Raikes School partners to debut design thinking course for first-year students

Raikes School partners to debut design thinking course for first-year students

Reposted from Silicon Prairie News.

No one seems to remember exactly how it happened.

They know it started with a Silicon Prairie News story about the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's Jeffrey S. Raikes School of Computer Science and Management last December. There was some talk around the College of Architecture, an e-mail from interim dean Kim Wilson to Raikes director Dr. David Keck with a link to the story.

However it began, it's finally happening this semester—Dr. Keck's vision for incorporating "design thinking" and its interdisciplinary principles into the Raikes curriculum is coming to fruition with a joint course taught by Ian Cottingham and Brian Kelly.

As Cottingham explained, "the properties are exactly the same in terms of designing a coffee cup as designing a software program."

Yet, Kelly says "this course is about designing an idea and not necessarily designing a product," which he notes is a major shift in thinking for the College of Architecture.

The course, which is required for all 36 Raikes and approximately 150 architecture freshmen students, focuses on the "process" of innovation, rather than the "product." The students learn the five steps of the design thinking—empathize, define, ideate, prototype, test—and repeat them in four projects, each of which gets progressively more abstract and more externally-focused, with more emphasis on the broader community. The first assignment involved defining each student team's aggregate identity, while the second asked students to improve the campus dining halls.

In essence, the course teaches students how to approach and solve "a problem that seems extremely daunting when you look at it, that you just don't know how to do it," Kelly (right) said.

It's not easy to mold the "spirit within the student" and inspire them to be "aspirational about something." Some have struggled, so far, to break out of the habit of being graded on results, instead of how they get there. But Kelly said he's having "vastly different" conversations with his first-year students than ever before.

Which is precisely the goal: "At some point in your college career, you have to make a transition from how to be a good student to how to be good at your discipline or field," Cottingham (left) said, and "to understand that rules don't always apply."

He went as far as to paraphrase Marc Ecko's 2013 Big Omaha talk: "Learn the rules like a pro so you can break them like an artist."

Keck, Cottingham and Kelly are excited to see what comes from getting students on track with design thinking so early in their college careers, how it will impact the Raikes School's Design Studio when these freshmen become juniors and seniors, and how design thinking might spread across campus and better the community.

"We're in the middle of a very successful experiment, but it's still an experiment," Cottingham said.

"It's a prototype," Kelly agreed.

"It would be phenomenal if every department offered a 101D course in their first-year curriculum," Cottingham said.