Exploring New Metaphors for Education through Design Thinking

As a teacher, participating in this type of research [Design based] gave me the opportunity to work toward solving challenging pedagogical issues in my classroom with collaborators who were experts in the field; it was fantastic professional development for me. As a researcher, I get to see what happens when a promising practice is put into action in a particular context. Everyone wins – students, teachers, and researchers.  -Sarah Hunt-Barron

Last night the Literacy Research Association sponsored their sixth netcast. We focused on formative research and how this translates to the classroom. Two themes kept reoccurring throughout the talk around new metaphors for education.

  • In order to empower teachers we need to consider teaching more of an engineering career.
  • We also using the principles of design thinking, need to rethink the concept of rigor in research.

This new mindset would help transform research and professional development.

Teaching as Engineering Science.

Formative, or design based research does not begin with a question. Instead you start with a goal in mind. Then you develop learning activities, grounded in literature to reach this goal. As you begin the work you take note of factors that enhance and inhibit the goal and enter into a process of iteration. Basically it boils down to, “How can we design something and what can we learn from designing it?”

Education in terms of practice and research benefit when we draw on engineering and a design metaphor. We need to create situations for students to design their won learning and engage in MakerEd. We need to think of our own practices as teachers in terms of a constant iterative practice based on reflection and a goal for the greater good.

Rigor or Vigor?

The panelists also held a wonderful discussion on what should count as rigor in educational research. They discussed the amount of data analysis necessary to do formative experiments well. It involved a constant examination of quantiative and qualitative factors through numerous design cycles. Just like engineers teachers and researchers need to build things and change what does not work.

I found myself on a train during the show so spent more time on Twitter as wifi on Amtrak did not allow me to watch the live. I brought up the idea that maybe rigor does not work as a modifier for research. After all rigor means to be stiff. That does not seem to share principles with iterative design.

Jeremy Lenzi shared a wonderful idea with me. Maybe we need research with vigor and not rigor.

Vigor, mean to life, to be lively, anyone who has spent time doing classroom research knows fidelity can be out of reach beacuse we are talking about lively spaces. The panelists argued that the greater good and the pedagogical goal should drive research. Sounds more like vigor than rigor to me.

Professional Development and Formative Design

Just before the show I also participated in the weekly #edchat on Twitter. We all discussed ways to improve training teachers get once they work in the field. I see many parallels to the panelists talk in terms of improving education through high quality professional development.

Teachers need to design their own professional development. They shoudl create this design cycle around a pedagogical goal. Then over the course of their “learning cycles” teachers can use a process to see whta works to reach that goal and change what is not working.

The goals can from many places. Teachers might have to develop student learning objectives for their evaluation systems. Maybe the teacher and  her building administrator work together to  develop goals after formal observations. Finally teachers might just choose a goal such as improving internet comprehension and seek out opportunities to learn about pedagogy rooted in research.

The design cycle works for professional development. Teachers just need to build iterative design and reflective teaching into everyday practice.

Professional Development Built on Design Thinking

When selecting professional development to attent teachers should make sure opportunities to make, create, break, and iterate are included. There is no need for districts to spend thousands of dollars to see speakers. We have YouTube for that.

Spires & Young (2012) https://www.citejournal.org/articles/v13i4General1Fig2.jpg
Spires & Young (2012) https://www.citejournal.org/articles/v13i4General1Fig2.jpg

Formal professional development should revolve around the design cycle. For example at the New Literacies Institute we build the class around inquiry. Background knowledge is taught before the conference through learning modules. At the conference itself teachers choose a pedagogical goal. Next researchers work with teachers to  identify digital texts and tools that align to that goal. Using these resources participants  create learning activities that should enhance the goal. Finally they bring the project back to the classroom and iterate.


Design thinking has reshaped my vision of education. Every aspect from teacher preperation, to curriculum, professional development, and research needs new models and metaphors. We need to consider design thinking as a guiding principle, an overarching theoretical perspective. As an end result the act of iterative teaching and reflective practice  will then get ensconced in every classroom at every level.

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