Dramatically Different

Designing a new culture of learning in the classroom with technology.

GUEST COLUMN | by Tom Joseph

CREDIT Autodesk EducationA student in elementary school today will graduate from college and enter the “real world” in 2030, but that world will look dramatically different from the one that we live in today. Industry analysts and experts predict:

  • The world population will reach 8 billion and 60 percent will live in urban areas. This holds serious implications for effective urban planning, sustainable design and natural resource management.
  • We would have built as much urban infrastructure in the next 30 years as we did in the last 4,000 years. Such massive transportation, water, energy, and land infrastructure projects will present huge challenges that will need to be tackled by skilled civil, electrical and mechanical engineers.
  • The rise of 3D printing and robotics could change work patterns and stimulate an entirely new market of micro-manufacturers throughout the world. This calls for a new breed of innovators and creative leaders who will be the ones that succeed in this new discreet manufacturing landscape.

Advances in accessible 3D design and fabrication technology are disrupting design, engineering and entertainment professions as we know them. The rise in mobile and cloud technology has also made it possible to design anywhere, at any time.

We are equipping future generations with higher order thinking skills to design solutions for the world’s epic challenges.

However, the progress that we have seen with technology in the commercial world needs to find its way into todays classrooms.

A design-led revolution is underway and impactful design will become critically important for us as a planet. Today’s students will shape tomorrow’s industries, and revamping curriculum alone is not the panacea to prepare students with the 21st century skills that they’ll need to thrive in a new global environment by finding new creative ways to solve problems through application of new technology and methods.

John Dewey, American philosopher and advocate for education reform, once said, “If we teach today’s students as we taught yesterday’s, we rob them of tomorrow.”

What we need, is to instill a new culture of learning and teaching in schools and classrooms.

Design thinking involves a process of inquiry, ideation and implementation, with reflection in between each stage. When this kind of muscle memory is combined with the use of advanced design technology in the classroom, we are able to architect a hands-on approach to learning that engages today’s digital natives, and encourages problem-solving and collaboration skills that mirror the real world.

This will transform teachers going from being a sage on the stage to a guide on the side, where students are taught to gather insights and improve upon their ideas before proceeding to the next stage.

And it’s never too early to start. By removing the barriers to software access nationwide, we have seen teachers doing amazing things with their students using our software in their classrooms.

Take the eighth graders from Swanson Middle School in Arlington, Virginia, for example. Students in technology class are using Autodesk Fusion 360 to design a prosthetic device for a member of the community who can’t use his hands to be able to communicate via a touchscreen computer.

This means they need to understand the crux of the issue, create and continually improve on iterations of their digital model, and then test their ideas by prototyping their design using a 3D printer. And because the software is cloud-based, the students can work on their projects from home. If these students are already designing usable prosthetic devices at eighth grade, just imagine what they will be able to create as they hone their software and design thinking skills down the road.

Another example we have seen in higher education comes from Harvey Mudd College’s Clinic program where a team of students were presented with an open-ended problem – how to prevent water re-contamination in developing countries like Cameroon and Uganda.

In the inquiry phase, the students realized that although people have access to clean or purified drinking water, re-contamination at the point of use is a very real issue. So they used SketchBook and Fusion 360 to create a low cost universal attachment that can be fastened to jerry cans which are commonly used to transport water from its source to people’s homes, thereby preventing the contents from becoming re-contaminated. The advantage of using a cloud-based design solution means the team can potentially connect and interact with engineers from these developing countries and collaborate on the design of the prototype, and help tackle the global issue of water re-contamination.

In conclusion, design thinking process in the classroom leads to much more than a “product outcome.” By combining this new culture of learning with the use of advanced technology in the classroom, we are equipping future generations with higher order thinking skills to design solutions for the world’s epic challenges.

Tom Joseph is Senior Director of Worldwide Education at Autodesk. Follow him on Twitter @AutodeskEDU 


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