Extracurricular Design-Based Learning: A New Model for Innovation Education

Extracurricular Design-Based Learning: A New Model for Innovation Education

Northwestern students in the organization Design for America design solutions to real-world problems, such as the need for diabetic children to take care of themselves and the need to reduce hospital infections. New research indicates their learning model may also be building skills in innovation that are needed in the 21st-century workforce.

Two SESP faculty members and a SESP alumna have found evidence that extracurricular design-based learning prepares students for careers in innovation. This “new student-led approach to innovation education … allows students to practice innovating solutions to authentic, pro-social and local challenges in an extracurricular setting,” they say.

In a newly published article in the International Journal of Engineering Education, Elizabeth Gerber, Jeanne Marie Olson and Rebecca Komarek (MS10) describe their research evidence that participating in extracurricular design-based learning strengthens self-efficacy related to innovation. “Findings from surveys, daily diaries, interviews and observations suggest that students build innovation self-efficacy through successful task completion, social persuasion and vicarious learning in communities of practice with clients, peers, industry professionals and faculty,” they write.

Olson is a faculty member in the Master of Science in Learning and Organizational Change (MSLOC) Program. Gerber has a courtesy appointment at SESP, and Komarek is a graduate of the Master of Science in Higher Education Administration and Policy Program who works in the School of Continuing Studies. All three agree that extracurricular design-based learning is a promising model for building skills in innovation and motivating students to pursue innovation-related careers.

Jeanne Marie Olson

They define extracurricular design-based learning as student-initiated and student-directed learning outside of the classroom. Interdisciplinary teams of students identify community challenges and apply human-centered design and innovation to develop creative solutions. The specific design-based learning project they researched is Design for America.

“Researchers increasingly emphasize self-efficacy, or belief in ability, as critical for innovation,” the authors say. The Design for America students they studied built self-efficacy through their hands-on experience, collective learning in a community of practice and regular feedback sessions.

Extracurricular design-based learning has the advantage of offering learning opportunities outside the traditional classroom, without overloading the existing curriculum. In addition, students are increasingly asking for real-world experience outside the classroom. Also, “the authenticity of the work is critical to developing self-efficacy,” the authors say.

The paper may be downloaded at the International Journal of Engineering Education website.

Photos: (top) Elizabeth Gerber, photo by Lisa Beth Anderson; (bottom) Jeanne Marie Olson, photo by Liz Gerber.

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