Religious Studies senior seminar students engage design thinking for creative problem-solving critical

Pamela Winfield, associate professor of religious studies, explains the applications of design thinking for her religious studies students, and how it has helped shape their problem-solving abilities.

When choosing college coursework, students select classes that will provide a foundation for their professional, personal, and civic lives. Elon By Design supports faculty and students by teaching them how design thinking can help them become better at solving problems.

Associate Professor of Religious Studies Pamela Winfield
Pamela Winfield, associate professor of religious studies, wanted to learn more about how design thinking could help students in her senior seminar complete their final digital humanities projects. After taking the Introduction to Design Thinking workshop in December, she reached out to the Center for Design Thinking to arrange a special guest lecture and consultation on individual student projects.

Learning Starts With Asking Questions

Winfield said the fundamental questions of design thinking provide sound starting points to consider when leading any engaged learning process: “In the case of my senior seminar students, clarifying the fundamental problem, providing time for the iterative prototyping phase and asking what is uniquely possible with your chosen medium are proving to be the key questions so far,” she said.

Winfield added that her goal is for her students to “think critically, conduct original research and produce a theoretically or methodologically informed, well structured, evidence-based argument that contributes to the scholarly conversation or makes a significant social impact.” Since the digital humanities emphasis is a relatively new development, Winfield said design thinking has been instrumental in helping her think through some of the priorities and pitfalls that come with any new initiative.

Benefiting From Design Thinking

Winfield’s senior seminar students can come away from the course with a new mindset that applies context to every issue they may encounter in the future.

“Design thinking has provided a framework and a vocabulary that essentially validates each phase of the very messy process of creative problem-solving,” Winfield said. “We learned small and simple can be beautiful and helpful. It was a revelation to my students that just drawing a few stick figures, or a couple of boxes, arrows or maybe even a few Venn diagrams with overlapping circles, could all be considered part of the process of ‘design thinking.’ That really made an impact on them.”

When asked about the real-world applications of design thinking for her students, Winfield said, “Engaging with the ‘real world’ is precisely the point of my classes. This is what is motivating everything we are trying to do now. We all know and recognize the importance of religion in our world – just scan the headlines. But we also know that sometimes those headlines can be misleading and sometimes downright discriminatory – so we need to cultivate students who can produce well-researched, nuanced and responsible scholarship and put it out there.”

Interested in bringing your Class to the Center for Design Thinking?

If you are interested in creating similar opportunities for your students, the Center for Design Thinking is here to help. We work with you to help your students meet your course’s learning outcomes, prepare for successful team collaborations, or navigate the completion of major projects. We can also work with you to co-design a personalized learning experience for your students.

How? Simply email a few dates and times you’d prefer and tell us a little about what you’d like to accomplish with your students.

The Center for Design Thinking