Empowering students to tackle complex problems

How can we empower students to tackle complex problems? At Engage we believe having a basic knowledge of Design Thinking is essential.

By Tina Larsen

Engage wants to empower students to apply the Design Thinking methodology to solve complex problems that occur around them. We have therefore hired Designhjelpen to develop, facilitate and test a course in Design Thinking for students working with curricular projects. The course is part of a larger project with the purpose of motivating and enabling students to take project ideas further.

Designhjelpen is a student advisory service from industrial design at NTNU and are part of the innovation ecosystem at the university. They carry out small and large design assignments, such as assignments and workshops in graphic design, product design, interaction design, service design and concept development. The student group consists of about 20 students.

What is Design Thinking and why is it important?

Design Thinking is a non-linear, iterative process used to understand users, challenge assumptions, redefine problems and create innovative solutions to prototype and test. It is about solving real problems for real users. It includes methods and mindsets that together contribute to innovative solutions that meet user needs, are technologically possible and commercially viable. The Design Thinking methodology is useful in tackling complex problems that are ill-defined and unknown.

Design thinking can be a contribution both to create a better dynamic in the student groups and in the development process of the project. We believe this course can create a better and more open environment where everyone in the group contributes. They will also learn to have a user-oriented focus and to prototype and test their solutions.

Kristine Hoff, Designhjelpen

The Design Thinking course

In the first instance, Designhjelpen will test the Design Thinking course in two different Experts in Teamwork villages at NTNU. Experts in Teamwork (EiT) is a master’s degree course in which students develop their interdisciplinary teamwork skills. The course is compulsory for all students in master’s programmes and programmes of professional study at NTNU. This year, due to Covid-19, the course is held on digital platforms.

On the 15th of January, Designhjelpen held their first course in Design Thinking and a collaborative workshop for the students. They first held a presentation where they briefly explained what Design Thinking is and went through the five stages in the Design Thinking process. These are:

  1. Empathize
  2. Define (the problem)
  3. Ideate
  4. Prototype
  5. Test

After the presentation, they allowed the students to use theory in practice where they applied the method in a digital collaboration tool. The course received positive feedback and the students seemed to get a practical benefit from the workshop.

Future prospects

As mentioned, the Design Thinking course is part of a larger project with the purpose of motivating and enabling students to take project ideas further. The goal of the project is to develop a toolbox, an innovation package, where the Design Thinking course is one of five separate measures.

Students come up with good ideas that can benefit society. We want to motivate them to take the idea further after the project-based course has ended. By combining the five measures, we hope to achieve the goals of both motivating and enabling them to continue with their ideas.

Ida Fuchs, Innovation manager at NTNU

The development of the innovation package will take place in several rounds, and the first iteration will be held in the two Experts in Teamwork villages. The initiators behind the innovation package are currently working on a project description to get support for further development and testing of the toolbox in other courses among the various Engage partners. The goal is for the innovation package to be usable in several topics where students work in teams on a project. We are excited to follow the development of the project.

The toolbox consists of:

  1. Introduction lecture about the innovation ecosystem at NTNU and funding opportunities
  2. Crash Course in Design Thinking by Designhjelpen
  3. Crash Course in Business Model Canvas
  4. Pitching practice in front of an expert panel
  5. Exit interview with an innovation manager at NTNU and / or a mentor from Spark* NTNU