Design Thinking for Creative Problem Solving is The New Way of Teaching

Design Thinking for Creative Problem Solving is The New Way of Teaching

Parul Agrawal 10/09/2019 3

The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.

Alvin Toffler, Author of Future Shock 


As the technological advances are driving the different industries, the people who can identify and solve new problems through innovative ways are the ones in great demand. It has become really important for a student to possess problem solving, critical and design thinking skills in order to survive in the complex and competitive work environment of 21st century. The revolution has taken us into the era where we do not need individuals who just hold bookish knowledge, rather the industry welcomes the ones who hold a confidence to creatively design the future.

As Sir Ken Robinson, well-known British education and creativity expert, states: “Creativity is as important now in education as literacy and we should treat it with the same status.” 

In the real world, students experience different complex problems which are ill-defined and even lack a clear solution. There is a need that demands the identification and definition of the problem along with the development of different strategies in order to find some solutions.

I had the opportunity of sitting down with Professor. Jyotika Pruthi, Problem Solving and Design Thinking Educator to learn more about her work in this newly evolving and much needed field. 

Tell Us More About Yourself?

Holding the love to explore new things with young, talented, creative and innovative minds, I call myself a professor and an educator of problem solving and design thinking, working in the Department of Computer Science, The NorthCap University, Gurugram. As I get the opportunity to spend my whole week with the brilliant minds of students, I enjoy to keep myself engaged with poetry and storytelling on weekends. Showcasing the amalgam of social issues with humour through storytelling and poetry is something I love to do. Getting an opportunity to showcase my love for poetry in TEDx remains to be the best thing happened to me. I enjoy performing my pieces of poetry and stories in different slam poetry events in Delhi/NCR. The feeling of happiness lifted me up to cloud 9 when I was recognized as one of the 30 individuals in INDIA who are known for their voice and have changed the world by their voice. As the love for public speaking was growing with every passing day, I was awarded with the title of “Young Professional with best presentation skills” in ENTIRE NORTHERN ZONE for three consecutive years by IET, UK. Recently, I have been awarded with the Indian Education Awards organized by IIT Patna as “One of the top 10 young teachers of the year”. Last but not the least, I curate and direct events like TEDx and literature festivals in Delhi and Gurugram.

Tell Us About Your Work With Students?

The beautiful journey with the students in the world of computer science started in July 2013 at The NorthCap University and since then I have been trying to come up with the interesting ways to teach the different courses to the engineering students. One of the means I adopted to make learning computer science fun was the amalgamation of poetry and storytelling with computer science. It worked out and students started gaining huge interest in the subjects and were coming up with projects addressing the real time issues and challenges prevailing in the society. Few students developed a project named as “SHIKSHAK” which was the self-tutoring device for blind kids. The project received appreciation on different platforms. I realised that today’s generation needs something out of the box and it calls for a need to discover innovative teaching pedagogy. Therefore, from past few years I have been practising problem solving and design thinking in the class which has helped the students to bring a change in their attitude towards different problems. 

What is Problem Solving?

Problem solving in simple terms is a process of working through the details of a problem in order to reach to a solution. The definition gets extended to the fact that it is an act of identifying the problem, analysing the problem to determine its cause; generating potential solutions; selecting and testing the solutions, and evaluating the results. This concept is important for both individuals and organizations as it enables us to observe what is going on in our environment and what changes are required to be brought.  Problem solving skills lie at the core of human evolution and we all have been solving simple problems from ages, knowingly or unknowingly. As we have entered the fourth industrial revolution and believing in the fact that Industry 4.0 can make the world more sustainable, I feel making problem solving, a part of formal education can help us achieve our goal.

What is Design Thinking?

Design thinking is a process for creative problem solving. It is non-linear, iterative process that focusses on solving complex problems in a highly user-centric manner. “Empathy” is the differentiating term between design thinking and problem solving. Empathy concentrates on understanding a problem or a situation from other person’s point of view. Design thinking also starts with the consideration of human needs as designing according to the needs of individuals often leads to greater insights and inspiration.

