How Design Thinking can-and should-be applied to Education

Working as a Teacher Assistant at Ironhack Paris for the UX/UI full-time Bootcamp, our mission was not only to teach Design Thinking to students but to help them put it into practice in their projects and more importantly to help them to take ownership of Design Thinking as a mentality.

Defining our Teaching Method

Driven by the Lead Teacher Jeremie Douchet, our motto as the teaching team was to state that we couldn’t be effective in our teaching method if we did not apply what was taught to ourselves.

That’s where we realized that even if we were not, strictly speaking, designing as our students were, we were spending our days designing what was supporting it all: the Bootcamp.

Comparison with Product Design

The Bootcamp Full-time is 10-weeks long and works as a sequence of Design Sprints on both UX and UI projects, inspired by the famous Jake Knapp’s method.

From the teachers’ side, calling it a Design Marathon would be more appropriate since we were constantly iterating on the Bootcamp from week 1 to week 10.

Here is a quick mapping of the comparison:

We were building and adapting a user-centered product for targeted people who shared common goals and expectations all the while ensuring a complete and tailored service from start to finish.

Let’s rewind a bit

To push the comparison further, here is a quick reminder of the 5 steps of Design Thinking as a framework:

  • Empathize
  • Ideate
  • Define
  • Prototype
  • Test

Need more explanations on that? Check InVision’s video to get what is Design Thinking in a nutshell.

Empathize & Define

This part is all about Research that can’t be done without users.
Good thing for us: our users were constantly under our nose.

Teaching for the Bootcamp was truly a give and take situation.
Both the business and us were paying extra care to meet the students learning’s expectations. But little did they know that we were learning a lot from them. And not only in the classic “teaching is learning” kind of way.

They were giving us constant feedback (explicit and implicit) which helped us collecting insights and improving the Bootcamp days after days.

We never stop gathering hints of frustration, glimpses of needs, signs for change. Every week being a different project, the goals were shifting and we needed to create a strong and adaptable structure to support it all.

When I think about it, the research phase was infinite.

Ideate

Depending on the insights we got, the solutions could go from the smallest change to a big restructuring idea.
But no matter the scale, every idea we had to address a student’s insight was discussed among the teachers to gauge its feasibility, efficiency, and value.
We used the same ideation tools taught to our students for our own needs, such as:

  • Crazy 8’s
  • Worst Idea
  • Round Robin

Prioritizing

As in every field, the major thing we had to deal with was time. But it was all the more true since the Bootcamp format was made to be very challenging, demanding, and intense.
10 weeks go by at a crazy pace so we had to prioritize our ideas according to the urgency of the matter, their ease of integration, and the consequences they might have on the rest.

Every action coming from our ideation sessions was added to our to-do list with their priority ranked from 0 (most urgent) to 4 (least urgent) and dispatched among team members according to its difficulty level.

For big restructuring needs such as changing the project brief altogether or switch the week’s schedule, we marked them as “nb” which stands for Next Bootcamp, which would be reviewed during the preparation of the next session.

Prototype & Test

Following our backlog prioritization, we were in some way prototyping and testing every single day when small changes were implemented.

Good thing was that it allowed us to fail fast and to iterate even faster. Sometimes it meant coming back to how it was before, sometimes it meant being less ambitious.

A product with various forms

The core product was the curriculum which itself had different formats:

  • An online learning platform
  • Deck of slides for each lesson
  • Workshops & Labs

Most of the curriculum is thought and created by Ironhack Global Teams to ensure consistency among Bootcamps around the world.

Our job was to get acquainted with it, make it ours, and more importantly, adapt it to students. But none of it can be apprehended without what was supporting it all: the schedule.

The Schedule

Sure the content of the Bootcamp is important, but it’s almost worthless without a schedule that highlights it and allows students to turn theory into practice right away. Plus it punctuates the general experience.

Service Design

Enrolling in the Bootcamp is a commitment in time, money, and energy.
As seen from our Research phase, the majority of people doing the training are here to switch careers and expect a lot from this experience.
Of course, they come here first for the content from day 1 they will hope for good surprises and judge the overall experience.

Keeping clients satisfied

The difference between compulsory school and private training is: people chose to be here.

Before being students, Ironhackers are clients, who decided to put money into a product and hope it will be worth it.

Aside from teaching, a great part of our job was to work hand-in-hand with the business staff to give the students/clients a memorable and consistent experience.

Work smart, iterate fast

Documenting everything

As I said, the Bootcamp is a very intense experience, even as teachers. Time flies by and I can guarantee that stuff will be forgotten if not documented.

This is something that was injected by Jeremie Douchet — the Lead Teacher — as he wanted us to create the habit of documenting everything to keep track.

Iterating from a Bootcamp to another

At the end of every Bootcamp session, teachers sat together and spent time reviewing everything that has been documented until then. This dedicated time was usually spread over several days and served as a mix between a post-mortem, a retrospective, and an ideation & prioritization session.

DesignOps as the cherry on top

If you’re not familiar with DesignOps, here is an article I wrote on the matter!

Ironhack’s Teaching team was not free of challenges, the biggest of which was the high turnover rate of Teacher Assistants (TA). When I started, it was rare for TAs to stay after one Bootcamp session, and I was the first one to say that I would follow this habit (in the end, I stayed for 3 bootcamps and was very happy to do so).

As we made changes and implemented new processes in the mix, it became clear that ensuring a seamless experience for students meant a clear round organization on our part.

So from Bootcamp to Bootcamp, we started to operationalize our actions thus taking part in DesignOps without naming it.

Failures and learnings

Testing equals failing. If everything goes right 100% of the time, then maybe you are testing wrong.

This is why we pushed our students to try as soon as possible and this is why we never stopped doing so ourselves.

Among the 3 bootcamps I participated in as a teacher, some things went wrong, we failed, students’ satisfaction sometimes lowered. But we learned from it and bounced back.

  • Every cohort is different from one another. Even if only 1 week separates the sessions, what worked for the Bootcamp 1 might fail for Bootcamp 2. Never take it for granted.
  • Be transparent with students when you’re testing something and keep an open ear for suggestions: a lot of good ideas come from users.
  • Don’t be afraid to make changes. We were constantly evolving according to the situation and students thanked us for that.
  • Operationalize actions. The more you gain efficiency in your operations, the more at ease you’ll be when you have to move things around.

Conclusion

Spending 8 months at Ironhack was an amazing professional experience and opportunity to learn, practice design, and teach. When I look back on everything that was implemented in this short period, I am very proud of the team and our evolution both in terms of product and service.

After I left, I know that they continued iterating and reinventing themselves, especially due to the Covid-19 situation which gave them no choice but to go full remote — which was a success!

It’s time to thank all the TAs I shared this adventure with by chronological order: Ana Costa, Anne-Charlotte Robert, Monica Saiz, and a special mention to Eloïse Marcé with whom I did 2 out of 3 bootcamps and who helped me give a special boost to our operations. 🚀
Of course, the last thank you goes to Jeremie Douchet for his trust ✨

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Ella Forté

Ella Forté

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Product Designer based in Paris. Huge fan of Friends. How you doin?