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An introduction to design thinking: Implications and applications in K-12 educational institutions.

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Abstract and Figures

Design thinking (DT) is both a method and mindset applicable in a broad range of fields and industries. Some of the defining features of DT included focusing on need definition before problem solving, abdication of preconceived outcomes, being situated towards ambiguity, being human-centric, and having a reflexive process that seeks to increase contextual knowledge using empathy as the basis of understanding. Based on a review of the literature and the authors professional experience, we proposed an operational definition of DT, described several of the methodologies and attributes of DT, situated DT within a philosophical framework, and discussed implications to practice in K-12 educational institutions. We argued that DT represents the operationalization of constructivist practice for learning and can be applicable to all aspects K-12 educational institutions including leadership and operations. Keywords: Design thinking, constructivism, philosophical framework, education, human-centered design
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Running head: DESIGN THINKING IN K-12 EDUCATION
An Introduction to Design Thinking:
Implications and Applications in K-12 Educational Institutions
By
Shawn Thomas Loescher
Urban Discovery Schools
Michèle Morris
University of California at San Diego
Tali Lerner
Urban Discovery Schools
CENTER FOR SECONDARY SCHOOL REDESIGN
Annual Conference, San Diego, CA
February 2019
DESIGN THINKING IN K-12 EDUCATION i
Author’s Notes
Shawn Thomas Loescher, Chief Executive Officer, Urban Discovery Schools.
Michèle Morris, Assistant Director of the Design Lab,
University of California at San Diego.
Tali Lerner, Dean of Student Innovations, IDEATE High Academy,
Urban Discovery Schools.
Correspondence should be addressed to Urban Discovery Schools,
840 14th Street, San Diego, CA, 92101. Email: ceo@urbansd.com.
DESIGN THINKING IN K-12 EDUCATION ii
ABSTRACT
Design thinking (DT) is both a method and mindset applicable in a broad range of fields
and industries. Some of the defining features of DT included focusing on need definition before
problem solving, abdication of preconceived outcomes, being situated towards ambiguity, being
human-centric, and having a reflexive process that seeks to increase contextual knowledge using
empathy as the basis of understanding. Based on a review of the literature and the authors
professional experience, we proposed an operational definition of DT, described several of the
methodologies and attributes of DT, situated DT within a philosophical framework, and
discussed implications to practice in K-12 educational institutions. We argued that DT represents
the operationalization of constructivist practice for learning and can be applicable to all aspects
K-12 educational institutions including leadership and operations.
Keywords: Design thinking, constructivism, philosophical framework, education,
human-centered design
DESIGN THINKING IN K-12 EDUCATION iii
© 2019 Shawn Thomas Loescher, Michèle Morris and Tali Lerner
DESIGN THINKING IN K-12 EDUCATION 1
An Introduction to Design Thinking:
Implications and Applications in K-12 Educational Institutions
Design thinking (DT) is both a method and an orientation towards innovation and
improvement that has been applied to a variety of industries and social settings (Yee, Jefferies &
Michlewski, 2017; Orthel, 2015). Rather than whole scale improvement initiatives that seek out
process efficiencies for generalizability, such as Lean Six Sigma (George, 2010) or the Learning
Organization (Senge, 1990), DT situates itself within continuous improvement that is focused on
human-centric experience (Gallagher & Thodarson, 2018; Biffi, Bissola & Imperatori, 2017;
Silverman, 2017). In this way DT seeks out solving the “right” problem in any given context and
considers the people within that ecosystem. While DT has been used in educational settings
(Gallagher & Thordarson, 2018; Loescher 2018; Scheer, Noweski & Meinel, 2012), there
remains many questions about how it can be aligned to the current educational landscape, K-12
institutions and redesign initiatives.
