Design thinking can be broadly defined as a set of creative skills to understand and problem-solve ambiguous and complex problems, and a practice that places humans at the heart of the design process. Such collaborative ways of design thinking and design-doing are much needed to address twenty-first century challenges such as climate change. Design thinking methodology is well known for teaching and learning in design disciplines, and to a lesser extent, as an innovative problem-solving framework for business education. Typically design thinking has been taught and practised in physical settings and to a lesser extent online. While design thinking is also increasingly practised online, this is challenging at scale in higher education contexts. This case study analyses design thinking activities with educational technologies in a large undergraduate cohort of first-year business students. Eleven students and three teachers were interviewed to ascertain their level of engagement with design thinking with digital tools and to identify common themes that enabled or inhibited such practice. Student artefacts of design thinking are explored and compared to the interview data. Findings indicate that students may develop novice design thinking skills, process knowledge and mindsets in online and remote delivery modes, despite limited experience, technical and time constraints. Broader learning design implications of design thinking constraints in digital practice are discussed to assist educators. It is suggested that higher education adopt and support design thinking, as a subject and practice, more widely.

Practitioner Notes

  1. Students find design thinking to be an active, engaging online learning activity.
  2. Design thinking may be used as a collaborative problem-solving approach in teaching and learning outside of design disciplines.
  3. Novice design thinking skills, mindset and process knowledge may be learnt with limited exposure to design thinking.
  4. Online design thinking activities need fewer, less frequent steps in online student groups.
  5. Educators need a design thinking mindset to facilitate within the constraints of digital environments.

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