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Design Thinking for Student Experiences by Alex Emmanuele

In the Summer 2016 issue of Leadership Exchange, there is a page-long article about Design Thinking in Higher Education, by two directors from the jCENTER for Innovative Higher Education at the University of Minnesota. They assert that higher education provides prime challenges for which we can use Design Thinking – a problem solving process and mindset which focuses on empathy with users or a user population to gain insight into experiences for a problem, rather than just fixing a problem at surface level. For example – a mid sized private university has a mental health crisis on campus; instead of hiring more full-  or part-time counselors to ‘fix’ the students’ mental status, investigating the campus climate, gaining a deeper understanding of the ‘why’ experience of a student, and then looking at what specifically about the mental health support on campus is lacking, provides a much more comprehensive and creative solution, one which also may uncover other obstacles and opportunities previously hidden, all of which can help transform a struggling campus to a thriving community.

An excellent example of this ‘need for empathic understanding’ can be found in the Chronicle of Higher Education’s article Stigma, Stress, and Fear: Faculty Mental-Health Services Fall Short. The summary for this piece is in two concise sentences: “Counseling and other support for troubled students have become easier to find in recent years. But many professors still deal with their problems in isolation.” That observation brings forward one major part of design thinking that is missing in the quick read in Leadership Exchange: users and questions. The authors are correct in asserting that DT “requires an unapologetic focus on the user.” However, what wasn’t said is that there can be multiple users for the same problem. Mental health on campus is a very current and relevant challenge for many institutions around the country. When students call for help because of a lack of support, task forces, divisions, and consultants usually go right to staffing concerns, citing rising student fees and insurance limitations as the main obstacles to improvement. What is often overlooked is the parts of campus that surround students the rest of the time when they aren’t in waiting rooms at the health and counseling center—faculty, staff, administrators, and peers, all of whom may experience the same challenges, but with slightly different experiences. Do they count as users? How do we solve for multiple users? What happens if there are contradicting needs and solutions? That is where design thinkers thrive, solving wicked complex problems that have real, human impact that changes lives and stories.

In short, Design Thinking can have infinite applications in higher education and in bringing change to learning, not just divisional and systemic. The key is in the authentic doing. If one would approach design thinking as a copy-paste process, it will have little or no effect on the problem.

#KAedchat – Design Thinking a Better Student Experience

Let’s talk about ways to think differently about the complex problems we face every day on our campuses. Suppose we started with a goal — what we would like to see happen — instead of trying to analyze and fix something. And suppose we used the simplest and best tools we have to figure out how to get from here to there — listening, sharing stories, brainstorming, play, empathy, understanding. What would it be like if we used all of our capacities, experiences, and kinds of intelligence to design solutions? Join Alex Emmanuele and the K&A team in another live K&A Twitter Chat on Monday, September 12 from 6:00 to 7:00 PM (ET) to explore how “design thinking” might create better ways to improve the student experience in higher education.

#KAedchat – Pathways to Positive Mental Health on Campus

When we think about mental health issues on campus, we usually focus on the counseling and psychiatric services we provide — and many students need those services. But what about ways to hep students help themselves, and each other? How can we create the kind of campus environment that supports positive mental health and well-being? What knowledge and skills might help students recognize and respond to friends and peers who are struggling or in distress? Join Dr. Richard Keeling and the K&A team in another live K&A Twitter Chat on Monday, August 29 from 6:00 to 7:00 PM (ET) to explore pathways to positive mental health for students in higher education.

Follow #KAedchat to join the live chat

#KAedchat – Storify – Storytelling and Community Building Gage Paine

Dr. Gage Paine, Senior Consultant at K&A, led her first Twitter Chat on storytelling. Based on a presentation she gave at the University of Mississippi, the chat questioned how to inspire storytelling to build and strengthen your community, both on campus and elsewhere in your life.


#KAedchat – Storytelling and Community Building

Mary Catherine Bateson shares that “The human species thinks in metaphors and learns through stories.” In the face of many challenges that campus communities are facing in the upcoming year, how will you share your story? And how will you challenge your community to face what is necessary for them to grow and create impact? We invite you to join Dr. Gage Paine in K&A’s live Twitter Chat on Monday, August 15 from 6:00 to 7:00 pm (EDT) for a discussion of this topic exploring storytelling and community building, and the roles of campus leaders and incoming students in promoting positive but impactful growth of their communities.

Follow #KAedchat to join the live chat.

K&A Contributes Foundational Chapter to new Oxford University Press Handbook

“Biological Basis for Learning and Development Across the Lifespan” in The Oxford Handbook of Lifelong Learning.

“Learning, at any age, is a neurobiological process, occurring through alterations in the microscopic structure and functioning of the brain — suggests that the mind and brain are one.”

Our longstanding interest in the neurobiological basis of learning and our focus on the key implications of advances in research in the neurosciences for the organization and support of teaching and learning in higher education are emphasized in our chapter contribution to a new Oxford University Press Psychology Library Handbook:  The Oxford Handbook of Lifelong Learning. The chapter, Biological Bases for Learning and Development Across the Lifespan was written by Richard P. Keeling, M.D., Jennifer Stevens Dickson, Dr.P.H., and Trey Avery.

Written for educators and anyone concerned about the quality and effectiveness of teaching and learning, the chapter provides an essential, yet accessible overview and synopsis of key advances in the neuroscience relative to understanding learning as a neurobiological process and identifies the implications these advances have relative to the need for reassessment of many structures, policies, and practices in the organization and delivery of education for learners of all ages.

The book is the latest volume in the Oxford Library of Psychology Series and is edited by Manuel London, Ph.D., of Stony Brook University. It is a comprehensive and interdisciplinary examination of learning across the lifespan. More information about the book and how to purchase copies can be found on the Oxford University Press website.