The purpose of this introduction to DT was to engage the reader in the background of
DT, create an operational definition of DT that can be applied to education, present some of the
prevailing models of DT as a method, and situate DT within a larger philosophical framework. In
particular, this review was intended as an introduction to DT to allow for the researchers to
explore some of the implications and application of DT in K-12 educational settings. This
conference paper sought out to answer the questions of (1) what are the background and
traditions of design thinking? and (2) what may be some of the implications to practice in K-12
educational institutions?
DESIGN THINKING IN K-12 EDUCATION 2
Method
This conference paper was developed using a qualitative heuristic approach and self-
study of empirical practice of the researchers. It involved a review of both primary and
secondary source literature through a qualitative constructivist process. In our method we
selected quotes from the literature in a process of sense making of the topics being studied.
These quotes were then coded, sorted, and reviewed through analytic memos and active
reflections (Charmaz, 2017; Saldaña, 2016). In this process, emergent themes were constructed
as it pertained to the background of DT to develop an operational definition, situate DT within a
philosophical framework and discuss implications to practice in K-12 educational institutions.
We also reviewed current practices at the University of California at San Diego Design
Lab and Urban Discovery Schools (UDS). The purpose of our review of practice was to provide
examples of how DT was being used within an educational organization in the Southwest,
United States. Our review included how the University of California at San Diego Design Lab
and UDS partnership put into practice transformational models of both organizational
development and pedagogical practice to advance student achievement within their adoption of
DT. These practices were also shared with scholars working on DT in education including those
at the Office of Scholarship and Innovation at the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College at Arizona
State University (Scragg, Warr & Mishra, 2018). The authors also relied upon their professional
experience in the implementation and adoption of DT in both professional and academic settings.
These experiences were considered relevant as part of a critical approach of this work (Denzin &
Lincoln, 2011).
DESIGN THINKING IN K-12 EDUCATION 3
Literature Review and Framework of Design Thinking
The development of DT can be traced back to the 1950’s and is grounded in the theories,
practices and traditions of design sciences (Orthel, 2015) and psychology (Biffi et al., 2017;
Coyne, 2005). Design is an anticipatory and problem-solving activity (Silverman, 2017; Yee et
al., 2017; Elwood, Savenye, Jordan, Larson, & Zapata, 2016) applicable to a wide variety of
situations including complex problems (Biffi, 2017; Jordan, 2016; Coyne 2005). Many scholars
point to Rowe’s 1987 work on ‘design thinking’ as the formalization of the terminology of
DT (Mosely, Wright & Wrigley, 2018). Rowe is often cited in the literature as developing DT
methods and making historical connections of how DT originates from the practices of designers
(Orthel, 2015; Razzouk & Shute, 2012).
DT has been described by some as being a methodology (Henriksen, et al., 2018; Biffi et
al., 2017; Elwood et al., 2016). However, it is also marked by a change in approach to problem
solving (Henriksen et al., 2018; Jordan, 2016; Orthel, 2015). This includes the embracing of
certain methodological techniques such as prototyping, but also asks a mindset whereby one
should be open to solutions that are both unknown and evolutionary in nature (Biffi et al., 2017;
Yee et al., 2017). This may place DT within the branch of improvement models that has been
characterized by Argyris and Schön as being focused on continuous improvement (Cousins,
2018) while embracing the rhizomatic ambiguity of postmodernist such as Deleuze and Guattari
(Biffi et al., 2017; Coyne, 2005). As a model of learning and understanding, rhizomatic concepts
create a multiplicity of thoughts and realities (Deleuze & Guattari, 1987).
Method and Mindset of DT
While the ideas of DT have been popularized by organizations such as IDEO and
institutions such as Stanford University (Mosley et al., 2018; Yee et al., 2017; Elwood et al.,
DESIGN THINKING IN K-12 EDUCATION 4
2016), there is no fixed definition or method of DT. Moreover, DT is often directly or indirectly
used synonymously with related but separate terms such as, but not limited to, user experience,
human-centered design, and human factors. Scholars have recommended that the successful
implementation DT may be facilitated by a customized organizational practice developed during
the adoption of the innovation of DT (Gallagher & Thordarson, 2018; Silverman, 2017; Yee et
al., 2017). In this way, DT becomes part of the designerly ways upon which organizations can
grow. Scholars and practitioners also recommend several models to start the process of
implementing DT in an organization (Yee et al., 2017; Orthel, 2015).
