Design, Teaching, and Learning

At the heart of modern understandings of best teaching practices is the notion of designing learning experiences and design in general. At the heart of design in general is the notion of intentionally creating something. To think of design as part of our jobs as professors is to challenge ourselves to ask a simple question: what do want students to be like after they’ve been exposed to our classes? The answers to this question gives us answers around which we can create — intentionally create — spaces, classes, programs, curricula, and even colleges in ways that attempt to achieve these goals. From here we research the best ways to achieve these goals, implement them, and see if we’ve achieved these goals.

While design thinking might seem like an obvious thought, and increases in popularity with each new group of assistant professors, it is a fairly recent trend in higher education. Most likely, our favorite college professors did not win our respect and admiration by design thinking. They were likely just really interesting people to us and we wanted to know what they seemed to know. Even if our favorite professors were designing learning experiences for us, it likely didn’t look that way to us.

Some professors really can develop an entire teaching practice based on performances (which do not necessarily have goals or intentionality driving them, but we can learn from performances). But advice to “be likeable”, “tell them what you know”, or “be interesting” will only get you so far. At some point, developing a teaching practice requires us to choose to develop a skill in performance or dig in deeper to design learning experiences.

This page is devoted to inspiring faculty and staff to engage in design thinking—which can be a heck of a lot of fun—and support efforts to learn what one needs to learn in order to design good learning experiences.

If the above piques your interest, then you may want to start with the first resource below to learn more. It describes a simple way to start engaging in design thinking right before you walk into the classroom Given the topic or the reading for the day, ask yourself these three questions in progression:

  1. What am I going to teach about the topic?
  2. How am I going to teach it?
  3. What is the best way to teach it, given my strengths and weaknesses?