Design Thinking for German Vocational Schools? Discovering of an Innovative Approach by Testing in Teacher Education: Author Interview

Design thinking provides unique opportunities for learning in various educational settings, including German vocational schools, as evidenced by a study conducted by Marc Kruger. In the study, Kruger was able to identify and provide recommendations for providing design thinking in German vocational schools, as well as providing training on design thinking for vocational teachers. As part of the topical issue ‘Design Thinking for Education’ in the DeGruyter open access journal ‘Open Education Studies’ Marc Kruger discusses this study.

You are part of the inaugural issue of DeGruyter’s new open access journal ‘Open Education Studies‘.  What made you decide to submit to the journal?

It was a great opportunity to make the discerning reader aware of the own work.

What may be some of the implications of Open Access journals on education research and practices?

Free access makes things easier: Scientific findings are easily available for researchers, teachers and students. Familiarizing yourself with new topics is just as easy as understanding research work. Open access should be implemented everywhere without any ifs and buts.

What first brought you to use design thinking?

I first used design thinking in interdisciplinary teaching with students of economics, social and engineering sciences at the Coburg University of Applied Sciences as part of a project of the Federal Ministry of Education and Research of Germany called “Der Coburger Weg” (the Corburger way). The positive experiences motivated me to use DT in vocational teacher training with the aim of school development. After some initial transfer difficulties, current experiences are consistently good.

How did the vocational teachers perceive their training in design thinking? How did the students perceive their experience with design thinking?  

At first students see DT as a methodical break because they are generally trained in a very planning-oriented way. At the beginning it is unusual for them to work so closely in a team. However, in the course of the challenge, they feel the positive effects of this approach, attaching great importance to it.

More general, what are the implications of using design thinking within educational contexts? What about within German vocational schools specifically?

The first thing we had to learn was that experience has shown that we cannot identify one single great idea for our educational innovations, but that many good ideas usually have to be brought together to form a larger concept. This gets often already evident in the synthesis phase of the process: Not one persona leads to an educational innovation, but often two, sometimes three and – of course – sometimes a persona as a representation of a problem area is not purposeful. Creative phases and the construction of prototypes therefore do not run linearly, but the teams often oscillate between these two steps. For educational innovations, we have also found that their intrinsic complexity is usually more than just a form of presentation, e.g. Role play and mockup, makes it more accessible.

What are some practical ways that teachers and school management can begin to incorporate components of design thinking into their curriculums?

For us, the question is different, because the curriculum is specified in the vocational area. Here we can observe that every change in the curricula increases de demands of innovation competence. From our point of view, Design Thinking enables innovative competence to be promoted in a special way and our seminar systematically prepares our students for this. For teachers in practice, it is advisable to search for a training in DT. A weekend workshop enables you to slip into the role of the creative and to develop an (educational) innovation. In the meantime, many freely accessible learning materials can be identified for teaching (e.g. Design Thinking for Educators), also in German language (e.g. Hopp Foundation and Bau deine Zukunft). This makes it easy to carry out challenges with students.

In the article, you mention that a new seminar is planned for the summer term of 2020. How is that seminar going? In addition, you mention the importance of conducting follow-up evaluations with vocational schools regarding the use of design thinking in their programs. Have you had the opportunity to conduct any of those follow-ups? If so, what have you learned from them?

Summer term 2020 is special because due to the corona pandemic. DT had to be carried out as an online seminar. Although the final evaluation still depends on the last two sessions, it seems to be astonishingly successful. In fact, interviewing students and teachers via a video conference has proven to be practical, which is why we are very confident about the quality of the results. We have not yet stringently tackled the follow-up evaluation, but we always have the opportunity to informally ask the vocational schools about the implementation of the educational innovations we have developed. Two effects can be identified from these discussions: First, the schools need quite a lot of time to implement the developed educational innovations, i.e. Design Thinking takes effect at the earliest after one to two years. Based on this observation, we decided to wait for the follow-up evaluation. The second effect concerns the educational innovation as such. It seems that schools take this as a basis for discussion and either reshape it or develop it further, i.e. they change it more or less and adapt it even more to their own needs. So our prototypes are anything but a finished product, rather than that, they are the driving force behind educational innovations. Occasionally, our prototypes are not followed up. Overall, the follow-up question reveals an exciting field of research. 

What are some of the projects that you are currently working on/excited about?

With regard to DT, we are currently trying to expand our experience regionally and to convince the vocational schools of this approach. In addition, we found that some students were very skeptical about DT at the beginning, which is detrimental to teamwork. Out of 20 students, there are on average only 2, but these then inhibit one or two teams from starting their challenge. With a personality test we try to identify these students at the beginning of the seminar and to give them appropriate feedback. So we hope to be able to encourage them to work constructively at the beginning of the seminar and to simplify the start of the process. A master’s thesis is currently examining whether we can do this or not. In addition to DT, we have been dealing for a year with the use of digital flipcharts and how they can support collaborative learning processes in the seminar. The first results have helped us a lot to offer the DT seminar online, because the digital tools on the flipcharts can also be used for online teamwork.

What’s next on your research and publication agenda?

The upcoming publications will take up the topics of the previous question. 

About the Author

Prof. Dr. Marc Krüger studied electrical engineering at the University of Applied Sciences Emden-Leer (1994-1999) and, based on this, teaching training studies for vocational schools (1999-2002) at the Leibniz Universität Hannover. After graduating, he started a career as a research assistant at the L3S research center (2002-2008), where he dealt in an interdisciplinary way with digital learning. After completing his doctorate, he moved as a research assistant to the Central Institution for Continuing Education at Leibniz Universität Hannover, where he worked from 2008 as a didactic consultant for teachers and and for higher education development. In Winter term 2014 he was appointed to the Coburg University of Applied Sciences as part of the didactic project “Der Coburger Weg”. In Winter term 2016 he moved to the School of Vocational Education (IBL) at the Münster University of Applied Sciences. Here he represents technology didactics for the professional fields of construction, electrical engineering, information technology, mechanical engineering and media design/design technology. In the Master of Education for Vocational Education, he teaches technology didactics, media didactics, class communication and the method of Design Thinking as an innovative approach to vocational training.

Learn More:

Access the full Special Issue on DeGruyter Open Education Studies, or read other author interviews and design thinking articles on AACE Review:

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  Comments: 1

Your feedback