Dean's Fellowship Program for Teaching and Diversity | Adult Learning and Leadership | Organization and Leadership

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Adult Learning and Leadership

Department of Organization & Leadership

Dean's Fellowship Program for Teaching and Diversity

Victoria Marsick and Stacey Robbins

Project Abstract

The Adult Learning and Leadership program is seeking the Dean's Fellowship for Teaching and Diversity with the objective of developing learning interventions that highlight multicultural and diverse perspectives across the Adult Learning and Leadership MA curriculum. The proposed program will take a collaborative experimental approach to engage students and faculty in addressing this challenge using the methodology of design thinking. The fellow has done research on teaching methods in higher education and is interested in the application of design thinking to innovation in higher education.

Statement of Need

As the Adult Learning and Leadership Masters program (ALL MA) positions itself for continued growth, providing an integrated and robust student learning experience is paramount. Over the past year and a half, a steering committee of ALL faculty, staff and students have been working to improve the program such that it better meets student need and aligns with objectives necessary for success in the 21st century. Based on data from interviews and focus groups with current and former students, one area in which the ALL MA could improve is in the representation of diverse viewpoints across the curriculum.Although students cited the diversity of students with regard to experience level, culture and practice area as a strength of the program, this diversity was not necessarily present across the curriculum. The aim of this project is to engage students and other stakeholders in an active process of addressing this challenge.

Program Description

The Adult Learning and Leadership Masters Redesign Project will better meet the needs of current and prospective students by promoting and infusing multicultural and diverse viewpoints across the curriculum. The ALL program aims to foster transformative learning by helping students surface and challenge their assumptions in order to lead and change themselves and their organizations and communities. This project is consistent that mission as well as other program initiatives including a project sponsored by the Office of the Vice Provost and Dean to examine the ALL doctoral cohort program (AEGIS) in order to integrate awareness of diversity issues into its curriculum and pedagogical practice. Together these initiatives will create an opportunity to understand and improve student experience of diversity issues in both ALL masters and cohort EdD programs and learnings will be leveraged across these initiatives.

Using a design thinking process, the fellow and sponsor will convene and facilitate a group of relevant stakeholders to address the question, "How might we better represent diverse viewpoints in the curriculum and teaching of the ALL MA?" This multiphase,iterative process will involve the use of materials from IDEO's Design Thinking for Educators (IDEO, 2012). The project will move participants through five phases: discovery, interpretation, ideation, experimentation and evolution. Upholding the central tenets of design thinking, this project will rely on innovation, collaboration, empathy, creativity and brainstorming. An initial committee will be chosen based on representativeness from relevant stakeholder groups including students (current, former and prospective), faculty in the ALL MA program and individuals who make hiring decisions that impact ALL MA graduates. This committee will be responsible for communicating the goals of the project to relevant parties and inviting a diverse group of stakeholders to participate in the design thinking process. Particular attention will be paid to attracting individuals who represent diverse perspectives with regard to culture, ethnicity, country of origin, religion, gender, sexual preference, physical ability, family background, learning style, educational history and age.

Faculty sponsor and fellow have been working together to address the challenges and opportunities faced by the ALL MA program since 2011; this project will extend that work. The faculty sponsor will sit on the initial committee and will provide feedback on Fellow's work products and help Fellow access resources. Sponsor will help to communicate the value of the project to other faculty members and encourage participation in the project.

Design Thinking and Innovation in Higher Education

Design thinking is a structured approach to generating and evolving ideas that is humancentered, collaborative, optimistic and experimental (Brown, 2008). The discovery phase involves gathering data about the challenge and defining it. The team will ask open-ended questions and determine ways to find answers to these questions. In the next phase, interpretation, the team makes meaning out of the data they have collected, uncovering themes and answering the question, "What have we learned?" In the ideation phase, the team brainstorms ways to address the opportunity to improve that they have uncovered. This phase involves coming up with multiple possible solutions and interventions that might address the challenge. The experimentation phase builds out one or more of the proposed solutions. The final phase, evolution, creates an opportunity to learn from the experimentation and evolve the solution to better address the challenge (IDEO, 2012).

Design thinking is a process that can be particularly useful under conditions of complexity and ambiguity and as applied to challenges that may have multiple possible solutions. Its application to the ALL MA challenge provides an opportunity for students to engage with several of the ALL MA competencies as defined by the steering committee, including environmental scanning, collaboration and team development, problem framing and solving, contextual and developmental needs assessment, cultural responsiveness, design thinking and program development, planning and goal setting, informed decision making, and leadership (see Appendix A for ALL MA Competency Table).


  • Beckman, S. L., & Barry, M. (2007). Innovation as a learning process: Embedding design thinking. California Management Review, 50(1), 25-56.
  • Brown, T. (2008, June). Design thinking. Harvard Business Review, 84-92.
  • Finegold, D. and Notabartolo, A. (2010) 21st Century Competencies and their Impact: An Interdisciplinary Literature Review. In Transforming the U.S. Workforce Development System: Lessons from Research and Practice, ed.
  • IDEO. (2012). Design thinking for educators, 2nd Ed.

Goals and Objectives

This project aims to support the development of learning interventions that highlight multicultural and diverse perspectives across the Adult Learning and Leadership MA curriculum.

The main objectives include:

  • Actively engage stakeholders (students, faculty, etc.) in the process of addressingthis challenge
  • Develop student and faculty ability to cross boundaries in their academic,professional and personal lives
  • Expose students to viewpoints different from their own
  • Promote a culture of mutual respect and dignity in the ALL MA program
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