Many of the key components of DT can be grouped into two categories, that of
methodology and that of mindset or disposition. There are a variety of methodological
approaches associated with DT (Gallagher & Thordarson, 2018; Biffi et al., 2017; Orthel, 2015).
As a starting point many organizations adopt the IDEO model (Mosely, 2018; Yee et al., 2017;
Elwood et al., 2016). This five-step model represents the reflexive steps of (a) emphasize, (b)
define, (c) ideate, (d) prototype, and (e) test (Yee et al., 2017). As previously reviewed, an
adaptation of DT may become part of the process for organizational adoption. Several common
attributes in this process have been found (Yee et al., 2017; Biffi et al., 2017; Orthel, 2015).
For example, Yee et al. (2017) conducted case studies of 13 organizations that had
adopted DT and found that many had moved away from the IDEO DT model. These
organizations included large private businesses, non-profit organizations, and government
institutions. The implementation of DT in these organizations held the common attributes of
continuing to go through processes of empathetic reflection, ideation, and prototyping to scale
efforts (Yee et al., 2017). Research studies on DT show similar attributes of phases of empathetic
DESIGN THINKING IN K-12 EDUCATION 5
discovery, ideation, and prototyping to achieve a promising implementation model (Henriksen et
al., 2018; Biffi et al., 2017; Coyne, 2005).
From the perspective of mindset and dispositions, the literature suggests that there are
several common characteristics of organizations that have adopted DT. Here we have identified
four areas that emerged in the literature. These included being human-centered, embracing
ambiguity, being highly reflexive, and involving visualization of data. Here we briefly explore
each of these areas.
The human-centered disposition of DT is a critical attribute of how problems are
approached (Biffi et al., 2017; Yee et al., 2017). This sets DT apart from movements such as
Senge’s (1990) Learning Organization, which focuses on systems thinking from a process and
procedures point of view (Yee et al., 2017). Within DT’s human-centricity the needs of
customers, users, targeted audiences, and those that serve them are tied together through a
reflective and empathetic process (Gallagher & Thordarson, 2018; Henriksen et al., 2018;
Orthel, 2015). Therefore, rather than discounting the humans as an apparatus of process, the
people become the focal point whereby everyone within the ecosystem is intrinsically tied.
The use of DT requires people to become accustomed to ambiguity (Henriksen et al.,
2018; Elwood et al., 2016; Jordan, 2016). By relinquishing preconceived notions of what an
outcome might be, those participating on a DT team are able to more deeply empathize in the
human-centered process. This facilitates the exploration of ideas that may have been concealed
by this ambiguity or disregarded as a result of traditional organizational and team constraints and
power dynamics. This embracing of ambiguity also permits an organizations’ DT method to
become highly reflexive and non-linear (Biffi et al., 2017; Jordan, 2016; Orthel, 2015). In this
way, the DT method was not a permanent or semi-permanent series of action steps, but rather
DESIGN THINKING IN K-12 EDUCATION 6
guidelines for action that are inherently flexible and able to bend back upon each other to create
a type of rhizomatic flow (Biffi et al., 2017; Elwood et al., 2016; Coyne, 2005).
Finally, DT often involves visualizing data in a process of sense making (Biffi et al.,
2017; Yee et al., 2017). Perhaps the most recognizable of DT practices is the ideation process
whereby ideas are placed on sticky notes and then organized into themes. The human-centered
approach of DT cautions against the overuse of strictly quantitative data (Gallagher &
Thordarson, 2018). This moves those involved in DT into a focus on mix-methods technique
where ideas are created within a multidisciplinary group environment. The visualization of the
produced ideas is both an acceptable and necessary way for participants to make sense of the
collective data. In this way DT can use multi-strand methods that allow for explanatory
research design models. A multi-strand explanatory research design is used when there is not
clearly established previous research and is characterized by the use mixed methods with the
qualitative data being utilized to explore and create operational definitions of the problem to be
addressed (Ivankova, 2016; Creswell, 2015). This method may be appropriate when the
previously established research appears to be limited in depth or breadth for the evolving context
or marketplace.
