Design Futures in Education

Hannah Ison, Erica Patrick & Gabrielle Wild

The following literature review was undertaken in order to theoretically inform our direction within education, and provide research relevant to design futures in education. This research focused on themes such as: design thinking, cognitive learning, pedagogy, sustainability, and cultural values. Findings from this research highlighted the potential for alteration and improved implementation for design futures in education. Design has the potential to redirect educational practices and methods by addressing both current and future challenges faced by mankind. “The problems of education are merely reflections of the deepest problems of our age. . . Education which fails to clarify our central convictions is mere training or indulgence,” (Schumacher 1974, 83).

Background + Context
Design thinking and cognitive learning have major roles in design education, as they encourage the development of design pedagogy. One of the inherent problems in contemporary design education is the impossible problem of defining ‘necessary knowledge’. Who is to say what kind of knowledge is necessary in order to achieve a more conceptual and theoretical understanding of design (Oxman 2004). Design thinking is the term increasingly being used to define the human-centred problem solving process used to decode real world ‘wicked’ problems. Design thinking is not only beneficial to the field of design, but can also aide students in building cognitive and social skills to help in all other aspects of work and life (Carroll et al. 2010).  The lack of this design thinking in Australian educational facilities presents an opportunity to design a curriculum surrounding the idea of designing thinking and employing it in practice (Melles, Howard and Thompson-Whiteside 2012).

In order to adequately prepare students for the future, a focus on innovation, creativity, critical thinking, problem solving, communication and collaboration is necessary. Jobs are frequently requiring higher educated workers with the ability to respond to complex problems, work in teams, and communicate effectively. Traditional models for design education are based around evaluation and professional task performance rather than cognitive aspects of design thinking. Students are guided towards finding the correct answer using standardised testing rather than being encouraged to have diverse perspectives. Due to this, traditional design education is currently lacking the intrinsic educational theories of learning necessary to understand design and design thinking. Evaluation of education is generally based on the final outcome, rather than a measure of the knowledge acquired by students as a result of the teaching (Oxman 1999). Students require the ability, and an understanding of those skills, in order to participate actively in society. Design thinking challenges students to find answers to ‘wicked’ problems that have several potential solutions, and by promoting students’ ability to act as agents of change (Carroll et al. 2010).

Design Thinking
Knowledge is acquired through the critique of cognitive structures and design thinking strategies (Oxman 1999). One of the most important things that design thinking encourages is the ability to imagine without boundaries and constraints. Design thinking may help students become empowered agents in their own learning who possess both the tools and the confidence to become agents of change. As our world becomes increasingly more complex, the ability to think critically and confidently becomes evermore essential (Carroll et al. 2010).

The purpose of the ‘Taking Design Thinking to Schools Research Project’ was to bring a new understanding of design thinking into the K-12 curriculum. The study implemented an interdisciplinary design curriculum into a public school and employed qualitative and ethnographic methods of data collection. The study was framed by three main questions; “How did students express their understanding of design thinking classroom activities? How did affective elements impact design thinking in the classroom environment? and how is design thinking connected to academic standards and content learning in the classroom?” (Carroll et al. 2010). Three main themes supported these questions, and directed the activities undertaken within this study; Design as Exploring, Design as Connecting; and Design as Intersecting. Design as Exploring gave students the opportunity to adopt the discourse of design in a variety of different ways. Students were encouraged to explore all aspects of a problem through multiple sources and iterations; and critique all findings so not to jump to solutions immediately. The second theme, Design as Connecting, made prominent the role that design thinking plays in encouraged confidence. The third theme, Design as Intersecting, highlights the correlation between design thinking and traditional academic learning. This case study found that the integration of design thinking into the classroom environment was challenging and problematic. Teachers struggled with integrating new knowledge about design thinking into their previous lesson plans. This struggle highlights the constant tension that occurs between new learning approaches and traditional classroom practices (Carroll et al. 2010).

