Saturday, May 11, 2019

Design thinking for student-centric university courses

Jeffrey M. Penta's doctoral thesis (2019), questions the current university centric design of courses and suggests student centric. The author argues for education for employment, and a holistic approach. Interestingly design thinking was used for the research. He argues  educators approach is influenced by their own experience.

It was refreshing to read a study of education which was not a survey of the opinions of hundreds, or thousands of people, then run through a statistical analysis to make it look sciencey. Instead a few participants were interviewed, in depth.

Penta recommends a "... combination of qualitative
story-telling data and sense-making to change perspectives". However, I suggest directly exposing educators, particularly early career academics,  to new ways of learning, as students. It is very difficult to change an educator's behavior just by telling them to do something differently, or even with a story about how it can be different. It is much more effective if they experience the new approach, as a student. I did not really understand how top-down vocationally aligned course design, e-learning, e-portfolios, blended and online learning, or peer assessment worked, until I had to use them myself as a student.

One problem Penta did not address is a narrow vocational focus in university education. I teach computing and engineering students, for whom there are clear career paths, and high demand. It is very easy to align courses with professional requirements, and the graduates get jobs quickly. What do disciplines do, where there is no specific career, or demand, for their graduates?

The Ramsay Centre for Western Civilization is encouraging Australian universities to expand liberal arts degrees, to defend Western Civilization. But it is not clear how reading old books will get you a job in the digital economy. In contrast, the students I teach are being trained to defend directly the West, by countering cyber attacks, and building anti-missile systems (both skills in high demand). But the world will be the poorer if universities only produce engineers and computer programmers. How do we support the arts?


Penta, J. M. (2019). Designing Student-Centric Solutions through Collaboration: Exploring the Experiences of Higher Education Administrators Leading Cross-Functional Projects and Initiatives (Doctoral dissertation, Northeastern University). URL

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