For instance, when the company named Airbnb was in its founding days, Brain Chesky (CEO) along with his co-founders stepped out to meet and speak to Airbnb hosts for the feedback about their product. He says” If I want to make something amazing for you, I just spend time with you”. Design thinking revolves around the processes that designers use (hence the name), but is not just limited to designers-many successful innovators in the domain of literature, art, engineering and business have adopted it. In fact, few world’s leading organizations such as Google, Apple, Samsung and GE have also practiced it. The need of the hour is to realise that design thinking is a mindset and the attitude towards the creative problem solving and inculcating this in our education system can help us produce the brilliant minds.

Why Do You Think We Need These Methodologies in Today’s Day and Age?

In the real world, students experience different complex problems which are ill-defined and even lack a clear solution. There is a need that demands the identification and definition of the problem along with the development of different strategies in order to find some solutions. However, it is not necessary that an individual possess problem solving and design thinking skills naturally, the teachers play a key role in explicitly inculcating these skills in students for our better future.

Amalgamating design thinking with education system simply means activating human talents and abilities to a greater height. It is not something totally new nor it intends to completely replace the traditional ways of teaching. It is just about bringing a small change to the traditional way of imparting education in order to make our students ready for the unknown future, to make them innovators, good problem solvers and design thinkers who know how to adopt and excel in a rapidly changing world. In fact, this concept has been implemented in education domain with Kindergarten, school, undergraduate, graduate and professional training students and has showcased great success stories. 

How Do These Methodologies Work in Helping Students' Performance?

I believe, creating a classroom culture of problem solvers and design thinkers helps to produce students who are able to think about achieving a particular goal and streamline their mental thoughts and processes accordingly. This behaviour is known as metacognition behaviour and the research says that metacognitive skills help students become better problem solvers. Students come to know how to push themselves in a pit and a way to come out of it with a great confidence. Taking you through the personal classroom experience, a vibe of happiness was running through me, when students could identify the issues prevailing in the Indian society and followed the design principles to design the solutions.

Few issues such as child trafficking, Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, water scarcity, women safety, gender inequality etc. were identified and problems went through the phases of Empathise, Define, Ideate, Prototype and Test. The best result of design thinking practice is reflected when students start thinking from different angles and come up with different strategies to solve a problem. Once their critical, analytical and logical thinking skills are improved they start performing good in all the other subjects of the curriculum.

How Can Other Academicians Implement These In Their Teaching?

Design thinking is really an interesting way to solve problems and is simple to implement. The key point to remember is to adopt the strategy of a designer who always tries to wear the shoes of a user and solves the problem by empathising with him. 

  • Problem Identification 

The foremost step to be taken is to start identifying problems from the surroundings. It can be a small problem pertaining only to your school, university or classroom or it may be a big problem related to society or nation.Make sure that students are clear about the user. As an instructor, you need to set the duration for the project and also identify whether students would be working in pairs, alone of groups. 

  • Brainstorming

As the problem gets established, ask the students to start the brainstorming. Students might conduct interview sessions among each other or anyone in the community they feel to be the relevant one.  Based on the answers they receive during interviews; they can further brainstorm the solutions. Students can even prepare mind maps to showcase the thoughts they have brainstormed. To make the whole exercise even more interesting and creative, instructor should provide sticky notes and coloured pens to the students.

  • Designing Phase

As the students get over with the brainstorming phase, they can start designing the solutions in the form of digital presentations, 3D models or using the chart papers. They should even think about the ways to implement the ideas that they are building. 

  • Presentation

Students should present their designs to the entire class and should be given feedback from classmates and instructor. The feedback should be given in a manner that it proves to be helpful for the students to bring improvements.

  • Redesigning

On the basis of the feedback received, the students should make the modifications in the design. Design thinking is a cyclic process in which the feedback of the user is incorporated continuously to bring improvements in the solution. It is important for students to develop solutions that don’t work, that is how they would come up with the better solutions.

