Design Thinking at the Ashoka Exchange

Posted on April 24, 2018

Design Thinking Tools

As an aspiring Ashoka Changemaker Campus, Marlboro College sent a delegation to the 2018 Ashoka Exchange in Boston. I was lucky enough to be part of the group and get the opportunity to network to learn from over 600 higher education professionals and students from across the world. It was a diverse group, but what we all had in common was a commitment to social innovation in higher education, both personally, and at our institutions.


I didn’t attend the Ashoka Exchange with an agenda. My colleague Bob Crowley was there to present on Marlboro’s work to develop a social innovation certificate, but I got to just soak it all in. I gravitated to the interactive workshops over the panels and speakers. Although I wasn’t looking for it, Design Thinking emerged as the major theme of the Exchange for me.


Design Thinking is a big deal at Marlboro College Graduate and Professional Studies. Bob Crowley has lead the charge, integrating design thinking into our incredibly popular project management class as well as a dedicated course: Ideation, Design Thinking and Strategy.


Leading Design Thinking organization IDEO explains the concept:


Artists for Humanity studio

“Design thinking utilizes elements from the designer's toolkit like empathy and experimentation to arrive at innovative solutions. By using design thinking, you make decisions based on what future customers really want instead of relying only on historical data or making risky bets based on instinct instead of evidence.”


It was great to experience Design Thinking a number of different ways at the Exchange. In the first workshop I attended we dove right into a creative exercise, designing an ideal dining experience for a partner in 30 minutes. Pipe cleaners, glue sticks, and googly eyes were our prototyping tools.


After that I headed out on a field trip to Artists for Humanity, a nonprofit organization employing youth to do artwork in Boston. Here Design Thinking is the name of the game, but it isn’t some new-fangled approach. In the world of art and design the whole process of Design Thinking is just the way things are done. Experiencing the concept on the ground outside of the business world gave me a new understanding for its usefulness.


Design thinking toolsI ended the Exchange with a workshop on using Design Thinking as a tool for climate change action on college campuses. Once again we broke out the pipe cleaners, as well as post its, flipcharts, and markers. The question that stood out to me from this workshop was: How Might We…?


How might we make our campus more sustainable?


How might we serve our students even better?


How might we become the most innovative graduate school in the country?


I love the exciting possibilities of these questions. I like how it opens up the conversation, taking us away from “can”, and “should”, and “have to” to what is possible.



Practicing Design ThinkingPracticing Design ThinkingPracticing Design Thinking

  • Curriculum Design
  • Design Thinking
  • Graduate and Professional Studies
  • Management Programs
  • Master of Arts in Teaching
  • Leadership
  • Learning Experience Design
  • Pedagogy
  • Practice Based Learning
  • Professional Development

Kelsa Summer, Assistant Director for Graduate and Professional Studies