Design Thinking and the Bendigo TECH School – Part 1

  • On 2017-07-10
  • design thinking, STEM, teaching

A day of experiencing and using design thinking at the forthcoming Bendigo Tech school

10 Victorian Tech Schools

As you may or may not have known the Victorian Department of Education is in the midst of establishing ten Tech schools in various regions around Victoria. The intent is that these “state-of-the-art Tech Schools will use leading-edge technology, discovery and innovation to deliver the advanced education and training that Victorian school students need so they can flourish in the rapidly changing global economy.” Each Tech school is linked to the local industries and has a mission to partner a wide range of nearby government, Catholic and independent secondary schools in developing cutting edge learning.

It is quite an exciting and interesting initiative. We had the privilege of supporting Box Hill Institute in developing some of the learning materials for the Yarra Ranges Tech School based in Lilydale. They opened earlier this year and have begun rotating students through their programs. One of the fascinating features of the Yarra Ranges Tech School program is the online portal which flips the learning. The resources and materials collated together on this site are a testament to the thinking, planning and effort of the whole implementation team at Box Hill Institute.

One of the exciting aspects of the Tech Schools initiative is that each Tech school is very different from each other. The Yarra Ranges Tech School is quite focused on students coming to the Lilydale campus and doing STEM type programs that gets them excited and engaged in STEM. The Banyule-Nillumbik Tech School and Whittlesea Tech School are hosted by Melbourne Polytechnic and have a focus on more open-ended thematic transdisciplinary projects. The Bendigo Tech school based at the Bendigo campus of Latrobe University will have a design thinking focus. In many ways the Tech schools cater to the requirements of the student cohorts in their areas.

Designing a Design Thinking Day for the Bendigo Tech School

In early April we were connected with John Geary, the Education Department’s Regional Project Leader for the Bendigo Tech School, and asked if we could run a design thinking day with students and teachers. I jumped at the chance because my whole career as an educational consultant and thought provocateur began whilst I was teaching engineering at University. I felt that there was no better way of paying it forward than sparking the interest of students and teachers to the power of the design thinking process.

The brief was that the day I was designing would be the second day of a three day program that Year 9 and 10 students from Eaglehawk Secondary College would be involved in. The first part of the day was to be a 90 minute session for teachers and students where they would experience and be introduced to the design thinking process. This would be followed by two 90 minute sessions with teachers from a wide variety of local schools around enacting the design thinking process in their schools.

So I began thinking, plotting, and preparing. It took me days to think my way through the design of the sessions. I asked colleagues for simple design challenges. I gathered and read a range of design thinking materials I had gathered and used in the past. I even dreamed and connected ideas together into a coherent flow as I slept!

The Design Thinking Process and the Marble Run

One constraint with the first session was that we had a total of 90 minutes. The reality I had to deal with was that it takes a significant amount of time to authentically go through the design thinking process so that students and teachers grasp its intent. Another challenge was that I knew that the weakest aspects for both the students and the teachers would be the first two design stages – Empathise and Define. In my experience teachers and students rarely spend the time needed to come to a deep understanding of the design challenge. Empathise and Define are actually the most critical parts to problem solving. Innovative designers often spend an enormous amount of time coming to a deep understanding of the design brief. For the Marble Run challenge I was using I had to create a circumstance where they could come to some understanding of the design challenge quite quickly.

In this case the best option was to have them build a prototype solution to the Marble Run design brief and then use it (and the designs of the teams they saw around them) to Ideate – Prototype – Test a refined version of their own Marble Run. The goal was to get the most improvement in run time against their original design.

Marble Run Design Challenge

The outcomes on the day were awesome! There were over 50 people in the room and both students and teachers were engaged and working well together for the entire time. Some teams more than doubled their time and I spent a lot of my time capturing the brilliant ideas I saw. See below for some of the photos from the day.



Teacher Feedback on the Marble Run

Since this was the first time I had run this design challenge, and in light of wanting to improve the process, I had the teachers who attended provide feedback on what worked, what were the challenges, and what could be improved about the process

  1. What worked
  • The teachers loved that there was a measure of success at the end. The idea that the design teams were competing against themselves in their designs and attempting to have a personal best in lengthening the run time was seen as a massive positive
  • It was a hands-on activity where they got to complete a prototype and then revisit and refine
  • Having the teams go and look at the variety of designs and ideas that other groups had so they could be inspired in the way they refined their designs. This led to even more innovation amongst the groups and some out of the box solutions that no one had even thought of
  • The use of cardboard, masking tape, and a box for a design challenge really worked. Often schools try to have design challenges with lots of technology but the simplicity of the materials allowed students the freedom to try new ideas without worrying about expense or failure.
  • Failure was seen as a positive and was a test bed for new ideas and innovation.
  • Feedback given to the teams was encouraging. For example – “wow I never thought of doing that!” ‘What I great idea … I am capturing that one for myself”, etc.
  1. What were the challenges
  • Time was a constraint. Only having 20 minutes limited what was possible in the designs. I pointed out that time was always a constraint in real life design problems. Engineering and Design is fundamentally about getting workable solutions and then refining as one went along.
  • Showing a possible design up front could constrain the solution space the design teams explored. This is true and the only way around it is to show a range of possible solutions or to show none at all.
  • Working collaboratively was a challenge for some groups. It was interesting for me to note how the teams organised themselves as they worked on building their design. Some were very efficient and had parceled out roles and some had not. This in itself should definitely be something to give feedback on to the design teams so they can improve their skill to work together as a team
  • Dealing with the materials and how much the teams had was a constraint. The limited resources and the type of resources really forced the students to confront that it was not going to be easy.
  1. What could be improved
  • Having the students reflect at the end on “what can you do now that you couldn’t before?”
  • Providing a range of worked examples
  • Having the students hand their design to another group to refine during the refinement phase
  • Have the students research beforehand?
  • Use a sharing process for students to all share their ideas (write your ideas down, share with 3 others and reach a consensus, then share with a group of 6 people and reach consensus)

What I learnt

Throughout this process I began to realise how much I automatically think from a design thinking framework in everything I do. For example when I coach teachers and school leaders I always spend a significant amount of time coming to a deep understanding of them, their behaviours, their needs and the outcomes they want. When a school approaches us to partner them in developing professional learning for their staff I ask lots of questions and attempt to determine their actual needs, the current staff perceptions, and what outcomes the school is really looking for. Often the first conversation I have with staff on the PD day is to unpack the current reality, potential causes and the future they would like to have in the area of focus. All of these are aspects of the Empathise phase of the design thinking process.

Next Steps

In Part II of this article we will discuss how we used the Design Thinking process to empower the teachers to come to a deeper understanding of the design process and to come up with their own ideas to embed Design Thinking in their school.






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