Academic journal article Peer Review

Design Thinking as a Strategy for Consensus in General Education Reform

Academic journal article Peer Review

Design Thinking as a Strategy for Consensus in General Education Reform

Article excerpt

When you axe developing a new course, one recommended approach is to begin by defining your learning outcomes and then to work backwards from there to determine the appropriate course topics, materials, and assessment methods. In 2011, as Philadelphia University prepared to launch an ambitious initiative for reforming general education, we wondered if we could apply the same "outcomes-first" approach to a university-wide curriculum. Our goal was to establish general education learning goals that we could extend into ah of the university's majors as well as its cocurricular programs.

Due to our institution's focus on professional education, sometimes our general education curriculum has been a point of contention. When our major programs have felt pressured by their accreditors and the labor market to expand the practice-based education of their students, one of their responses has been to look for a reduction of general education requirements. For some students, general education requirements have been seen as a distraction from their training in fields such as architecture, health care, or fashion design. And although our existing general education core curriculum, the College Studies program, was carefully sequenced, regularly improved in response to assessment, and based on relevant outcomes, students often had trouble recognizing the goals or value of the general education curriculum.

RE-VISIONING GENERAL EDUCATION

To address this gap between the different elements of student learning on our campus, our provost's office assembled a faculty steering committee and asked it to "re-vision" general education in the context of our mission of professional education. Our mandate was to seek innovative ways to establish general education as the joint and shared responsibility of the core curriculum, the majors, and cocurricular learning experiences such as study abroad, internships, and student leadership in residence halls and campus organizations. On paper, this broad understanding of general education had long been an element of our approach. However, an external review of our program in 2012 concluded that there was little awareness of this connection between general education and professional education among faculty outside of the general education core curriculum, or among our student body as a whole.

At that time, Philadelphia University was pioneering a new approach to professional education for its students studying in the design fields, in engineering, and in business. Anticipating a twenty-first-century workplace where multifunctional teams routinely collaborate in the conceptualizing, development, testing, and marketing of new products and services, we established our new Kanbar College of Design, Engineering, and Commerce to bring students from the design, engineering, and commerce (DEC) fields together through shared common courses and project-based learning experiences. The DEC core curriculum is organized around real-world, collaborative projects and applies design-thinking approaches to problem-solving and value creation in a team setting. As our DEC colleagues were introducing our students to this model of multidisciplinary collaboration and design thinking to identify opportunities and solve problems, it seemed only natural that we would apply it to our own work on general education.

The design-thinking approach involves observing and deeply understanding the situation that you are trying to improve, including gathering viewpoints from different participants or stakeholders in the situation. Our external reviewers had already helped us identify some key problems with our general education program: our campus community had neither a widely shared understanding of general education nor a strong awareness of our learning goals in this area. In light of these findings, our first step was to devote one of our monthly university faculty meetings to a visualization exercise designed to encourage dialogue about general education. …

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