Morgan Kearns ’22 shares design thinking research at international conference

Kearns, a Leadership Fellow, recently presented research on design thinking with Director of Design Thinking Danielle Lake at the International Social Research Conference.

Morgan Kearns ’22 recently went before an international audience to share research on design thinking with Director of Design Thinking Danielle Lake at the International Social Research Conference.

“Basically, this research was looking at what design thinking looks like across disciplines in higher education, using Elon University as a case study,” said Kearns, a Leadership Fellow.

According to Kearns’ research, which she presented via Zoom on Sept. 2, the design thinking practices used on the Elon campus are those that align with an experiential approach to a liberal arts and sciences education that encourages students to learn by doing. Her research was accomplished by surveying and interviewing university faculty and staff.

“We found that a lot of the practices we’re seeing right now are predominantly those that use teamwork, or more typically skills in a liberal arts education,” Kearns said, adding that faculty are focused on encouraging students to engage in active listening and visioning. “We’re not seeing as much prototyping or iterative feedback from stakeholders.”

Kearns and Lake have partnered with Kathleen Flannery, professor of psychology at Saint Anslem College, in their research. They recently submitted their case study for peer review in a higher education journal. Their conference presentation allowed them to get feedback for their writing, Kearns said. The presentation was an overall rewarding experiences for Kearns, who encountered new thoughts and ideas regarding her work.

“I thought it was really fascinating to talk to people all over,” Kearns said. “They were asking questions and absolutely knew what they were talking about. As an undergraduate researcher, being able to present research to professionals was a really awesome opportunity because they had so many insights and interest in this research.”

Lake said the ability to present research is a valuable opportunity for students like Kearns as it helps them gain new skills and network with people in their fields of study.

“I really value getting the chance to co-present with Elon students at conferences,” she said. “These opportunities allow them to not just create knowledge, but also share that knowledge, explore the world of academia, meet experts in their field, and prototype possible futures after Elon.”

For Kearns, this research is just the beginning. She plans to soon examine the use of design thinking at universities outside of Elon.

“This research is a first step in a much larger project,” Kearns said. “Other universities are interested in replicating this first step.”