Operational Definition Philosophical Framework of DT
To support our ongoing work, we adopted an operational definition of DT as being a
highly reflexive, non-linear process that involved empathetic exploration of a topic through
mixed-methods with data visualization. It was inclusive of the development of prototypes
through ideation, with the testing of promising prototypes in search of the next iteration of
empathetic exploration. This operational definition allowed for UDS to develop and explore
various models that allow for a continuous growth cycle for improvement (see Figure 1).
DESIGN THINKING IN K-12 EDUCATION 7
Figure 1. Design thinking methods model adopted by Urban Discovery Schools
Scholars have argued that a philosophical framework should be considered when
situating ground level change theories (Koro-Ljungberg, Yendol-Hoppey, Smith, & Hayes, 2009;
Gutek, 2004; Crotty, 1998). It has been argued that philosophical dispositions have impacts to
how educational changes are adopted (Loescher, 2018; Main, 2009; Gutek, 2004). Therefore, in
addition to developing an operational definition of DT, we have proposed a theoretical alignment
of DT within the field of philosophy (see Table 1). The purpose of this theoretical alignment was
to facilitate our discussion of the implications and applications of DT within K-12 educational
institutions.
Table 1
Proposed Theoretical Alignment of Design Thinking
Ontology
Epistemology
Theoretical Perspective
Methodology
Idealism
Subjectivism
Postmodernism/Critical Inquiry
Design Thinking
DESIGN THINKING IN K-12 EDUCATION 8
Discussion on Educational Implications and Applications
Having reviewed the literature on DT, here we outline some of the implications and
application in practice that may be adopted by K- 12 educational institutions. First, we engage in
a discussion situating DT within normative educational philosophy and review a few of the
implications to instruction, curriculum, and assessment. Then, we discuss how DT may be
applied to educational institutions with an overview of aspects of school culture, organizational
development, and school leadership. Finally, we discuss some of the challenges that may be
associated with adoptions of DT by K-12 educational institutions. As with previous sections of
this article, this is an overview of only a few of the areas of applicability.
Philosophical Disposition and Pedagogical Implications
Philosophical dispositions have implications to curriculum, instruction, and assessment
(Guetk, 2004). Therefore, within our theoretical framework, we extended DT’s orientation into
educational philosophy so that we could consider the implications to educational institutions and
their practice. Based upon the postmodernism that we have argued that DT is situated within, we
found that DT is applicable to the normative educational philosophy of reconstructionism.
Reconstructionism has been defined as believing that we are obligated to recreate the world into
a more ideal state of being with a focus on social issues (Gutek, 2004). Reconstructionism is
most readily associated with the ontology of idealism, the epistemology of subjectivism, and is
often associated with postmodernism and critical inquiry (Crotty, 1998). Here we will discuss a
few implications to practice for instruction, curriculum, and assessment for those that engage in
DT. Our intention is to create an opening discussion for the reader and the teams they are
working with.
DESIGN THINKING IN K-12 EDUCATION 9
An implication to instruction may be that those who are engage in DT in the classroom
should be grounded in constructivism. Scholars have argued that DT in the classroom is the
operationalization of constructivist practice (Henriksen et al., 2018; Elwood, et al., 2016; Scheer
et al., 2012). This may also involve advanced instructional strategies that intend to invoke critical
reflection and thought process such as deconstruction. Deconstruction is a qualitative linguistic
exploratory process whereby a text or subject is explored for hidden, unintended and multiple
meanings that create additional possibilities for interpretation (Derrida, 1997).
