By Carolina Retana Martínez - School of Education Student
One of the main goals nowadays is to include 21st century skills in the class, but do teachers even know how to successfully implement these skills in their lessons? Teaching them is somehow tricky. It requires a lot of construction on the students' end and clear lesson objectives on behalf of the teachers, and this causes that some teachers do not even know how to create processes that involve these skills. As mentioned by Scheel, Nowesky, & Meinel (2012), teachers are having negative classroom experiences when trying to execute 21st century skills in the classroom because of a constant feeling of uncertainty and chaos, as well as lack of a process to follow (p. 8). Therefore, a clear path for instructors to successfully teach such skills is that one set by Design Thinking in the classroom.
When talking about Thinking Designers, their jobs are best explained by Scheel, Nowesky, & Meinel (2012) as people that “are used to deal with complex problems, and by generating diverse high-scoring solutions, analyzing and evaluating them in order to gradually improve them” (p. 11). The fact that this can be applied to education is fascinating, and somehow obvious because the constantly changing world urges students to be able to deal with complex real-life problems and evaluate them in order to look for solutions. Design Thinking understands the constructivist theory and focuses on learning through experience and complex problem solving (Scheel, Nowesky, & Meinel, 2012, p. 11). Even more importantly, this method seeks to apply collaborative work while analyzing a problem and pinpointing a solution. Therefore, it “meets the crucial criteria for effective 21st century learning by facilitating interdisciplinary projects, approaching complex phenomena in a holistic constructivist manner” (Scheel, Nowesky, & Meinel, 2012, p. 11). Metacognitive processes are also needed for the development of 21st century skills because they provide a parameter to both teachers and students so that they direct their teaching and learning practices.
There can be many counter arguments to this premise. One of those can be that Design Thinking is only effective and was actually created for other areas that have little to do with education. Nevertheless, there have been studies based on this method as a core approach for teaching, and the results are marvelous. One of these studies was carried out by Arnab, Clarke, & Morini (2019), and their results show the following: “Students report a variety of skills gained including the ability to consider end-users, conducting research effectively, defining problems, becoming open-minded, ideas generation and the ability to consider others input and ideas” (p. 196). As stated in their findings, students managed to positively develop core skills needed, the types of abilities included in the 21st century skills.
Another counter argument is that teachers present themselves reluctant to accept the fact that they no longer have the traditional power and authority they were once used to. As stated by Cohen & Mule (2019), Design Thinking challenges this “by positioning students as active constructors of knowledge, helping them reconceptualize the teacher-learner relationship” (p. 31). Even more importantly, teachers must be “willing to negotiate the traditional power and authority they typically have over curriculum, teaching, and learning and instead serve as facilitators of learning, as coaches” (Cohen & Mule, 2019, p. 31). The long-used teacher-centered classroom is dead, and the new option offers students the tools that they will need in reality.
To conclude, Design Thinking presents a challenge to both teachers and students because it changes the conventional setting of a classroom and turns it into an approach that is more hands-on. On the other hand, it fits more into what the real world requires from students, and teaches them how to act more responsibly, thinking critically, and working collaboratively, being agile and adaptive. In other words, it will actively teach them 21st century skills by constructing knowledge based on real-life experiences.