August 21, 2017

Design for Diversity

The program in a nutshell

Design for Diversity is an experiential learning program that integrates international students in the senior years of high-school by increasing their agency and visibility. 

Why Design for Diversity? 

International students are a great opportunity for Australian schools. From a purely economic perspective, they support enrolment numbers – but the real opportunity lies deeper. International students bring a new cultural perspective that enriches the experience of other students in their year level and beyond. Over the longer term, their presence can yield precious knowledge about other cultures and rich international networks for other students

However, a range of obstacles stand in the way. Language and cultural differences often make it difficult for international students to thrive socially and academically. Distant or recently migrated families provide limited support to face an unfamiliar environment. Teachers and other students do not always know how to best engage with them.

As a result, international students are often seen as a problem.

At best, their academic and social integration somewhat lags behind – but in many cases, they spend their entire school years invisible, isolated and alienated. The challenge that this program aims to address is therefore this: how do we welcome international students as equal and valued participants in the school community, so that they have the most fruitful experience, and the school community most benefits from their presence?

What is Design for Diversity?

Design for Diversity is an experiential learning program that integrates international students in the senior years of high-school by increasing their agency and visibility. The program  brings together international students at senior year levels (10-12) and local students from year 11, who work in small mixed teams.

Over six weekly sessions of 1h30, participants are guided through a systematic design thinking process, and invited to develop an original solution to the following challenge: ‘how to spend more quality time with people who are different from us’. On the last week of the program, students present their ideas to a panel of fellow students and teachers, and some of those student-led initiatives are then implemented in the rest of the year.

The design thinking method that underpins design for diversity is directly inspired by the model of the THNK School of Creative Leadership in Amsterdam, and closely aligns with the models of IDEO and the Stanford School of design. The program consists of the following modules: 

  • Week 1: Groundwork: build group purpose – celebrate diversity – engage on a mission – form teams
  • Week 2: Sensing – diverge: explore team diversity – consider dimensions of the problem
  • Week 3: Sensing – converge: reframe the problem – bring pieces together – formulate a creative question
  • Week 4: Visioning – diverge: explore solution space – open idea generation
  • Week 5: Visioning – converge: select two favourite ideas – articulate value propositions
  • Week 6: Testing: prototyping session and general reflection

What are the outcomes? 

The design process helps students embrace complexity and ambiguity, and develop a habit of delaying solution-seeking to better investigate the dimensions of a problem. Students learn to value diversity as the basis for innovation, and all participants – local and international – are better able to articulate and value what makes them different from others.

As a result of the program, international students are more ready to speak in and outside class and apply for leadership positions. Interactions between international and local students increase, and new friendship groups form. Teachers are more likely to notice, understand and address the needs of international students who – in turn – are better able to articulate their specific needs and challenges. The program thus repositions international students as active and visible participants in the school community – from problem to subject. Benefits extend beyond program participants to the entire school community, which becomes more culturally inclusive. 

Where are we now?

After a successful first pilot at Ivanhoe Girls Grammar School (Victoria) in early 2017, a second iteration of the program is planned for early 2018. Next steps for Design for Diversity are to expand the program in schools with similar student profiles, and develop adapted versions for other types of schools – particularly schools in areas with great cultural diversity and recent migrant communities.

The original design team brought together Lisa Toomey – maths teacher and international student coordinator at Ivanhoe Girls Grammar – and Julien Leyre, founder /CEO at Marco Polo Project, with input from Philip Thiel, English teacher and VCE coordinator at Ivanhoe Girls Grammar. The program was celebrated in the Ivanhoe Girls Grammar publication, Lux Mea (you can read the account here).

What next?

We are actively looking for schools interested in running Design for Diversity, or piloting adapted versions. If you would like to know more about Design for Diversity or think the program might be of benefit to your school, contact us!