Design thinking in higher ed has been a lot of talk, but not much action, our CEO Dror Ben-Naim says in a recent article in Forbes.

Design thinking, also known as user-centered design, is based on the premise that if you design for the real, demonstrated needs of a single person, you just might end up creating something that filled an important gap in the market. It’s a strategy that can be particularly effective in education, especially in the space of education technology, as the needs for both the students and the teachers are so unique. But while the potential for technology in education is enormous, its adoption has been frustratingly slow.

This is where design thinking can help, says Ben-Naim, as it poses the crucial questions that determine whether or not a new tool will be adopted by a teacher – Does the technology solution improve my teaching? Does it solve a problem I have? Does it make my life easier?

“While studying and tutoring at the University of New South Wales (UNSW), I noticed a problem: existing technology aimed at teachers did not support, well, teaching,” says Ben-Naim. “Online education tools were clunky and made it hard to customize content. … Furthermore, it was impossible to assess whether or not students actually learned anything online. If you can’t reflect on the merit of the instruction, how can you adapt it?”

With this in mind, Smart Sparrow worked with staff at the School of Physics at UNSW to develop virtual physics labs that not only mimic a physical lab setting, but also the one-on-one guided experience of working with a tutor within that lab.

“Working within our labs, students learn by trial and error and receive real-time feedback that either validates their answers or offers guidance to help them identify the correct answer,” says Ben-Naim in Forbes. “This adaptivity not only provides students with a learning experience in which the feedback and the learning pathway are adaptive; it also gives teachers real insight into how their students learn and helps them modify the experience to better meet the needs of their students.”

When feedback from teachers determined that virtual labs on their own didn’t wholly meet their needs, an adaptive ‘tool’ was developed, allowing teachers to create their own interactive lessons. No longer just appropriate for physics teachers, the Smart Sparrow authoring tool could be applied to all kinds of teaching across Science, Medicine and Engineering. “In true design thinking fashion, by solving for a single problem, we’d created a solution for many others,” says Ben-Naim.

Read the rest of the article at Forbes.