DSC Online course showcase: Humanitarian Design Thinking

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ARCH1453 Humanitarian Design Thinking

Taught by Senior Lecturer, Liam Fennessy.

How can you engage a geographically disparate group of students in real-world activities?

Liam Fennessy faced this question when looking at the tools and approaches for delivering ARCH1453 Humanitarian Design Thinking, an online post-graduate course in the School of Design that introduces students to methods of design thinking that are relevant to design activity within humanitarian scenarios. In the course students undertake accelerated research, development and testing of design propositions, then present their ideas as a pitch. Using a range of digital tools, including Slack and Youtube Live, and a design sprint activity resulted in a mobile-friendly and collaborative course.

We sat down and talked with Liam about his course and the digital tools that he used to facilitate it.

How is the course delivered?

  • Entirely online over five weeks
  • Combination of independent and collaborative group work
  • Major group assignment modelled on an industry process “48-hour Design Sprint”

Digital technologies used

  • Canvas for instruction, resources and assignment submission
  • Synchronous video for live discussion and presentation of student work
  • Digital applications, Slack and Pinterest for student collaboration

What factors informed the course design?


Liam recognised that many students were already working in industry and regularly travelling internationally, so the course design needed to be flexible and adaptable.  Students needed to be able to work through content at their own pace, yet it needed to be metered to guide them through the course.

Group project work was approached differently.  It needed to be directed and structured, not only to keep students engaged and focused but to simulate industry practice.

Design tools for student engagement


To encourage collaboration on group projects and provide students with feedback that was timely and relevant Liam chose technologies that offered synchronous and asynchronous interaction.

Liam negotiated scheduled times with students to meet through YouTube Live, a video conferencing tool that enables synchronous interaction and face-to-face discussion.

These live sessions were used to welcome students and to explain assignment briefs, to check in and provide feedback at critical project milestones and present projects.

YouTube Live sessions were recorded allowing students to review feedback and presentations.

48-hour collaborative workshops (Hackathon / design sprint)

In the design industry, design sprints are frequently used to establish the groundwork for more detailed design work or for the briefing (procurement) of particular design services.

As a major assessment activity, Liam asked students to work collaboratively to produce a humanitarian design solution and pitch their ideas to others using YouTube Live.

Over a period of 48 hours, students are given a design brief, collaborate and share ideas using technologies such as YouTube Live, Slack, and Google Drive, and present their final pitch in a synchronous video presentation.

The graphic below illustrates the process in more detail.

Design sprint process image

Liam’s advice for designing an online course

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