Human-Centered Design gives educators durable strategies for problem-solving

Although their projects varied widely, many of the educators participating in Expanding Innovation 2.1 during the fall semester had a similar outcome from the experience. When they gathered to present their work earlier this month, one after another marveled at the utility of the human-centered design (HCD) methods they’d learned and felt certain they’d find multiple ways to use them going forward.

“This is a tool we’ve just seen take off,” said Carlynton Junior-Senior High School Principal Mike Loughren, ticking off four different ways that his staff already has used HCD methods.

Carlynton was one of eight districts that participated in Expanding Innovation 2.1, an HCD training program we offered in October in partnership with LUMA Institute and support from The Grable Foundation. HCD is an activities-based approach to problem-solving that focuses on people above other factors, whether the challenge is making a better product, as is often the case in industry, or finding the best ways to make changes in schools.

“One of the biggest takeaways for us was how simple these strategies are, and even more importantly, how well they were accepted,” said Laurel Highlands School District’s Curriculum Director Randy Miller.

As part of their HCD training, participants in Expanding Innovation 2.1 undertook projects in their schools applying varying combinations of the 36 different methods LUMA prescribes. The methods all are aimed at gathering, sorting and analyzing information and ultimately, drawing conclusions.

At Carlynton alone, educators applied HCD strategies in classroom teaching; in professional development; as an intervention for students with high rates of absenteeism and as part of a Project-Based Learning experience at the high school.

Projects ranged from repurposing library space in Clairton City School District, to reexamining and overhauling an elementary school writing portfolio project Laurel Highlands had implemented 15 years ago.

Laurel Highlands also used HCD at the administrative and Board levels, said Superintendent Jesse Wallace. Like others, he found the methods an effective way to ensure everyone had a voice in decision-making.

Along with Laurel Highlands, Carlynton, and Clairton City, participating districts included Cornell, Deer Lakes, Ellwood City, Shaler Area and Steel Valley.