Towards a Design Thinking Mindset in Academic Staff Development: Cross-continental design principles for blended learning course design



Design Education Strategy


  • design thinking, academic staff development, blended learning, South Africa, USA


As a contemporary and boundary spanning approach, design thinking is entering higher education yet is unestablished in academic staff development. This study aims to reflect on two staff development interventions, one offered in the United States and one in South Africa, on blended learning course design, aimed at promoting a ‘design thinking mindset' among university lecturers. By analysing the design process and features of both programmes, we discuss the implications and potential of design thinking for academic staff development. Across these two contexts, there exists an increased awareness of and empathy for a diverse student body, the value of interdisciplinary collaboration, peer mentoring, and reflective thinking. We found that adopting design thinking is not without challenges, which include the need for continued practice, securing departmental buy-in and upscaling initiatives. Five themes emerged from the data, namely engaging in human-centred design, creating a safe space for experimentation and play, fostering a sense of community, sharing and generosity beyond disciplinary borders, promoting intensive, ongoing/sustainable engagement beyond course participation and applying evidence base while recognising the need for discipline-specific/contextual solutions.

Based on the findings, and related to the five themes, we formulated ten cross-continental design principles to employ design thinking in academic staff development, towards nurturing creative confidence and learner empathy. These principles include aiming for human-centred design and promoting intensive and inclusive engagement with the design thinking process. Successful staff development programmes will rely on striking a balance between developing design thinking skills, a design thinking mindset, and creative confidence.

Keywords: design thinking, design thinking mindset, design principles, academic staff development, faculty development, blended learning, higher education, South Africa, USA


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