Why Having Great Student Designers Is Awesome

I’m ridiculously fortunate.

When I think of a visual tool of any sort, whether it be a poster or a flow chart or a page banner, or really most anything, I almost always have a student well-versed in the ways of good design that can make it a reality.

Now, this isn’t to say I have that student do it FOR me.  No, no, I rock the DEEP design thinking process all the way up to Produce.  And then I call in the big guns.

For example, I’m taking a graduate course in mass customized learning, studying Bea McGarvey & Chuck Schwann’s Inevitable, Carol Dweck’s Mindset, Dan Pink’s Drive, and Robert Marzano’s The Art & Science of

One assignment was to create a standard operating procedure (SOP) for my impact area.

Discover: What are the procedures my students have to follow on a day-to-day basis? Which of those procedures create challenges for my students?  Which of those procedures create challenges for me?  How might an SOP help both Ss & Ts with efficiency and clarity?

I asked these questions to get me started.  And by “asked” I mean I said them to myself and jotted a few notes on a piece of scrap paper that went well undocumented.  What would have happened if I had a conversation with a student or colleague about my uncovering?  Great question.

Speaking of questions, that’s the focus I decided upon.  How to ask a question.  Not how to determine what kind. Not how to deepen. Just how to ask.

Empathize: What would most help my Ss ask questions? What can be frustrating for a Ss with a question?  How can my Ss get better information faster?  What would it be like, knowing you have to ask a question?  What part of the process annoys Ss most of all and how can I relieve them of said annoyance?

I’m also one of the end-users here, so I had to think about the methods I really want students to use to communicate with and those that I’d prefer they not.  What will I be able to maintain realistically?  How will it feel if I get behind? How will I respond when a student circumvents the process?

Experiment:  What will I use to create this SOP?  Well, it was a process SOP I had in mind, so it called for a visual, naturally.  After all, checklists — while powerful tools — are only powerful when carefully crafted to include the most key and relevant info.  I tend to think in possibilities and what if’s rather than must-do’s and prescriptions.

A flow chart.  I needed a flow chart. And while I have access to Inspiration, I’m trying hard to rock Google Apps for Education as often as possible to build capacity for myself and my students with cloud-based tools.  Plus, Google Drawing is pretty sweet all in all.

I scribble a few ideas on a notepad somewhere amongst other half-formed ideas.  (I’ve many places where this happens.)  And then I went about my first iteration.


Screen Shot 2013-10-17 at 9.57.52 PM
It’s a bit ugly and disheveled and you gotta start somewhere. Right?

In class I received some critical feedback before it was done — which was either a mistake or the best possible situation.  I received fair, valid critiques from my peers that pointed toward lack of color, clarity and consistency.  I knew it was a work in progress for myself, but most of my classmates had fully realized their own tools and had printed them out, laminated and displayed them during our gallery walk.

I’m kind of a terrible student.

I immediately took some action on the feedback, though, which is one of the nice aspects of working in the cloud.  I could make new progress and fail up.  And then it occurred to me, while trying to connect two lines for the upteenth time, that I could use my resources to help me with the non-content part: a student with great design skill as well as experience enough to inform the tool if necessary.

And thus I asked Taylor, a phenomenal design student who was crafting gorgeous, brilliant work even in ninth grade.  Now an upperclassman, look out, cook out.

I showed her my work, shared with her the intent, ask her and one of her peers for feedback as to what is missing, she offered up a bit, and I asked her, “Do you think you can make a Taylor-ized version of this?”

As usually, she just nodded with a little jutted-out-chin confidence.

She sent me this six hours later.

Screen Shot 2013-10-17 at 8.39.12 PM
The content is mine, the concept is mine, the execution of the final idea? Amazing high school design student, Taylor

Is it her work? My work? I don’t know.  A collaboration?  I hope so.  A successful assignment?  I think so?

If I have to come up with my own finished product, one hundred percent independent from such assistance, okay. I’ll do it.  No griping.  (I doubt I’ve anything to worry about anyway.)  What makes this feel like such a win was a conscious use of design thinking from the SOPs inception.  Well, that and knowing that I’ve got a junior colleague just waiting to make more amazing things.

About Dan Ryder

Dan Ryder & Jeff Bailey, co-founders of Wicked Decent Learning, a blog, podcast, Twitter feed and who-knows-what-all-else devoted to teaching and learning in Vacationland and beyond. Teachers, dads, actors, writers, geeks, buds.

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