The process of deconstruction involves examining preconceived notions and hierarchies
to make room for transformational thinking (Royle, 2000). To facilitate such a process as an
instructional strategy, the positionality of the teacher may need to be reoriented from that of
subject matter expert to that of co-learner (Freire, 2011). This might also allow for a rhizomatic
approach to learning that has been adopted by some DT scholars (Biffi, 2017; Coyne 2005).
What becomes important is that teachers are trained on a variety of instructional practice so that
they are able to facilitate the constructivist process.
For curriculum, many of the challenges associated with the successful application of DT
pertain to high levels of context complexity or wicked problems. Wicked problems are socially
grounded issues that are complex without clearly defined answers and are often interwoven with
other problems that are equally complex (Rittel & Webber, 1973). While design concepts in
education have been explored through essential questions with supporting frameworks (Wiggins
& McTighe, 2005), practitioners of DT may need to pay attention to how those questions are
framed. We argue that essential questions should set parameters to the learning activity, embrace
ambiguity, and allow for a dynamic and generative facilitation of the process of learning.
DESIGN THINKING IN K-12 EDUCATION 10
Within DT, the pedagogical practice of using essential questions should not seek to
eliminate discrete learning outcomes or the need for addressing procedural learning (Gallagher &
Thordarson, 2018; Jordan, 2016; Wiggins & McTighe, 2005). Because of the fluidity of the
constructivist practice that DT represents, outcomes of procedural learning may need to be
explicitly defined as part of the curriculum design of each unit or project. With the defined
outcomes in place, the teacher required to adjust instructional practice as a facilitator of learning
a classroom learning community. As part of human-centered design, the development of
curriculum and units of study in DT may require students to be involved. For example, at UDS
secondary school units of study were subjected to a review by design teams with teachers and
students examining outcomes and ideas for improving learning based upon their mutually
defined human-center experience.
The use of DT does not negate a process of assessment. Rather, DT requires assessment
and tests as a means of measuring progress and as part of the highly reflexive iterative cycle that
it is engaged in (Biffi et al., 2017; Yee et al., 2017; Orthel, 2015). Assessment of many DT
projects require a rubric or multiple data points to monitor student academic growth and data. As
DT embraces ambiguity (Henriksen et al., 2018; Jordan, 2016; Orthel, 2015), outcomes of any
DT cumulative process are not known at the onset. This requires multiple forms and modalities
of assessments within design projects (Wiggins & McTighe, 2005) to allow the rhizomatic
process the freedom to take shape (Henriksen et al., 2018; Biffi et al., 2017; Coyne, 2005). This
does not dismiss current assessment models, inclusive of, but not limited to, classroom and
standardized testing. Rather, DT is inclusive of many current assessments as part of multiple
modalities to allow for an interpretation of results (Wiggins & McTighe, 2005).
DESIGN THINKING IN K-12 EDUCATION 11
Assessment within DT may need to allow for students to fail a DT project as part of the
iteration of learning. This can occur through allowing students or design teams to demonstrate
their learning through multiple modalities such as presentations, reflections, plans for their next
iteration of learning, or other means of showing academic and personal growth. For example, at
UDS a DT challenge asked students to explore a state electoral system. The design challenge was
to develop a more just districting system that was representative of the population. The student
design teams explored issue of social justice, legal aspects of redistricting, and statistics. After
prototyping several systems, the design teams failed to find a way to design a system that would
give what it deemed to be a fair representation for those of African American descent. This
failure opened up a discussion for further exploration on the topic of designing a new type of
electoral system that may be more just in a digital world that may not be based upon geographic
districting.
Implications to School Culture, Organizational Development and Leadership
As with areas associated with instruction practice, DT may have additional considerations
K-12 educational institutions. It has been argued by scholars that DT has created more
egalitarian approaches to decision making and flattened organizational structures (Gallagher &
Thordarson, 2018; Yee et al., 2017). This may raise questions about implementing the innovation
of DT that may have implications to school culture, organizational development and operations
in our educational institutions. Primarily, we argue that educational institutions must not simply
demand DT in the classroom, but must embrace DT as a means and mechanism with
implications to every aspect of our classrooms, schools and districts.
