Learning Frontiers

Design thinking and hackathons have changed the way we address challenges and share practices across schools. We thought we wanted answers to the issue of student engagement but what we actually needed were processes. Regardless of context, many schools are facing the same challenges in engaging students deeply in their learning and preparing them for a changing world.

These methods – largely new to education but tried and tested in other industries – have allowed us to co-create new approaches, test them quickly across sites before taking them to scale. They have helped us find solutions that are replicable, scalable and sustainable.

Stacey Quince, Principal,
Campbelltown Performing Arts High

What brought you to this work and to taking this innovative approach?

The disciplined innovation methods of ‘design thinking’ and ‘hackathons’ were introduced to participating schools as part of The Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership’s Learning Frontiers initiative. Learning Frontiers is a large scale collaborative enquiry aimed at deepening engagement in learning for students across school contexts.

The use of design thinking and hackathons supported individual schools and hubs of schools to co-create new tools and strategies to address educational challenges. The focus on rapid prototyping appealed to schools as it allowed for early identification of promising practices before taking innovative approaches to scale – it was low risk and low cost.

Schools involved drew on global and local models of these innovation methods.

The journey

The term ‘design thinking’ was initially introduced to Learning Frontiers schools at in a workshop.

While it was not explained in any detail, it piqued an interest across some sites, with school leaders quickly seeking international models to extend their understanding. Campbelltown Performing Arts High School initially used Stanford University’s d.school model to engage over 80 teachers in professional learning on how to use design thinking to improve learning for students. There were some teachers who were challenged by language and the process as it related to education. While they enjoyed the process of applying Design Thinking, they could not necessarily see the relevance in the long term and indicated that they thought it might be a “fad”.

Overall, however, teachers were incredibly positive about the experience. These teachers found it deeply engaging and were able to develop some practices that were then tested and refined further. Some teachers also saw the potential of Design Thinking as a pedagogy and began to employ it in classroom practice with great success. Consequently, students have used the process to develop real solutions to community issues – from environmental challenges to issues of community consultation in their local area – as part of their learning.

At a meeting of leading Learning Frontier’s schools, participants worked with Education Changemakers to develop their understanding of how to use Design Thinking to generate new ideas and solutions resulting in a range of contextually- relevant solutions.

Learning Frontiers schools were also provided with resources that were developed on Design Thinking and Prototyping by AITSL and the Innovation Unit, freely available to all schools.

The prototypes developed through Design Thinking in a number of hubs were further developed through hackathons – intensively collaborative activities where teachers worked to refine promising practices. These hackathons have occurred at a national level, a hub level and beyond Learning Frontiers hubs through a TeachMeet and Microhack. These ‘hacks’ have allowed teachers, within and across contexts, to work collaboratively to create, refine and evaluate solutions that are robust and applicable across a range of contexts, increasing the reliability and possibility of scaling.

The NSW Department of Education is now looking at running a hackathon at a state level. The Sydney Hub has an established Design Thinking Working Party, with representatives from across school contexts. While some members are challenged by the notion of how to use Design Thinking, other members have focused on co-creating with students a student-friendly approach to design thinking in both primary school and high school. With AISTL’s support, we have also been developing the wireframe for a design thinking app for schools to use, in collaboration with leaders from another hub who have been mapping out an app for students hackathons. We are currently co- developing the wireframe for this app with the support of AITSL.

We focussed on:

Lead and manage change
Develop new pedagogies
Develop the educational workforce
Engage stakeholders
Identify innovation priorities
Develop diffusion strategies

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