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Design Thinking in Practice During COVID-19 Outbreak

Adaptation and innovation are two core values of the WW Graduate School of Teaching & Learning, as expressed through its Thinking Like a Designer core competency. While no one could have anticipated the design challenge that the COVID-19 outbreak has posed for the School over these past two weeks, staff and teacher candidates (TCs) have risen to the occasion. 

In the Thinking Like a Designer core competency, the WW Graduate School integrates these principles—imagination, flexibility, adaptation—as it prepares TCs to drive innovation in their own learning spaces by using a problem-solving method called design thinking. TCs learn to use design thinking to solve for classroom situations in creative, student-centered ways. They test their solutions and learn quickly from outcomes. 

Design is critical to the way the Graduate School operates. “We use the design thinking processes to ideate, rapidly prototype, and learn what works and what doesn’t work,”  noted President Deborah Hirsch.

On March 13th, the WW Graduate School transitioned to entirely remote operations in an effort to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. While the School had previously facilitated some virtual learning, it is now, for the first time, hosting its Practicum and Studio sessions on a fully remote basis. These new online learning spaces enable TCs to come together with coaches and faculty, to learn, explore, and design while working on their challenge-based coursework.

Peter Laipson, Chief Academic Officer, believes that current circumstances will enhance the adaptability and resilience of the WW Graduate School’s TCs: “As we refine our own processes to collaborate and co-design remotely, we are developing our teacher candidates’ ability to do the same with their students.” 

In the opening minutes of the first remote Practicum, TCs took the lead, teaching one another how to use different functions and tools of their virtual classroom setting. They put their knowledge to use immediately with challenge coaches and TCs working together on different challenges and learning experiences.

During this time of transition for institutions the world over, the WW Graduate School is relying on its fundamental ability to adapt and redesign. “Over the past five years, we have developed a number of processes and structures to help us be imaginative and flexible,” said Dr. Hirsch. The school, she says, has always considered itself a lab, willing to try new things while working to instill these same traits in each of its graduates.

While no one institution has all the answers for a challenge of this magnitude, Dr. Laipson hopes each WW Graduate School TC will come through this with a new set of tools. “At the Graduate School, we believe change can be an opportunity. It can be exciting, and not just daunting.”

This stance on embracing the unexpected is integral to the Graduate School’s mission. “Our graduates have noted that being part of an ‘education start-up’ was great preparation for starting out as a new teacher,” Dr. Hirsch said. “They were already adept at responding to uncertainty, to being able to change course quickly and to knowing that plans will inevitably need to be modified.” 

While the coronavirus has changed all sectors of our society, the WW Graduate School continues to experiment and adapt. Faculty and TCs have already demonstrated their resilience in numerous ways. From embracing remote Practicum and Studio sessions to adapting the curriculum to respond to school closures, the WW Graduate School is demonstrating ways to change teaching and learning to meet the needs of both today and tomorrow. 

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