November 2017

Previous months and years

Date: November 16, 2017

Memorandum to: Directors of Education

From: Richard Franz
Assistant Deputy Minister (A)
System Planning, Research & Innovation Division

Denys Giguère
Assistant Deputy Minister
French-Language Teaching, Learning and Achievement Division

Subject: Launching the EDU DesignLab

The education sector is constantly changing to meet complex societal needs and challenges. Those who work in the education sector understand the need to be agile and adaptive in responding to those challenges, and finding creative solutions to difficult problems – in other words, they must be innovative. While examples of innovation in the public sector exist, the recent re-alignment of the Ministry of Education has provided an opportune time for a more concerted effort to pursue innovation.

As a result of the re-alignment, a new System Planning, Research & Innovation Division was created, and included the amalgamation of a few select teams, now known as the Incubation and Design Branch. As part of this work, and to serve as a foundation for the ministry and for the sector in fostering a culture of innovation, the ministry is proud to announce the launch of the EDU DesignLab.

The EDU DesignLab will operate using an innovative methodology called design thinking. Design thinking is a process that develops solutions to complex problems that appear in systems, policies, and products by engaging end users to develop a solution. Users of a system, policy, or product are active participants in designing a solution since they bring knowledge that would typically be unknown or inaccessible to system-level participants. Design thinking methodology also engages in “prototyping”. Solutions are tested on a small scale where users are given opportunity to provide feedback. This feedback is used to redesign the existing prototype and the new iteration is once again tested by users. As a result of design thinking, the solutions that are brought to scale are developed by the people who need them the most.

The goal of EDU DesignLab is to identify, cultivate and spread the innovations that are already happening in the education sector. It aims to take apart, challenge and test solutions to figure out how to make them thrive and survive. EDU DesignLab features an approach that generates rapid response, real-time solutions to our greatest evidence-based needs. The EDU DesignLab process involves support in:

  • Defining the challenge
  • Framing the problem
  • Generating solutions
  • Prototyping and testing
  • Refining, Scaling or Abandoning

Many jurisdictions have leveraged design thinking to further engage students in their learning, collaboratively solve problems and incorporate more voices into policy and program design. Some examples include:

  • Transforming the classroom to enhance the 21st century skills and knowledge which addresses students not as receivers of information, but as shapers of knowledge.
  • Increasing the participation of girls in STEM related projects and courses, making them more aware of STEM related career options.
  • Improving student attendance by engaging with students and their communities to understand barriers to regular attendance and improve overall student engagement.
  • Evolving professional learning to meet the needs of educators who are transforming pedagogical practices to meaningfully integrate digital tools.

The EDU DesignLab welcomes proposals from district school boards on how we can partner – wherever you are in the design process – and support you in the work. In identifying a challenge, you may wish to consider the following:

  • Is it persistent across a significant number of schools?
  • Does it affect a specific segment of the student population?
  • Is the challenge focused on policy, program or practices?
  • Is a solution sustainable? Does the solution increase or decrease workload and efficiency?

To initiate a design challenge please send us a proposal outlining the challenge you wish to undertake with us. Please ensure you provide a description of the challenge, any work that has happened within your board to address the challenge, the school(s) involved and a contact person who can work with the Ministry. You may also have a promising practice happening in one school or class you wish to bring to our attention to scale to other schools and boards. In this case please describe the promising practice, any evidence you may have to show the practice is having an impact and a contact person who can speak to the practice. The Ministry will evaluate your proposal against the above criteria and contact your board for further discussions as needed. If the proposal is accepted the Ministry will initiate a design lab process with you which includes user centric design thinking. The Ministry will provide some additional funding through the Innovation and Learning Fund (ILF) to prototype and test potential solutions to your challenge.

Your challenges can be sent to EDUDesignLab@ontario.ca. The Ministry will be engaging in discussions with innovators in Education throughout the school year and will respond to your email within five business days.

The EDU DesignLab can be a catalyst for change in the sector as ideas, practices, and innovations are actualized, ultimately resulting in combined student achievement, equity and well-being. We look forward to joining you on this journey ahead and all of the possibilities it provides.

If you have any questions, my staff and I are available to respond. Please contact Andrew Sally, Director, Incubation Design Branch Andrew.sally@ontario.ca.

Sincerely,
Original Signed By
Richard Franz
Denys Giguère