Over the past semester, I have been flooded with questions from students, faculty, staff, friends, and family regarding the Design Thinking Studio. Some questions are out of a genuine desire to understand, and some are out of skepticism and confusion. I am often asked how this fits into my major, if I feel like I’m learning anything, what exactly we are doing, and if this work matters to me. The stigma associated with a nontraditional classroom experience is rather frightening and reflects the often harmful systemic expectation of the status quo in higher education.
Let me begin by addressing these questions. Yes, the Design Thinking Studio in Social Innovation is relevant to my major. In fact, it’s relevant to every major. It is an interdisciplinary experience that is transferable to any classroom, organization, or discipline. We receive credits that go towards requirements, just like every other Elon student. Yes, I am definitely learning a lot. The way I think has transformed and developed from trying to fit into the system, to trying to reinvent it and make it better. I’ve learned about different mindsets, programs, software, and processes that I would never have learned had I continued on with the traditional classroom experience.
What exactly are we doing? We are learning about new and innovative ways of learning and accomplishing tasks. We are utilizing a human centered approach to design, projects, and the workplace. Why try to force everyone to fit into a system when you can reinvent the system to make it better for everyone? We are working on projects in class, shadowing leaders in Alamance County, carefully reflecting, and utilizing important resources from design thinking trailblazers. Does this work matter to me? Of course it does. This is one of few times throughout my journey through the education system that we prioritize others’ needs. We don’t do projects for the sake of doing projects. We don’t work for the sake of working, only to be graded and leave forgetting all the information. We are very intentionally and carefully crafting our work to benefit the greater community. This is so important, as our education is such a massive privilege, and it is a shame not to share with others.
To those that are skeptical about such a unique and non-traditional educational experience: embrace the mess. Lean into the discomfort. We learn and grow the most when we are uncomfortable and in a new environment. The classroom isn’t always the best place to learn.
Written by: Mikey Gibeley