When I interviewed Erik Brynjolfsson on the Designing Schools podcast he shared, “Don’t just look at what’s being done and think how can i incrementally improve that, instead think of something totally fresh and something new that hasn’t been done before. The world needs more of that.”
The challenge however is that these transformational ideas don’t just emerge. The environment for these ideas has to be designed with intention and purpose. It’s also not enough to have ideas. There must be strategies for scaffolding the conversation so that we can move from ideas to action.
We are familiar with how design thinking nurtures the mindset of an optimist who has the creative confidence to be comfortable in a state of ambiguity because they know their first try is never their last try. It isn’t until we are able to go deep with the strategies to nurture this mindset that we begin to feel as if we have the tools to design the future.
Over the past two years I’ve experimented with many tools to answer, “How might we work better together as we navigate change?” When reflecting back on the past two years, many of us incrementally improved how we were working in remote and hybrid environments. As we often do with technology, we substitute, rather than intentionally design for the new experience or environment.
The end outcome: it never works and it leaves people feeling increasingly overwhelmed and frustrated, with a longing to “return to normal.”
One of the hardest parts about change is being able to advocate for what could be. Keep reading to learn the strategies and tools to design your conversations with intention to generate novel ideas that lead to action.
If you are:
- frustrated with how your teams have been working
- curious about a better way you could be working together that would allow for more flexibility and autonomy
- looking for strategies to design conversations about how to navigate change
Then register for my webinar where I’ll share the design thinking strategies and frameworks you use to facilitate conversations about the challenges you are experiencing and the opportunities you are curious about, leaving those you work with inspired by what you create and model. I’ll show you how to lead these conversations using tools like Mural, Session Lab, and Butter to accelerate innovation, strengthen collaboration, and build trust with your teams.
And What Do You Mean By Learning? A Century of Education Reform
The ideas we dream about and talk about when we imagine what school could be are not new, and neither are our choices when determining which direction to take. Let us return to 1896 and consider the competing views of John Dewey and his successor Charles Hubbard Judd at the University of Chicago that ultimately led to schooling and learning being defined as one in the same. In 1896, Dewey opened the Laboratory School where the mission was to create a school that could become a cooperative community while developing in individuals their own capacities and satisfying their own needs. Furthermore, he imagined a curriculum that would engage students in real world problems. Judd, on the other hand, believed the primary purpose was obedience to adults.
With the rise of industrialization in the late 1800’s and a focus on manual training to prepare students for the workforce, Judd’s views were more widely accepted and eventually adopted as the model of school we have today. This led to an education movement that took shape, creating systems that valued conformity over creativity and rote memorization over critical thinking, creating a divide between education as a life-long pursuit and schooling, where students are immersed in traditional classroom environments.
In “And What Do You Mean By Learning,” Seymour Sarason says:
School a set of rules and formulaic procedures, “behavioral and programmatic regularities, that leads to a system where a school is run like a business whose practices are often left unexamined while the world outside is rapidly changing.
If we truly want to examine our practices and define what we mean by learning, for both adults and young people, so that we choose a different path than the ones we’ve chosen over the past century we need tools and strategies to scaffold, organize, and design the conversation.
As Mario Suarez-Battan, CEO of Mural says, “Everyone in the business of creating or improving something is designing.”In education we’re all creating or improving the design of schools. With that let’s start with Mural!
Mural: From Linear to Visual Collaboration
If I had to describe Mural in one sentence it would be that it turns linear conversations into visual collaboration that allows ideas to expand and evolve through being agile. Through using Mural you’re able to raise the bar for how people experience interaction in a virtual space.
In April of 2020 I had my first experience designing what would have been a two day in person meeting with a district leadership team. These were entirely in person and our team did not want to cancel our time together. The core question guiding my design was:
“How might we design and facilitate powerful conversations in a virtual setting, while maintaining the integrity of our unique and personalized experiences our schools have come to expect?”
I had been introduced to a tool called Mural a few months prior while attending the Design Sprint conference hosted by Google. I had experimented with it only briefly, yet the possibilities were intriguing. Dare I say, the experience and dialogue was far more rich in our virtual session than it perhaps would have been in person.
Here are some initial questions I was asking:
The last question was particularly important, “How do people feel when engaging in an experience with you?”
One of the greatest realizations and benefits that came from designing this experience, was that 80% of the slide deck was eliminated. Using Mural, we facilitated and documented conversations on the board, allowing us to move through the powerful experience of designing together as we moved from ideas to action. Here’s a look at the board, before and after. From this experience I created a design sprint specifically for those of us in education. You can download the PDF here, or enroll in the full course hosted by EduSpark.
What I appreciate most about Mural, is that it’s not just a platform, it’s an entire community of practitioners across different industries who are all experimenting as they ask, “How might we work better together?”
Now a mere look at the board can often incite panic. Whoa what is happening? What are all those boxes? Where did the questions come from? As a facilitator, of a meeting, a workshop, or a classroom experience, you want to have a few tools in your pocket. There are a number of conversation frameworks you can use to design an experience. My favorite tool was Session Lab for two reasons. First, they have an extensive library of facilitation exercises. They are similar to the Visible Thinking routines that many of us are familiar with in education from Harvard’s Project Zero.
The second reason I find Session Lab to be invaluable is the way you can craft your agenda. Being able to list out the different activities, and then visually color code them according to “energizer, theory, discussion, and exercise” immediately gives you a visual representation of how diverse your experience is. Too much blue, prompts you to recognize that you may need to break up a section.
You can import the activities from the Session Lab library directly into your agenda, allowing you to have the instructions for facilitating the experience, along with all the materials all in one place. You can share the agenda and invite any collaborators who are designing the experience with you.
This one example alone perfectly represents how when we use the right tools, meetings where we may have come together multiple times to design a workshop, can now be condensed into fewer ones, allowing us to asynchronously work on the design of an agenda at a time that works for us.
If you want to be part of the solution to Zoom fatigue, start spreading Butter! Butter is a platform to plan and run an engaging session. Remember earlier when I said when thinking about designing an online experience, how would we want people to feel. Butter solved for this by allowing the host to create an energizing mood from the moment someone enters your waiting room.
From the color of the platform, to being able to visualize the agenda so everyone knows how far along we are, to being able to line up many interactive features, to integrating with many other platforms, they truly raise the bar for what an online experience should look like, feel like, and sound like.
If you are curious about how to leverage these three tools for your next meeting, workshop, or classroom experience, sign up for my free webinar here. I’ll be hosting it in Butter and I’ll walk you through how to use Mural, Session Lab, and Butter to facilitate powerful conversations that will allow you and your teams to work better together.
I believe that the future should be designed. Not left to chance.
Over the past decade, using design thinking practices I've helped schools and businesses create a culture of innovation where everyone is empowered to move from idea to impact, to address complex challenges and discover opportunities.