September 15, 2017

In the last few years, educators have been increasingly recognizing the value of design thinking in their classrooms, elevating the development of creative and innovative approaches to address complex problems over a focus on test-taking. Design thinking has found its home at the University of Maryland, as well, as one of the cornerstones of the university-wide Fearless Ideas courses, classes that challenge students to exercise their innovation muscles and come up with unexpected solutions to tough problems in a variety of different fields & disciplines.

Design thinking is also the focus of an article recently published in The Chronicle of Higher Education by Lee Gardner. Gardner reports on his experiences at a Stanford University workshop that trains educators to integrate design thinking into their classrooms.

Gardner participated in Stanford University’s (formally the Hasso Plattner Institue of Design) Teaching and Learning workshop, which trains educators from across the country and across disciplines to help their students gain creative confidence through design thinking. Maryland Center for Health Equity (M-CHE) Assistant Director and Assistant Research Professor of Health Services Administration Dr. Susan Passmore attended this same workshop and is applying the approaches she learned in the School of Public Health’s Fearless Ideas class, Redesigning Health Care: Developing a Clinic to Meet Community Needs. Together with Dr. Stephen Thomas (M-CHE Director and Professor of Health Services Administration) and Meenu Singh, (Academy for Innovation and Entrepreneurship Facilitator), Dr. Passmore challenges her students to think of creative solutions to difficult problems. “Thinking about and solving the complex problem of health disparities requires both empathy and creativity, two key components of design thinking,” she said. “The design process that I learned at the d. school is an ideal methodology for this class, which tasks students with developing solutions that haven’t been thought of yet.”

Throughout the semester-long SPH Fearless Ideas class, Passmore, Thomas and Singh will introduce their students to design thinking as a fundamental skill that they will need to develop innovative ideas to build, reshape, redesign and transform delivery of health care. The focus is on the Mona Center, a new community center and clinic in Prince George's County. Students will be challenged to develop innovative programs, solutions, and processes to improve the clinic's ability to meet community and patient needs by addressing the social determinants of health as well as traditional clinical health status.

One main element of design thinking is to make connections with people. Gardner noted that one of the first activities he did in the workshop was “something that many of us would rather not: talk to strangers.” Students in the Fearless Ideas class had to do the same, through in-person interviews with end-users:  community members, patients, providers and other stakeholders. Students use the information they obtained in the interviews to define a problem and create a solution, based on the design thinking premise that failure should not only be embraced, but also celebrated because, as Gardner states in his article “trying and failing and trying again is key to the process.”

“Pedagogically," noted Dr. Passmore, "it inspires a much more intimate and active engagement on the part of student, something we must encourage in our next generation of public health researchers, and, ultimately, what we need to attain health equity.”


Related Links

Can Design Thinking Redesign Higher Ed?

Related People
Susan Racine Passmore, Stephen B. Thomas