Newswise — In the eyes of Olin Professors Alexandra Coso Strong and Jonathan Stolk, educational design is everywhere. In a school, classroom, wherever people are learning — everything has been designed by someone. To prepare for the course they are instructing, Educational Design — or EdDesign — the duo looked at the designs of calculators and computers, as well as larger systems like admission policies, accreditation, even the way society thinks about grading.
Sharing a mutual passion for educational design, Coso Strong and Stolk began to construct the course by talking to students about their own perspectives on educational technology. “I would ask questions, just trying to understand what they knew and what they were interested in,” Coso-Strong said.
Coso-Strong noticed two big things happening in the course of her research: students excelled at single user-centered design — essentially designing for individuals. But they struggled with designing for groups — communication with the principals, the teachers, the parents and all the different people involved in the design of an educational program. “Students’ intuition is great in general, but can we enhance it? Can we make it even better?” she asked. And so Olin’s EdDesign course was born.
The students that they worked with to design the elective became very reflective about their own education. “We had them reflecting on their life as a learner,” Coso-Strong said. In their own years of school, how did students prefer to be assessed? Did the results of testing motivate them to improve or discourage them from trying again? Coso Strong, Stolk and the Olin students worked to combine ideas and love for education with programming and software skills to improve educational technology for the next generation.
Coso Strong and Stolk wanted a class that approached the definition of educational design broadly, a philosophy that enabled the students to think very freely about the kinds of clients and projects they wanted to attract “and work on some pretty cool projects,” Coso Strong noted.
Student projects included collaboration with the Alliance for Climate Education, a national nonprofit focused on empowering youth to learn about climate education and to teach others about it. The project succeeded in urban areas but drew less interest in rural areas. So the Alliance challenged students to think about how they could support high school science teachers in their attempts to implement climate education in their classrooms, particularly in places like rural Georgia and North Carolina.
“They ended up coming up with a climate change in a box — a set of hands-on experiments and lessons that they could give to teachers. The Alliance for Climate Education, our contact there, their Director of Education, is so excited,” Stolk said.
The class also worked with the Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition of Georgia, an organization dedicated to making prenatal care more accessible to pregnant women in the rural parts of the state. HMHBGA looked at how to get more birth support professionals - such as midwives and doulas - credited in an efficient and accessible way.
In Georgia the number of credentialed birth support professionals is staggeringly low. The class created workshops focused around identity development of these workers. “Different people have different definitions of what it means to be a birth support professional.” Coso Strong explained. “Some focus on things like the financial part, which can be a big pain point for these professionals. Because they do the work because they love it, but they still need to get paid and that’s a tough thing to request money for something that’s so significant.”
The education design process is more than just building a kit, however – it’s the pedagogical framework around the kit. “It’s the idea that learning should be active.” Stolk said. “It should be contextually meaningful or relevant to the individuals. So, a lot of thinking went into not just what students were doing in terms of hands-on activities, but how this kind of hangs within this meaningful, societal or literal context.”