Burke’s model on twenty-first century learning has the foundation of design thinking. Facilitators involved in developing this model did not consciously rely on a methodical design thinking approach; but upon reflection, realise that design thinking truly shaped the outcomes. There are many different definitions and understanding of design thinking as methodology; the preferred understanding being that it’s neither an intuitive or analytical approach, but a integration of both. During development, the changing educational landscape was explored, as well as the changing roles of people involved. Participants in this development realised they were acting as agents of institutional change. Burke’s model explains design thinking as a structured process in which teams of students learn to flexibly shift between, and integrate, both critical and creative thinking strategies in order to solve interdisciplinary wicked problems (Faust and Howland 2013).

Cognitive Learning
‘Educating the designerly thinker’ presents a statement about design thinking that is framed within, and derived from, cognitive theories of learning. The connection between cognitive design thinking and the development of pedagogical approaches in design education is discussed(Oxman 1999). This paper discusses Donald Schön’s work surrounding educating the reflective practitioner and his two necessary alterations to the traditional model of design education. First being the dialectical nature in which design is treated as ‘an interaction with the materials of the problem’. Second being the definition of the distinction between the interactive modes of visual reasoning and design ideation. Finally, the interaction between student and teacher becomes a more participatory process in which the successful communication of foundational theory during the discussion process of design becomes the responsibility of the teacher. The teacher is also required to effectively communicate the values and issues which drive change in the future stages of the design process. Despite these alterations, the focus of most design education still surrounds the representation of the object rather than building critical understanding and knowledge. The circumstances of visual analysis in design influence how we can develop a more cognitively constructed approach to design education. The correlation of visual analysis and conceptual process is an important factor of the current cognitive study of design (Oxman 1999).

Cultural Education
A lack of cultural education is evident within schooling curriculum as it is often oversimplified, therefore neglected (Seemann 2015). Currently, the subject of culture is presented to educators as an add-on to serve as an essential background topic in the curriculum and assessment pieces, therefore, emphasis on the importance of culture isn’t provided to the teacher. Negative consequences stem from a lacking presence of culture within education as a disconnect is created, therefore distorting the pupils perception of culture and how it shapes our day to day lives. Paulo Freire states in Pedagogy of the Heart that, “Such ideological separation between text and context, between an object and its reason for being, implies regrettable error, as it involves taking away the learners’ epistemological curiosity,” (Freire 1997, 47). There is a need for pupils to learn about culture in context, in order to develop an informed, comprehensive understanding of the world around them from a young age. However, defining and communicating the concept of culture is challenging as it is formless, responding to and changing natural, social and designed elements. Further complexities exist within the classroom environment as multiple values, beliefs and ideologies are present; this includes the State, diversity of pupils, staff and parents (Seemann 2015). Kurt Seemann proposes four areas that can be used to assist in teaching with acknowledgement and sensitivity to culture. The four areas include; systems, services and artifacts that communities frequently grow and develop throughout time (Seemann 2015). 

Connections between culture and participatory design methods are also evident, as they are derived from established ethnographic and field techniques. Participatory design methods allow for communication between different communities, thus allowing for different groups to respond to and co-develop culturally appropriate design solutions. Aspects of this involve reflecting upon cultural belief systems, a critique of the anthropocentric perspective can contribute to this process. A solely anthropocentric approach leads to a distorted, impoverished interpretation of surrounding cultural information, whilst an enlightened approach leads to the problematic perpetuation of ‘the other’ thus constituting the global whole (Keirl 2015). Utilising participatory design processes have the ability to critique and overcome problematic perspectives surrounding culture within education.

Sustainability + Pedagogical tools
“Human beings are the only species with a history. Whether they have a future is not so obvious,” (Keirl 2015, 33). It is vital that education provides students with the critical and adaptive skills needed to overcome current and future challenges in relation to the sustainment of our planet. Socio-culturally situated pedagogical tools have the ability to combat unsustainable values within the current educational environment. Tristan Schultz’s project, Kartogrifa In-Flux is a meditation object that aims to reveal valuable insights in relation to aiding students in overcoming the challenges imposed by the dominant Eurocentric narrative present in today’s society (Schultz 2015). Kartogrifa In-Flux examines how European attitudes and beliefs oppress Indigenous histories within Australia, prompting the user to consider the ongoing complications and negative effects of this form of oppression. This is an example of how a pedagogical tool has assisted students in navigating complex issues present within society, creating connections and giving voice to what has been silenced in the past. 

