Dreaming of Sea Monkeys #ilta2016
A Half Day Learning about Data for Business

Design(Think)-ing your Identity

Norah Carmody's Storyboarding

EVERY SEMESTER I help college students share stories about themselves and during my story-sharing workshop, I hear the hesitation in student voices and see their angst in body language. So I resort to some tactics in Design Thinking and some results start appearing on paper.

I work across three separate campuses of the Limerick Institute of Technology and encounter distinctly different student personas. On each campus, students already grapple with different design challenges. Sports students design work-outs--different ones for themselves as athletes and others in their roles as personal trainers. Business students design case studies related to information technology. Creative multimedia students design user experiences. Digital animators design storyboards (shown).

But when it comes to the idea of “designing your life,” new challenges arise and I'm always searching for better ways to help the process along. I'm currently looking at several ideas arising a very successful EdTech Conference sponsored by the Irish Learning Technology Association. During #ilta2016, I heard conversations from other lecturers on personal identity and professional identity. Both of these topics form part of my professional practice. I'm now exploring ways to see if we might tweak one of our semester modules to permit first year students to "Design Your Degree" and to have third year students "Design Your Profession". The content and delivery of these courses differs based on the age and experience of the respective audiences, but all would share the same framework.

We must follow an accredited syllabus when framing our Honours Degree courses. Every five years, we revise the course frameworks. In the next major iteration, we will articulate specific elements of design thinking as part of several modules. Design thinking already forms part of the workshops I run in social media, media writing and public relations. In each module, I begin the design thinking process by identifying a human need and I show ways to use empathy and testing to arrive at a method to answer the need. Illustrations and word clouds form integral parts of this process.

During the final 1200 days of my full-time academic life, I want to add two other layers of meaning. I want to help students discover and articulate a sense of self. I also want to support students as they develop a public expression of their sense of place.

I agree with Gabrielle Santo-Donato and believe design thinking should not sit comfortably in a space where it merely explains how to innovate. [1] I think design thinking should be embedded into my teaching practice to ensure it becomes “real.” Students should be able to link the theory of design thinking to things that matter in their lives. [2] As Gabrielle Santo-Donato says, students "must be able to connect the design process to self (Where is my intrinsic motivation in solving this?) and to the system (What is our collective purpose in solving this in the context of the world?). Life design more naturally gravitates toward those connections."

So in the months ahead, I will nominate specific tools to help students bring together their ideas into shared physical and electronic spaces. Their collective work will encourage changes in behaviours by enhancing self-awareness and by increasing pride of place.

I construct the methods by which my students can create electronic communities that extend beyond Facebook's silo. I advocate extensible architecture such as RSS feeds, Creative Commons content, and collaborative networking. We use social software such as Trello and Slack for group work and instant communications. We explore frequently updated collections such as the PR Stack to create and sustain conversations about life through and after college. Through a wide cross-section of interactions and feeedback, our students can set up discoverable identities online while defining their own narrative.

Each autumn, I ask students to rewind their timelines and to share information about their most creative moments. Using shared spaces inside Classroom OneNote and short classroom presentations drawn from information sketched in Moleskines that my students use to offer perspectives with their colleagues. 

Each spring, I ask students to share where they want to be in five years. They prototype elements of their plans on paper storyboards and on electronic timelines. When this happens, I see life design in progress. The prototypes, shared as essays or audio clips, lead to a flow of information that passes through the entire classroom.

None of this Applied Design Thinking is new. All of my tools and ideas build upon the ideas of those who have shared before. Before I wrap up my final semester in 2019, I plan to compile into a book a cross-section of student life design work, hoping to show younger students what they might consider when starting their college years. By my count, I have fewer than 800 work days to bundle up the hundreds of prototypes, timelines and screenshots into a collection that guidance counselors, parents and students might read to improve their sense of self and to enhance their awareness of their sense of place. 

  1. Gabrielle Santo-Donata -- "What Now? Intentionally Designing Life at College and Beyond" in EdSurge, May 22, 2016.
  2. Gabrielle Santo-Donata -- "Playing with Professional Development (Literally)" in EdSurge, August 14, 2013
  3. Stephen Waddington -- "PR Stack", February 2016. You can add tools or complete the info in upcoming PR Stack collections via a Google spreadsheet.

+++ Bernie Goldbach teaches creative media for business in the Limerick Institute of Technology.