I’ve been shopping for a new tool, lately. I’ve spent time doing the research. I’ve read (and continue to read) books, I’ve talked to people and I’ve played with ideas, but this weekend, I got to take one out of the box and actually do something with it. I’ve been working within a Canadian Accredited Independent Schools Leadership Institute course entitled Design Thinking for School Innovation. Our fearless guides on this journey have been Justin Medved and Garth Nichols.
What I’m coming out of the course with, besides new friends, leadership skills and sleep deprivation, is a new tool to add to my toolkit in terms of how I work with information, knowledge and ideas. My question then becomes, when I get this tool home, where do I put it in my tool room? What other tools do I have that are similar? Where am I going to go looking for this? When am I going to need it most? What tasks is it best suited for and what other tools might I use it in combination with?
One tool that I wonder about is Guided Inquiry. How do Guided Inquiry and Design Thinking work together? Or do they accomplish different things? The more that I’ve tossed these around in my head the more that I think that they are similar in many ways, but they do have significantly different uses. Guided Inquiry is very much about posing a meaningful question and seeking an answer. It is about finding information, playing with ideas, and communicating your new thinking out into the world. Design Thinking is about solving complex problems through understanding (empathizing with) the problem, and coming up with one “best” solution. You might use a Guided Inquiry model to answer a “How might we…” question and you might use Design Thinking to re-frame and solve a research problem, but there are aspects of both models that are better suited to different kinds of questions.
There is certainly a strong inquiry element to Design Thinking, but this model spends much of it’s time on the iteration phase. That is, once you’ve done significant inquiry (Empathize), you define your problem and then try things out. The research here is self or group generated brainstorming of ideas and then prototyping one or two of the “best” ideas to get it to where you need it. Guided Inquiry, on the other hand, does often involve building a product in order to demonstrate and communicate learning. We wish that students would be OK with the idea of iteration in the Create phase. Nothing is ever perfect the first time (whatever perfect is…). But the Create phase is more about communication than it is about problem solving (although if the Guided Inquiry question is a problem, a way of communicating learning might very well be through building a solution and a Design Thinking process might overlay on a portion of the Guided Inquiry process…).
I think (and I am thinking this through as I write) that, like previous discussions about the relationship between Guided Inquiry and PBL, the emphasis in these thinking models is different and they serve different purposes. While there are situations in which you might use a different tool for the job or you might use both to accomplish something more nuanced or complex, Guided Inquiry and Design Thinking are thought processes that serve different purposes. I’m reminded of an idea that my mentor, David Loertscher was playing with a couple of years back where he’d mapped out a bunch of different things that we think about and different thinking models that tend to serve each. I’m not sure if that went very far, but it did emphasize to me that there is no thinking omni-tool, but if one knows enough about enough different ways of thinking, then one can use tools interchangeably to serve one’s purposes and find the best tool for the job. It also reminds me of Loertscher’s uTEC model for makers where one learns to use, tinker, experiment and create with each tool gradually moving from using a tool for only it’s intended purpose to knowing the tool so well that you could open a wine bottle with a sledge hammer, if the situation warranted it.
I’m not sure if this post is of use to anyone else. As is so often the case, I use my blog to work through my own thinking. I often feel like there are so many “new” ways of thinking out there that I really do need to figure out where each fits in my tool box so that I can use the best tool for the job. Thanks for reading and please feel free to comment!