Seven Ways to Move Your Design-based Class Online

Yes, your design-based or empathy-based course activities can move online. You can do this!

I’ve been teaching design classes in a blended manner (a mix of digital and in-person) since about 2007. This blended approach helped me communicate with students while I was doing consulting work abroad and helped me continue teaching during my pregnancy. Since I used to teach in the Caribbean, the blended learning environment has also helped me to work with people who were located on different islands – either students in my class or other classes at other universities that we collaborated with.

This academic year at Tulane, I am teaching in-person (until a few days ago!) design thinking courses, and I support faculty members of any discipline in trying experiments in design-based learning in their teaching. Now that Tulane University has moved to online instruction in response to COVID-19, I am disappointed to miss the exciting design activities we have spent the year planning.

But all is not lost! Here are some ways we plan to continue design classes and activities online. These strategies aren’t design-specific and could work in many disciplines.

1. Communication

Use a combination of Zoom groups (whole groups and break out groups) and Whatsapp groups for discussions. Why Whatsapp, you may wonder? I’ve found it’s crucial to have a backup communication tool in case one goes down. In the middle of my last online class, my computer froze. I moved to Whatsapp to be able to let students know and discuss a plan B.

2. Collaboration

Google docs for EVERY phase! Google docs aren’t as pretty as sticky-notes, but you can do lots of the same types of collaboration.

3. Empathy

Students can create videos about different elements of the design process. My favorite exercise is ’empathy videos’ where they show what they discovered in the empathy interviews. But students can also create videos to share the design at any phase. I’ve also used videos to share the final design. My last online class crashed while I was sharing a student video, so I’d recommend other ways of sharing e.g., uploading to Canvas or via a private link on Youtube.

4. Feedback

Use closed online groups to provide feedback on visual solutions – where students post photos and then give comments and likes to show they’ve seen them. Canvas has the same functionality. I used to use more public forums like Facebook since I knew most of my students had access.

5. Discussion

Matching students with other students for one on one conversations via Zoom and Whatsapp (I’ll be doing this with another professor’s class, when we move online, where we found some discussion topics that will benefit both groups of students).

6. Critique

‘Feedback rubrics’ for students to use while giving colleagues feedback on their work. I also asked students to design the critique rubrics.

7. Growth

Many, many, many reflection posts to help students understand their personal growth throughout the process. I create posts for them to reflect individually and in small groups. I also encourage them to share challenges and key learnings in their small groups and with the whole group, sometimes anonymously so they’ll feel more comfortable.

Some things to remember:

Don’t ‘beat yourself up’ or your students if the experiment doesn’t work out. Learning to teach online is a process with many iterations.

Keep calm and have some fun with your online experiments! After all, each class is only a prototype!

Published by lesleyannnoel

Lesley-Ann Noel is the Associate Director of Design Thinking for Social Impact and a Professor of Practice at the Phyllis M. Taylor Center for Social Innovation and Design Thinking at Tulane University in New Orleans. She is also the co-chair of the Pluriversal Design SIG of the Design Research Society.

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