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OpenIDEO in the Classroom

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Tracy Brandenburg, Ph.D. is a researcher, writer and founder of The Wells College Innovation Lab. She recently incorporated OpenIDEO’s Local Food Challenge into her design thinking elective for undergraduate students. Here she shares her story of using OpenIDEO in the classroom.
As a long-time professor at Wells College in Aurora, NY, I’ve learned that I can’t always expect my students to be passionate about the same topics that I am. So my goals are broader – to attempt to create a transformational experience that will inspire, ignite curiosity, or even just help students come one step closer to finding their place in this world. Over the last semester, thanks to OpenIDEO, achieving those goals is now incredibly easy.
But first some background: in early 2011 the Wells College Innovation Lab first opened its doors, with the goal of training young people in innovation and design thinking. Having studied at the Stanford the year before and getting bitten by the design thinking bug myself, I knew this way of seeing the world and problem solving could open up new possibilities for my students. So I was thrilled to help launch the Innovation Lab and to create my innovation and design thinking elective.

The Innovation Lab at Wells College
In our Innovation class at Wells College, my fellow team teacher and I decided to assign an OpenIDEO challenge for the final exam. Although we didn’t have any advanced knowledge of the topic, we ended up participating in the challenge “How might we better connect food production and consumption?” The assignment was for students to work in teams on the OpenIDEO challenge and use the design thinking methodology taught in class to come up with a solution. In addition, students were required to post their solution on OpenIDEO and communicate and interact with other online participants. To help inform the students’ work and validate their initial prototypes, the students also reached out to a group of local farmers. They asked questions, gathered qualitative insights, and got feedback from this key audience as they developed their ideas.

Students prototyping
On the day of the final, teams presented their mastery of design thinking by illustrating how they applied empathy, brainstorming, prototyping, and testing to the OpenIDEO challenge. The atmosphere was more like that of a party than a final exam as each team enthusiastically pointed out the posts that the global community had submitted about their ideas. One group excitedly announced, “We were made part of a virtual team!” And the enthusiasm for this project continued long after the semester ended; I received emails: “I actually want to implement my project!”; “I want to work for IDEO!” And my favorite, “Thank you for giving us this final exam.” Thank you? Somebody pinch me. So here are a few things I learned about what OpenIDEO can bring to the classroom:
OpenIDEO educates young people on important social issues; it moves them to deeply care about a topic with which they weren’t previously engaged. Our specific challenge about food and where it comes from was not a subject these 18 and 19 year-olds really knew much about. For them, tropical fruit has always been available in upstate New York in the middle of winter, and why shouldn’t it be? Only through classroom and online dialogue did they come to understand the value of bringing together food producers and consumers. And once they did, they genuinely wanted to do something about it.
Everyone wins. Students love competition, and in the “game” of OpenIDEO, everyone wins. They “win” by simply receiving positive feedback and praise. This strengthens their confidence, validates their work, and motivates them to want to participate in social design. The positivity of OpenIDEO and the fact that someone is practically guaranteed to comment on your work in a positive way is amazing.
The opportunity to share their ideas and connect with a global audience was the number one thing my students responded to. The online, social networking space is kind of their domain already, so OpenIDEO is really working within the student’s own medium. We are not asking them to read books and write papers, we are asking them to step into a world that they already understand and enjoy.
To my fellow educators, I invite you to jump into OpenIDEO, at any stage of the process, and know that whether you teach innovation or not, you are educating students on the greatest challenges of our times while simultaneously showing them humanity at its best. And in doing this, there is goodness, satisfaction, and so much fun.
For specific tips on how to use OpenIDEO in the classroom, including the grading rubric that we developed to assess student contributions, feel free to contact the Wells College Innovation teaching team. Also, be sure to join the conversation over in the OpenIDEO User Forums, where educators, students and other community members can ask questions and share stories about using OpenIDEO in university settings.
Tracy Brandenburg:
Sirietta Simoncini:
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Well written! Since OpenIDEO discusses some of society's largest and important topics, I completely agree that it should be introduced in the classroom. Many of today's students are extremely intelligent and experts in their dedicated areas, however they lack general knowledge in society's greatest and most pressing issues. It amazes me that many students can analyse the most complex arithmetic but do not know what is happening in the world. OpenIDEO therefore could provide a platform for these students to read about, learn and participate in these discussions hence expanding their knowledge.

