YES, it's all about the process! Teaching 'Design Thinking & Doing' at Edinburgh Napier University

February 9, 2017

Have you heard of The Storytelling Box exercise? A box, filled with random objects, is used to stimulate the conversation and  the process of 'story making'. Normally, participants are confused (sometimes irritated) at first. However, as the exercise develops, they are happily turning into active storytellers.

 

As a tutor of ‘Design Thinking and Doing’ module led by John Morrison, I’m witnessing a similar process among Edinburgh Napier's students. Uncertain at first, they are now turning into active researchers and designers.

 

For a number of years, participatory approaches in design have been at the centre of my work. As a digital practitioner, I would often experiment with creative research methods such as participatory video, digital storytelling and role-play. Using unusual methods to tell a story has always been one of of my favourite exercises. For instance, when running workshops at the Digital Beez, I would frequently use random objects to initiate group's discussion. Some of the participants would complain:

 

‘How can we use these? This just doesn’t make sense!’ 'Please, just give it some time - it will work. I promise’ I would say.

My storytelling boxes toured around Scotland. I noticed that using random object to stimulate a narrative creation is very helpful. Even with the most sceptical groups, I would be able to get some kind of a story. No matter how rude or bizarre, I would always count it as a successful storytelling exercise.  After all, it's all about the process, not the outcome.

 

In January, I started working as a tutor at Edinburgh Napier University. I'm supporting a module called ‘Design Thinking & Doing’ led by John Morrison.  

 

The aim of the module is to equip third year students with a solid understanding of research methods (which are essential during the completion of their final honours projects in year four). The ‘Design Thinking & Doing’ provides insights into research philosophy. Over the 12 weeks course students learn about the importance of the research foundation and its practical application. Additionally, the module emphasises the importance of user centred design and empathy. Through series of creative experiments, the students are able to practically test their research skills and reflect on their possible ‘designer's bias’.

 

‘Design Thinking & Doing’ class is super practical. It really reminds me of some of my community based workshops, where different, non-digital tools would be used in order to stimulate discussion and creativity. 

 

John’s progressive and empowering vision of education is really inspiring. I consider myself very lucky to be part of the course.

 

 


Some of the creative and hands-on design challenges appeared to be slightly confusing for the students at first. Noting from their initial feedback, they really enjoyed the class but were anxious about not understanding the purpose of the experience . For example, some of the students were quite keen to  primarily get to know their assessment criteria. And, I don't really blame them. Traditionally, students have been considered as passive information receivers, whose key responsibility is to PASS their exams. Could this be a side-effect of the traditional, top-down approaches used in education? (This topic certainly deserves another blog post!)

 

 

Since the beginning of the module in January, some fantastic ideas and prototypes have been developed in the class. From designing their course evaluation methods to creating a ‘rebel education experience’, students have had loads of opportunities to think and experiment outside their comfort zones.  Surely, as the course progressed, the students have become more reassured that their creative work does not have to be 'perfect'. Thanks to this multilayered process of studying, thinking and playing - the students allowed themselves to immerse in the learning experience. They are definitely becoming active researchers and designers. 

 

This is when I’m returning to my Storytelling Boxes reference.

 

I feel that my community engagement exercise and John’s module have quite a lot in common. Firstly, they both take participants on a journey. It’s a journey, where as a student, you get to co-create your experience; and while doing it you are learning - and it is so much fun ;)

 

As a tutor, student and a creative soul who is obsessed with participatory methods - I feel particularly lucky to be able contribute to the Design Thinking & Doing module at Edinburgh Napier.

 

 

 

 

 

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Dr Alicja Pawluczuk

Digital Media Practitioner and Researcher with extensive experience of participatory media project design and facilitation both in Europe and South East Asia. Founder of digital storytelling educational collective www.digitalbeez.org. Associate Lecturer & PhD student at Edinburgh Napier University. Interested in Digital Youth Work/Literacy and Experiential Teaching Practice, ICT4D, Digital Inclusion, and Digital Activism. An active member of the Digital Youth Workers Network in Scotland. 

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