Higher education faculty perspectives on design thinking : a collective case study.


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A growing global skills gap threatens economic prosperity and business competitiveness worldwide. Unprecedented technological advancements have triggered massive changes in the skills required for 21st-century jobs (Linkedin Learning, 2020). The workforce responded by increasing the number of high-skill jobs available, yet there are not enough skilled candidates to fill the open positions. According to Hays Global Skills Index 2019–2020, almost 50% of major labor markets struggled with talent shortages and unfilled jobs (Hays Global Skills Index, 2019-20). Students who graduate from higher education realize they do not have the critical 21st-century skills needed to succeed in the workforce. Research shows that design thinking practices have contributed to developing 21st-century skills when used as an instructional practice (Lake et al., 2021; Liedtka et al., 2021; Vaugh et al., 2020). Higher educational institutions should consider using design thinking practices to redesign the curriculum to improve graduate employability, thereby addressing talent shortage challenges.

The purpose of this qualitative collective case study was to examine the perspectives of higher education faculty toward design thinking practices, its influence on faculty mindsets and instructional practices, and to ascertain the benefits and challenges of embedding design thinking practices in higher education curricula. Six higher education faculty were intentionally selected to participate because they completed a design thinking professional development at Stanford’s design school. The researcher conducted interviews to examine faculty perspectives of design thinking and its influence on course curriculum.

The data analysis showed that adopting design thinking practices developed a design thinking mindset toward creative problem-solving. Integrated design thinking practices in the curriculum fostered valuable outcomes. The embedding of design thinking practices also resulted in better collaborative real-world projects. Implementing design thinking strategies in problem-solving positively benefitted institutional culture. Design thinking practices served as a catalyst to begin to move higher education’s knowledge-based systems into more of an application-based curriculum. Design thinking processes exerted a democratizing influence in higher education. Finally, design thinking processes are complex and time-consuming, with disparate frameworks and a complex lexicon that is not widely agreed on.