All these phases can be applied to any of the subjects in any of the class. There are different resources that the educators can use for design thinking. Teachthought provides with the list of 45 design thinking resources create for educators. There is even a Design Thinking Toolkit for Educators created by IDEO that can be of great help. 

What Advice Do You Have For Other Academicians/Students?

Design thinking gives you the freedom to design your own classroom. Just come up with the innovative ways and keep adding fun to your teaching. Another important question one should answer to himself is “Why do I want to implement design thinking?”. For instance, I wanted to help my students perform well not only in classrooms, but also in the outside world. The motive was not to bound students within the boundaries of their curriculum, rather I wanted to see them with high confidence, good communication, critical , analytical and logical thinking skills. I look for opportunities to throw problems on the shoulders of the students in my class, create an opportunity for them to become solvers. After they solve the problem, I give them the feeling of confidence that how the students solved the problems-not the teachers. We as instructors have a role to coach, support and motivate them through the way. 

Its even advisable to include different warm up sessions in the class to energise the students. For instance, I adopted few activities that could make both left and right hemisphere of the brain work simultaneously. The instructor should use materials like flip charts, sticky notes, coloured pens etc. to encourage students to showcase their creativity as visualizations always attract the minds.

Anything Else You Would Like To Add About Your Work?

My journey with problem solving and design thinking is going fantastic as it has brought a 360-degree change in the attitude of the students and I would highly recommend this pedagogy to all the academicians who are really struggling to find great ways to make classroom a place to learn with great fun.

Let’s together be great problem solvers, lets design our thinking processes in a creative manner and lets together bring a change to the nation. Last but not the least, I would like to take this opportunity to share that my journey of design thinking started with School of Design Thinking, Intellect Design Arena, Chennai and special thanks to the mentors Dr. Anbu Rathinavel, Head, School of Design Thinking and Mr.Ramakrishnan V., Design Thinker at School of Design Thinking who helped to understand the importance of design thinking. A specialnote of thanks to The NorthCap University, Gurugram that has always provided me opportunities and shown faith on me to take up new challenges and pedagogy.

How Do Our Readers Find You?

If you wish to discuss anything more about Design Thinking, would be happy to get connected on LinkedIn

To summarize, design thinking is a powerful tool that helps in adding values in students around the dimensions namely “character”, “skills”, “attitude to learn”, “confidence of being creative”, “adaptability”, “social and cultural awareness”, “curiosity” and “patience”. Let’s show our kids the real world and make them ready for the future. 

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  • Rob Ohlrich

    Don't make people learn, make them want to learn.

  • Leon Tebbutt

    I don't let schooling interfere with my education

  • Joe Peppard

    It takes true talent to be able to deliver such an insightful interview

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Parul Agrawal

Leadership Expert

Parul Agrawal is an International Bestselling Author, Speaker, Forbes Coaches Council Member and Podcast Host. She holds a double Master’s in Engineering from Arizona State University (ASU); worked as a Research Scientist at ASU and Engineer for Intel Corporation. In an effort to help others address major medical issues and live more healthily, she pursued holistic studies and acquired her certification as a wellness expert. After launching a successful Wellness Coaching business, Parul delivered the message of health through public speaking in various community centers and corporations. Parul’s life and business changed dramatically after she wrote a book on the benefits of juicing that became an International Bestseller in multiple categories. The book’s phenomenal success resulted in her being featured in major publications like the Huffington Post, Thrive Global, Forbes and as a guest on ABC Arizona. Parul has not only continued her success as an author and businesswoman, but she has paid-it-forward, by helping over 100 writers become bestselling authors, too! She is the founder of an International Publishing Platform where she helps thought leaders in the areas of health, wellness and consciousness write their books, achieve bestseller authority status, and land in mainstream media - just like she did! Parul is currently experiencing the honor of being listed as one of the 30 change-makers in India for the year 2018.

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