Design Thinking in Education: Yes, Please!

There’s no doubt that the words “design thinking” have a mysterious appeal for the modern MBA student. Between the colorful sticky notes, the sharpies, and the catchy buzz phrases like “extreme users” and “prototyping,” it’s hard not to love the process. For a former educator and an aspiring social entrepreneur, there’s also something inherently, but excitingly, foreign about the process. Design thinking is all about starting with the user in mind, always customizing and adapting your product or service to the user’s needs. It’s about an in-depth understanding of what the user might desire, and the development of your offerings from this knowledge.

In contrast, so much of education works in reverse: Educators claim we know what students need, then we try desperately to make students agree. But here’s the question: What if we started designing our organizations and programs based on what students actually want?

This is the charge I am giving our interns for the summer. Yes, there are students out there who need our assistance. Yes, we have done research (or are in the process of researching) to know what needs to accomplished to successfully transition into community college. But do we know exactly what types of services and resources students actually want to access, use, and engage with? Not yet.

Hence the all-day Design Thinking Workshop this past Saturday. I was fortunate enough to convince Vichi Jagannathan, a good friend, business school roommate, and “entrepreneur extraordinaire” to venture down to Houston for the weekend to share her expertise with our team. 

“Professor Vichi” dropping some knowledge

It was a packed day of learning. After getting an overview of the design thinking process, interns worked in teams to conduct in-depth interviews with current and aspiring community college students, asking broad questions to better understand their target audience.


Reflecting on lessons learned from the interview process

Next, they were tasked to ideate to solve another social issue in education.

Of course, with lots and lots of sticky notes!


And finally, each team shared a potential experiment they could run to prototype their idea.



Moving forward, Team Innovation will be interviewing 15 target users with a range of experiences and needs. From their interviews and insights, the team will brainstorm different ways of designing BridgeYear services and products and hopefully have a chance to prototype by the end of the summer. Can’t wait to see what they come up with!


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