The importance of school culture has been well established within the literature
(Loescher, 2018; Sheehan & Rall, 2011; Ravitz, 2010; Yasso, 2005). Within the framework of
DESIGN THINKING IN K-12 EDUCATION 12
our operational definition of DT, we find that there are three primary aspects that must be
considered. First, schools must be culturally responsive through an empathetic process that is
inclusive of, but not limited to, those that attend the school. Next, school must be a safe place to
earnestly try and fail for all people. Finally, how we provide leadership to our schools may have
implications to the successful adoption of DT.
For student and parents, this may mean the exploration of topics as being co-constructed.
For example, at UDS they were engaged in meeting structures call Community Design Sessions.
This was a process for parents and students to move through DT cycles to address complex
social issues such as racism, human sexuality, substance abuse, and the origination of personal
belief systems that may cause biases. In this way, students and parents were taking on active
participatory roles in a constructionist process. They were also engaging in reconstructionism by
attempting to creating a more socially just world and providing voices to historically
underrepresented and/or oppressed individuals, groups, and populations.
For faculty and staff, there may need to be substantial considerations for how their work
performance is evaluated. Employees need to feel safe in engaging in DT and the process of
continuously prototyping and testing new practice and process. For example, at UDS they have
engaged in a redesigned human resource development and evaluation system that not only
promotes the exploration and adoption of innovations, but also allows for those innovations to
fail. In the UDS human resource development model, there was a baseline evaluation for all
employees which primarily focused on being an effective member of the professional learning
environment.
However, one section of the UDS evaluation system focused on the willingness to
embrace change, tolerate ambiguity and engage in new practice. When performance
DESIGN THINKING IN K-12 EDUCATION 13
requirements were reached in this area there was the creation of a growth topic or goals. Once a
growth topic or goal was established, there was a separate process to support the individual in
their design cycle to develop an innovation to test. Regardless of the success of the innovation,
the employee was asked to present to the team and share their learning.
With this support in place, at UDS teachers were using DT within the fields of curriculum
development, mastery-based learning systems, grade reporting systems, reimagined classroom
spaces, and student support systems. The most promising prototypes were brought to test during
the school year. Teachers were not evaluated on the success or failure of their prototypes or pilot
test, rather they were evaluated on their teamwork, work ethic, and willingness to share their
learning and growth through the process. Sharing occurred at design team meetings, at
professional development, and through progress checks that occur on a weekly basis. In those
meetings, setbacks and failures were celebrated as part of the process of learning.
School and district leaders that wish to implement DT may need to do so using DT itself.
This may require school leaders to be prepared strike a delicate balance between establishing
expectations for DT while allowing for the co-creation of the processes and practices that
operationalization it within the institution. We argue that one cannot simply order that
constructivism occur in the classroom. Rather, we assert that school leaders should engage in the
constructivist practice itself as part of implementing DT in all aspect of operations and
instruction.
Challenges of Implementing DT in Education
Implementing change in schools and educational institutions is a complex process (Yee et
al., 2017; Hall & Hord, 2015). Several organizational change models suggest that the
implementation of innovations is a communication process (Hall & Hord, 2015; Christensen,
DESIGN THINKING IN K-12 EDUCATION 14
Anthony & Roth, 2004; Rogers, 2003). As previously reviewed, DT draws on a heuristic inquiry
and mixed-methods traditions as a means of constructing options of possible future states of
being (Biffi et al., 2017; Orthel, 2015; Conye, 2005). This may situate DT as a means of
addressing the challenges associated with implementation cycles (Gallagher & Thordarson,
2018; Yee et al., 2017). Here we review a few considerations of the challenges that have been
highlighted in the literature and have been experienced by practitioners in the field of K-12
education.
