innovations in assessment practice?