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Design Thinking for/in Higher Education

Promo video (instead of a description in the course catalog) for a course I taught this semester at Mills College, in Oakland, CA.

Photo of Dan Ryan
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This is a course we offered this fall at the InnovationLab@Mills. Sixteen students - undergrad and grad - from sociology, anthropology, computer science, ethnic studies, business, math, and education - and a few staff members participated.


Why is American higher education in 2016 so similar to what it was 10, 20, or even 50 years ago? If Steve Jobs was right when he said “It’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the results that make our heart sing,” why do we see so little innovation in places where liberal arts has the home field advantage? Why do faculties, administrations, and students take too long to change too little? Why is so much of the "new" just a digital form of the old?

This course aims to challenge that status quo. It is an introduction to design thinking with a focus on innovation in higher education. By innovation we mean creative solutions to important problems and the translation of ideas into value. The course will teach design thinking as a discipline, human centered design as a mindset, and innovation as an ethos along with substantive background in the history of innovative education and the sociology of innovation.

In the course you will develop your capacity to identify important problems and to work effectively in a design team. You will learn to cultivate empathy and use anthropological techniques to research user needs. We will attempt to inspire your creativity and help you be the kind of person who can inspire creativity in others. You will learn a range rapid low resolution prototyping techniques and value of deploying them iteratively.

This course is for students with a diverse range of strengths and aspirations; visual artists, social scientists, rabble rousers, entrepreneurs, policy innovators, coders, future teachers, budding business persons, hell-raisers, creative writers, and laboratory scientists. Our goal is simple: to motivate and equip you to be an education innovator, the kind of person who looks at higher education as currently practiced, thinks "why not?" and then makes it happen.

Specifically, please check all that apply:

  • An Individual

Tell us about your work experience:

Teaching at Mills College, Oakland CA.

What is a provocation or insight that might inspire others during this challenge?

Innovation education itself can be an education innovation. We might get better outcomes if we empower people on the inside of higher education to change it into what it can be rather than waiting for some disruptive force from the outside.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Pat Vining

Great course—would love to hear about the outcome. I actually had a similar idea and presented it during my MFA thesis defense back in 2007. I was asked the question, “Do you think that design will continue to be the provenance of Art Schools,” and I responded, “No.” They were shocked. Do you remember the book, Cluetrain Manifesto . . . The train keeps leaving the station, and no one gets on! Enrollment is declining, new players emerge daily—we HAVE to get out of our silos and get on that train, yesterday!!!

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