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OU researchers help teachers to harness technology and co-design learning

Teenage school children wearing white shirts and ties, in a classroom with a teacher and computer monitors

Researchers at The Open University (OU) are part of an innovative Europe-wide project applying design expertise to help secondary school teachers and pupils harness the latest technology to co-create the next generation of learning, online and in person.

Professor Christothea Herodotou, Professor Eileen Scanlon and Kevin McLeod from The OU’s Institute of Education Technology (IET) Learning, Teaching and Technologies team will work with academics from Sweden, Greece, Norway, Belgium, the Republic of Ireland and England on the project to apply Design Thinking to address education challenges.

Design Thinking is the process of designing products and services based on user needs. The often five-step process involves understanding end users, defining their needs, creating solutions to these needs, and then creating and testing prototypes with users to gain their feedback before arriving at an ultimate solution.

While common in industry, Design Thinking has few existing applications in education. The European Commission (EC)-funded €3+ million project’s researchers believe the process offers a vital opportunity to engage teachers in the co-creation and co-development of student learning in the classroom, hybrid and online. The project’s added value is the harnessing of emerging technologies, from Augmented Reality (AR) to robotics, Artificial Intelligence and 3D printing, to improve the classroom experience and enable development of 21st century skills such as creativity, problem solving and entrepreneurial mindset.

Starting with a trial group of teachers and students at schools in Greece, Belgium and England each of the project’s three years will see the researchers evaluate and develop their methods iteratively and taking them to new schools. They ultimately hope to roll them out across as many schools as possible in each of the six participating countries.

Professor Christothea Herodotou said:

“Traditionally, schoolteachers work from an established curriculum to create lesson plans for their students in the classroom. Having experienced the technological challenges and barriers to engaging students with this model during the coronavirus pandemic, we believe we must develop new and flexible educational approaches that work equally well online and in person.

“We want to use Design Thinking to give teachers the tools they need to co-create new teaching methods with their students, engage them in a process that meets their needs and extend and improve emerging technologies for use in teaching.”

By the project’s end, the team hopes to have created tried and tested lesson plans harnessing technologies that teachers in primary, secondary and tertiary education can apply to enhance learning in their classroom, whether in real life or virtually. They also plan to design free open education and professional development resources for teachers on The OU’s online learning platform, OpenLearn.

The researchers will use The OU’s nQuire citizen science and public engagement platform to implement stages of design thinking such as collect school pupils’ needs and feedback to prototypes and evaluate how well their learning develops by collecting learning analytics indicators.

“With society facing so many crucial issues, it is essential to equip future generations with the capabilities they need to solve complex problems; design thinking coupled with emerging technologies may be a means to achieving that ”, Professor Herodotou continues.

The project involves researchers from:

  • Linnaeus University, Sweden
  • The National and Kapodistrian University of Athens
  • The Norwegian University of Science and Technology
  • Trinity College Dublin
  • The University of Ghent, Belgium
  • University College London

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