University of Wisconsin–Madison

02.19.16 Design Thinking with Pamela McGranahan and George Jura

Pamela McGranahanGeorge JuraPamela McGranahan and George Jura from the School of Nursing share how they use IDEO’s “Design Thinking” process to engage students in authentic activities in Public Health.

Activity SheetNotes • Active Teaching Lab full schedule

In many disciplines, “design thinking” has become a preferred approach to solving complex problems. It has been used to develop not only innovative and commercially successful products, but also to create services, experiences, and education, finance, healthcare, and government processes. Initially developed at Stanford by Rolf Faste as a “method of creative action,” design thinking was embraced by IDEO, a prominent design firm, and later adopted by IDEO’s founders as the core method in Stanford’s prestigious d-school, where the five-step process (empathize > define > ideate > prototype > test) has been used by students and faculty from various disciplines to “take on the world’s messy problems together.”
It is entirely possible to use the five-step “design thinking” approach in any course, but fully implementing the process is time-consuming, and can be resource-intensive. We wanted to introduce students in a Community Health Nursing course to the concept in just two class periods, in a way that would not only give them a solid grasp of the method, but would also let them creatively apply its principles in practice.

Pamela and George’s Design Thinking Story


  • Students appreciated the opportunity to use DT to better understand why patients act the way they do.
  • Start with individual pieces of this process that you are already doing, determine where they fit into this process, and then build on that.
  • Let your students know upfront that this is a departure from standard teaching, and that it is meant to be confusing and disorienting, so those feelings are expected and are part of the process. (Side effects may include disorientation and confusion. 😉 )
  • Balance active learning activities such as this, which may be new to students, with more familiar structures. Ease students into it so they can adapt.
  • Make your objectives clear to your students so they know what they are expected to get out of it.
  • Try the design thinking process for designing your course!

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