and having adults take their passions
The process essentially comes down
to a continuously evolving feedback
loop with four elements: empathy, ideation, prototyping, and testing.
Empathy. DT is a creative process
grounded in practical experience. By
learning to observe human behaviors
and needs in the context of real life,
DT participants discover human-centered questions and problems
worth trying to solve. Better yet, it
does so within a remarkably empathetic process that puts the experience
of human beings at the center of the
equation. It is no longer about answer
keys with static facts that seem separate
from the day-to-day lives of learners.
Ideation. Once a DT participant is
able to identify a real-world problem
worth solving, the next step is to explore ways to respond. The goal is not
to find a perfect solution at this point.
Instead, DT participants seek novel
perspectives with a bias toward innovation. DT values the creativity and
insights of all participants, regardless
of specific expertise or a need to be
“right” at first blush. It encourages
outside-the-box thinking, which leads
to unexpected creative solutions. DT
relies on a creative process based on
“building up” ideas (rather than the
typical analytical process that looks to
“break down” ideas). Key to this is the
belief that there is no place for value
judgments early on. The DT process
rewards “and, and” responses from
participants, as opposed to the “yeah,
but” reactions that are typical of traditional academic experiences.
Prototyping. Once participants identify
a wide range of possible solutions, the
next step is to rapidly mock up exam-
ples. To DT advocates, the idea is to
help make an idea real, tangible, and
accessible. Ultimately, DT has a natu-
ral bias toward action. The best way to
approach this—as many designers will
tell you—is to use a rapid prototyping
process fueled by an attitude of “fail
and fail fast,” something ideally suited
for learning in a complex and often
messy 21st century world.
Prototype Design Camp
Given this understanding of DT,
let’s go back to the original question:
Imagine you were invited to create
your own version of the classroom
of the future. Where would you
This was precisely the question that
members of the e Tech Ohio conference planning team presented to Be
Playful, a design firm I founded, a
year ago in advance of their annual
For the e Tech Ohio team, this was
not a theoretical question. In essence,
they wanted to design a classroom
space placed physically in the middle
of the conference that would creatively
suggest the possibilities for learning
and teaching at the front end of the
Furthermore, this “classroom of the
future” needed to integrate dynamic
and cutting-edge technology. It needed
to inspire large numbers of the estimated 6,000 conference attendees to come
explore and collaborate. It also needed
to compete for attention in an exhibit
hall surrounded by student-built robots, Wii dance contests, and a range
of innovative educational programs.
More important, the solution needed
to be unlike anything they had tried in
As a passionate advocate for emerging technology inspiring real-time innovation in the classroom
and a designer working in the international school architecture field, this
project offered precisely the type of
challenge that brought together all
of my passions.
However, my first answer was a
conditional “yes” that I wasn’t sure
the e Tech Ohio team would accept.
While many previous ideas celebrated
emerging technology (and the impact
of architecture), our energy focused
more on what students (and teachers)
would be challenged to do in a
digital age learning environment.
Our proposal essentially stated:
• The classroom can’t just be
a showcase for technology.
• Students must be the center
of the program.
• Adults must serve as mentors,
sherpas, and allies.
• Students must solve real problems
that they come up with.
To our pleasure, the e Tech Ohio
team said “yes.” They were willing to
support our idea of “seeing” students
actively working, collaborating, solving problems, communicating, creating, and presenting.
To that end, DT made for the perfect partner as 45 high school students
from 14 diverse schools in Ohio (as
well as a school in Indiana and another in Georgia) trekked their way
through the snow and ice to participate in the first-ever Prototype
Their process took the following
Find a problem worth solving. Students
spent three intense days (from 7: 30
a.m. to 5 p.m.) working in teams of six
to seven that set out to find, explore,
and solve a remarkable problem fo-