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It is a perfect medium that OpenIdeo provide to students to share and exchange the idea of social hot topic.

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Yes, I am totally agree with you at this point.

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I also agree with your point "It is a perfect medium that OpenIdeo provide to students to share and exchange the idea of social hot topic". Because students can discussion their ideas get together in class, this way to communication is more effective. In my opinion , OpenIDEO in the Classroom can make students join in discussion, and everybody can come up with good ideas. This way is also can encourage students to particular challenge.

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I like the idea that" students were required to post their solution on OpenIDEO and communicate and interact with other online participants". Because this strategy could help inform the students’ work and reached out to a group of local farmers.

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I just figure out if I like your idea, I could just reply down of you post. Anyway, I like what you mentioned in your post "Because this strategy could help inform the students’ work and reached out to a group of local farmers" by doing the practiceand looking what other people think about different challanges at the different places. I totally agree with the point you made. And I am looking forward to see how does this challenge go in the future. Nice work.

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I think it is a great idea to use the OpenIDEO in the classroom. It could let more people join and share their thought at one place. And also just like Mengyuan said "Because this strategy could help inform the students’ work and reached out to a group of local farmers" by doing the practiceand looking what other people think about different challanges at the different places.

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i get so inspired when i see work like this being brought out into the world. innovative approaches that leverage public private partnerships and that reinvent the classroom into a vehicle for social change are the highway to the new economy. can't wait to see what sprouts of out of this fertile soil. go for it, tracy!!

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Glad to see you're so inspired Danielle! And welcome to OpenIDEO! We're also starting a conversation about OpenIDEO in the classroom over here – perhaps you'll want to join in?

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Thanks for the kind comments, Danielle!

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Tracy, Danielle, Anne-Laure-- excited to learn of this project. I am working on many similar issues in preparing a creative, project-based, service-learning infused curriculum at Avenues: The World School, which will open next fall. I'd really love to hear about how you think these ideas and approaches translate or trickle down to the high school and even middle school level. I'm very interested in creating a curriculum that prepares students in all the social/emotional, creative, organizational etc skills they will need ot succeed as young entrepreneurs, in or out of college... would love to chat about this, but don't want to hijack this particular university-focused thread!

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Looking forward to talking to you about this, Ivan!

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Interesting to hear more about your project Ivan.

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Hi Tracy, thanks for sharing your experience. I'm teaching an elective "Exploring creativity" to graduate students at NYU-Poly (a mix of engineering, computer science and management students). Like you, I'm teaching them design thinking techniques. The class is project based with various mini-briefs to work on in class and a main final project where they can apply all the methods explored in class. In the 2 previous years, I used to let them choose their own project (to work on it individually or in team) but I realized that assigning them a project was in some ways better. Hence, this year, I decided to use an OpenIDEO challenge as their main project (waiting for the next challenge to start! :-). I'll make sure to share on the OpenIDEO User Forums. I might also contact you to know more about your experience. Thanks again for sharing! al

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Wow, sounds like we did the exact same thing! I'm planning on organizing a hackathon for the next challenge - maybe your class and mine can work together - even if from a distance. Thanks for writing!

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Exciting times! Would be great if you could both add more detail to your OpenIDEO profile pages so that our community may earn more about your interesting backgrounds there. It's a great way share the diversity and vibrancy of our community. Same goes for your students – would be fantastic if they can let others know about their college affiliations in their profile bios if possible. Looking forward to seeing more class participation this semester!

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Hi Tracy, sorry for the late reply but did not get a notification and I have to admit I have not checked this discussion for a while. When are you planning to organize the hackathon? We have students who started an openIDEO student chapter at NYU-Poly and they are planning to organize sth along these lines during the refinement phase... It will be nice also to get in touch off-line to discuss of possible collaboration.

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Wow. Super. I think it's great that you brought it to your students in this way. And one of the great things of this community is, that, even though I was quite active in this particular challenge, I didn't notice that there were students participating as part of their class. They were very much part of the community, and I do hope that they stick around for other challenges.

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Arjan, your comments were always so positive - the students seemed to really appreciate your feedback!

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Awesome Tracy...excited for this to spread to classrooms everywhere!

Photo of Tracy Brandenburg

Thank you so much! I'm excited to spread the word!