It has been argued that education is a field that faces challenges in changing institutional
norms because it is comprised of people that consider themselves experts in the way things
should be done (Yee et al., 2017; Elwood et al., 2016). Within DT, there can be no singular
expertise in an outcome of something that is not known. Therefore, the perception of the
educator being the single expert qualified to make decisions about education may be a limiting
factor. This is because such views may narrow the scope of exploration of possibilities of new
ways of conducting educational activities and how they can be administered (Yee et al., 2017).
This does not negate the expertise of those in education. Rather, it considers all of those within
the ecosystem as experts either by way of training or experience. This ensures that attention is
given to a distributed process that considers the concepts of equality and equity of all
stakeholder. Here we explore two of the many areas where DT may face significant challenges.
The educational funding model is primarily driven by a calculation of instructional
minutes through the administration of a master schedule (Townley & Schmieder-Ramirez, 2008).
However, DT may involve a fluid process that requires modifications to school days, master
schedules, and instructional minutes. Within DT learning models, individual seat time of students
may become blurred as the focus is on continuous learning. By continuous learning, we mean
DESIGN THINKING IN K-12 EDUCATION 15
that regardless of the level of student achievement, even at levels significantly above grade level,
students should be engaged in a cycle continuous learning. In addition, the master schedule may
need modifications for block times to work on DT learning models. Depending upon the
educational system, administration may be required within collective bargaining agreements to
hold votes before modifying a master schedule.
Learning outcomes are often established within state education codes (Stark & Noel,
2015; Carlson & Planty, 2012). This may include, but not be limited to, the adoption of
standards, course requirements for graduation, standardized testing requirements, and state
mandated graduation exams. This may require an examination of the intentions of the education
code and seeking out ways that it can be addressed in different ways. In some cases, the adoption
of mastery-based learning criteria and systems may allow for more flexibility in the classroom
and at the school level. For example, the implementation of DT within classrooms often
represents the intersectionality of, rather than the division of, subject matter (Orthel, 2015).
Mastery-based learning systems may allow school systems to monitor student progress across the
ecosystem of subjects, topics, and learning outcomes while allowing for them to be monitored in
multiple classrooms. This may also establish what criteria consideration should occur for a
student to be deemed a completer of topic, unit of study or level subject matter.
Conclusion
DT is an extension of design science and postmodern psychology that reaches back to the
1950’s. Rowe is often credited with the formalization of the term DT (Gallagher & Thordarson,
2018). DT has been used to engage in wicked problems (Biffi et al., 2017; Coyne, 2005). This
has included being applied in professional, social, and academic settings. We reviewed the
literature and developed an operational definition of DT which included the characteristics of
DESIGN THINKING IN K-12 EDUCATION 16
being a reflective, human-centered, problem solving process that embraces ongoing empathetic
practice, solving for unknown solutions, collaboration of a diversity of disciplines and thinking,
prototyping, and continuous improvement. Our review placed DT as being within the
philosophical framework of idealism, subjectivism, critical inquiry, and postmodernism. This
situated DT within the normative educational philosophy of reconstructionism.
We argued that DT holds promise to K-12 educational institution as the
operationalization of constructivist practice for students and teachers (Henriksen et al., 2018;
Elwood et. al., 2016; Scheer, 2012). We found that the work of DT in K-12 education institutions
may be supported by the adoptions of a philosophical framework to advance innovation through
inspired and reasonable risk taking. This may involve periodic failures as part of the learning
process of prototyping and testing. We also argued that the implementation of DT in the
classroom should be mirrored by use of DT by school leadership and in all aspects of K-12
school and district operations. While there are many challenges involved in implementing DT
within K-12 education, we found that they may be addressed with the use of DT itself. In this
way, DT becomes transformational strategy for K-12 educational institutions that reshapes their
ontological approach from accepting their state of being (Crotty, 1998) as a starting point in a
journey of becoming (Gray, 2013).
DESIGN THINKING IN K-12 EDUCATION 17
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