Resources for integrating Design Thinking in Education

October 6, 2010 at 3:32 pm 6 comments

By: Rebecca Knowe
MGD Candidate NC State University
Featured project in the AIGA 2010 Conference on Education

Pic: Rebecca’s visual poster synthesizing available media tools 2010

Design thinking has become a popular concept for business leaders to study, and many have written on its potential influence on business strategy. My current graphic design work is taking me into studying a less-known combination—design thinking applied to education. Designing deals with open-ended, contextual problems, and requires thinking abilities far beyond rote memorization.

The twenty-first century labor market requires similar competencies in problem-solving, decision-making, knowing how to learn, self-management, and other skills typically fostered by design thinking. This list of competencies comes from the U.S. Department of Labor’s 1992 SCANS (Secretary’s Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills) study, and it has informed a large part of my research thus far.

Under the tutelage of Meredith Davis, I conducted a first phase of research where I studied the resources currently available for social studies curricula in American middle schools (particularly in North Carolina). The poster here came out of that research and focuses on a matrix of resources which were generated from teacher interviews and journal articles. The matrix sets up an analysis of the resources list as measured against the foundational skills determined by the U.S. Department of Labor study. The fifteen skills, categorized as Basic, Thinking, and Personal, are the qualities that graduates of U.S. schools must have to support the labor market in meaningful ways.

The matrix shows my estimation of how the available resources stack up against these skills. I found that the most available and most heavily-relied upon resources support only a small portion of the skills. Reading and writing, both considered Basic Skills, are encouraged by almost every tool available, while Thinking Skills have less support. “Knowing how to learn,” “reasoning,” and “making decisions”, for example, are rarely supported, although “seeing things in the mind’s eye” is required quite often. The Personal Qualities, especially “individual responsibility,” “sociability,” and “integrity,” have the closest connection with the social studies mission (to develop students’ ability to make informed, reasoned decisions for the public good in an interdependent world). These skills most often see development through new media tools such as social networking websites, which can be used for students to collaborate across the globe. On the matrix this translates to a higher density of marks in the “Personal Qualities” columns where these resources are concentrated at the bottom of the list.

Experts like communications media specialist Howard Rheingold stress participatory media’s importance to civic education. But unfortunately, the resources that best encourage development of Personal Qualities are not often utilized or available. Watch Howard Rheingold on Participatory Media´s importance to civic education

One teacher I talked with spoke of administration’s pressure on younger teachers to keep a very structured classroom, although participatory media tools naturally lead to unstructured work. A school principal roaming the halls, for instance, tends to assume students are making mischief if they are seen congregating around a computer instead of quietly reading alone. Many restrictions against technology—ipods, cell phones, etc.—keep administration in defense mode against these “distractions,” instead of proactively seeking ways to educate with them. My next research steps will be toward seeing how technology, within a collaborative relationship between students and teachers, can help promote design thinking in learning—particularly in asking critical questions.

Further reading:
National Council for the Social Studies, on Media Literacy


Entry filed under: Design Thinking, Diseño Gráfico/ Graphic Design, Educacion, Media.

Personal data tracking-self-management or paranoia? PDF On Learning Resources for integrating Design Thinking in school education

6 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Pablo Fernandez  |  October 6, 2010 at 8:52 pm

    Amazing! Are the results and conclusions from the study available?

  • […] This was also posted in the Design for Social Innovation […]

  • 3. MIK  |  October 7, 2010 at 2:21 am

    Lo voy a mandar a mi equipo.

  • 4. Resources 4 School |  |  May 7, 2011 at 6:32 am


  • 5. Allie Noah  |  July 5, 2011 at 9:49 pm

    I wish the image was larger and clearer.

    • 6. constanzamiranda  |  August 3, 2011 at 6:29 pm

      It is! Follow the links and you can download the PDF.



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contact + citing (CC license)

Constanza Miranda PhD(c) design.anthro
* Currently @ DILAB
* Ex.VR @ Stanford's Center for Design Research [DesignXLab]
* Ex.Instructor @ PUC Chile [Design+Engineering]
Use citations ¡Citar es ético!
Creative Commons License
Design for Social Innovation initiative by Constanza Miranda is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
Based on a work at

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