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Design thinking as a catalyst for innovation

“Creativity at the heart of all I do! Originality, the intent of every project I touch. Beauty, the characteristic I wish to see in every physical artifact I design. Novelty, the only outcome I desire when I complete any assignment. Design thinking is what clues all the above.” – Puleng Makhoalibe

Creativity is the number one competency that business is looking for in leadership, it holds the key to new- ness and fresh perspective that the business so desires but yet it is not observed, rewarded or even accommodated in businesses.

During the first week of September we were privileged to watch a life- changing moment for 20 professionals, studying at the University of Cape Town School of Education. Professionals from higher education institutions, secondary schools and the corporate sector in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Congo DRC, Zambia and Uganda were guided through the design thinking process to develop mobile applications that can solve problems in the education and technology space. These students, with no previous knowledge of mobile app development, generated six useful mobile applications through the Design Thinking approach. “It sounded like a daunting exercise as I had no previous knowledge of programming nor thought of myself as creative,” commented one of the students.

One of the challenges facing education systems in general, and higher education in particular, is how to develop a mindset that can innovate to find solutions to existing societal problems. This is compounded by the growing gulf between the theory taught in education and practice as experienced by practitioners. A case in point is mobile devices, in particular mobile phones, which have become pervasive and are in the hands of both educators and students, yet there are only a handful of developers capable of designing pedagogically useful applications aimed at addressing local educational challenges. It is for this reason that the Research and Evaluation of Emerging Technologies course hosted in the School of Education and convened by Prof Dick Ng’ambi has successfully used Design Thinking to prepare educational technologists that can empathise with teachers and build mobile applications that meet specific education needs.

A leading local expert in Design Thinking, Puleng Makhoalibe, facilitated a week-long process that has culminated in the development of novel mobile applications with passion and practical tools. She birthed a Design Thinking approach for the newly-established Educational Technology Inquiry Lab SandPit. The approach – called Empathise, Think, Ideate, Learn, Act, and Build – has been tested and will continue to form an effective process to pre- pare educators for the 21st century. The participants will now take the mobile applications and test them in the real world. This is a clear demonstration of Design Thinking in action and provides evidence that there is potential to use Design Thinking to drive the development of relevant solutions.

The students involved were over- whelming enthusiastic about the process:

“The course has totally changed my life and approach to problem solving and I will never look at problems the same ways again.”

“This has been breath of fresh air for me.”

“I came into the course with no knowledge of app development, and I now leave not only with a skill, but with a new approach to life.”

“This has boosted my confidence in my creativity.”

“I will always look for the second right answer.”

“I look forward to going back to work to use the app and further develop it in my institution.”

The students’ apps are downloadable and accessible by the public. For more information contact [email protected]

This article is part of a larger supplement. This has been paid for by the M&G‘s advertisers and the contents signed off by the organisers of the Innovation Summit

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