In contrast to this, Reflections on Pedagogy and Place: A Journey into Learning For Sustainability through Environmental Narrative and Deep Attentive Reflection by Ron Tooth and Peter Renshaw draws attention to the suffering of the natural environment as consequence of the ongoing unsustainable lifestyles of mankind. Eco-centric and place based thinking and values are encouraged throughout the article to provide students with the knowledge needed to develop sustainable ways of living. Keirl critiques the emphasis of environmental sustainability and claims that the topic requires close attention to detail as, “environmental education covers a broad area of education activity, ranging from primary to postgraduate students,” (Keirl 2015, 34). Keirl reflects on how the past and current attempts to raise awareness about the need for sustainable actions have resulted in a pseudo perpetuation of occurring changes. Sustainability issues are important matters that need to be understood, debated and continually resolved and revisited; however, education needs to play a key role in this as informed knowledge is invaluable to overcoming these issues.

The content that has been critiqued in this literature review highlights design thinking and cognitive learning as effective modes of education with the potential to respond to the issues found to be present within the traditional Australian curriculum. These issues exist within the lack of inclusion and understanding of the role of culture in education, and the need for sustainable practices to be communicated through the means of strategic pedagogical tools. The inclusion of these elements will result in students possessing the skills needed to effectively design alternative, more sustainable future directions. The world is currently facing a multitude of challenges and, consequently, the need for youth with adaptive, critical and strategic skills is required.

Reference List

Carroll, Maureen, Shelley Goldman, Leticia Britos, Jaime Koh, Adam Royalty, and Michael Hornstein. “Destination, Imagination And The Fires Within: Design Thinking In A Middle School Classroom.” International Journal Of Art & Design Education 29, no. 1 (2010): 37-53. doi:10.1111/j.1476-8070.2010.01632.x.

Faust, Susan, and Jenny Howland. “Design Thinking By Accident And Design: How One School Developed A Model For 21St-Century Learning (And A Librarian And Technology Teacher Led The Way).” Teacher Librarian 40.5 (June 2013): 19.

Freire, Paulo, and Ana Maria Araújo Freire. 2007. Pedagogy Of The Heart. New York: Continuum.

Keirl, Steve. “Global Ethics, Sustainability, and Design and Technology Education.” In Environment, Ethics And Cultures. Edited by Kay Stables and Steve Keirl. 33-52. Sense Publications. 2015.

Melles, Gavin, Zaana Howard, and Scott Thompson-Whiteside. “Teaching Design Thinking: Expanding Horizons In Design Education.” Procedia - Social And Behavioral Sciences 31 (2012): 162-166. doi:10.1016/j.sbspro.2011.12.035.

Oxman, Rivka. “Educating The Designerly Thinker.” Design Studies 20, no. 2 (1999): 105-122. doi:10.1016/s0142-694x(98)00029-5.

Oxman, Rivka. ‘Think-Maps: Teaching Design Thinking In Design Education.’ Design Studies 25, no 1 (2004): 63-91. doi:10.1016/s0142-694x(03)00033-4.

Schultz, Tristan. “Kartogrifa In-Flux.” In Environment, Ethics And Cultures. Edited by Kay Stables and Steve Keirl. 193-205. Sense Publications. 2015.

Schumacher, F. E., Small is Beautiful: A Study of Economics as if People Mattered. 1974. Quoted in Steve Keirl. “Environment, Ethics And Cultures.” Edited by Kay Stables and Steve Keirl. 33. Sense Publications. 2015.

Seemann, Kurt. “Culture in Design, Technology and Environment.” In Environment, Ethics And Cultures. Edited by Kay Stables and Steve Keirl. 53-63. Sense Publications. 2015.

Tooth, R. and Renshaw, P. “Reflections on Pedagogy and Place: A Journey into Learning For Sustainability through Environmental Narrative and Deep Attentive Reflection.” Journal of Environmental Education 25. 2009.1-10.