Curriculum Approaches

Innovation Through Design (Ep. 264)

Today’s episode takes a look at AOEU’s newest graduate course, Innovation Through Design. Abby Schukei returns to the show to discuss the development of new course with Tim. Listen as they cover a variety of topics, including how AOEU develops their courses, the importance of creativity in everything that we do, and the difference between creativity and innovation. Full Episode Transcript Below.

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Tim: Welcome to Art Ed Radio, the podcast for art teachers. This show is produced by The Art of Education University. And I’m your host, Tim Bogatz.

I have been talking a little bit over the past couple of weeks about AOEU’s newest graduate course, innovation through design. I’m really excited about just everything that it has to offer. There are so many opportunities to learn in that course about some of the most important and most relevant topics in art education right now. There is a lot about design thinking, there’s a lot about STEAM, a lot about project-based learning, and a lot about growth mindset. And in my experience, in what I see in the discussions I have, in what I hear from people, those four topics, design thinking, STEAM, project-based learning, growth mindset, those are what teachers want to know, want to learn about are most concerned about for their classrooms right now. And so, and the course is obviously a great opportunity. And obviously, I’m going to use it as an opportunity to discuss each of those topics on the podcast today.

As I promised last week, Abby Schukei is here to talk about her role in developing this course, all the learning that is available there, a little bit about all of those topics we just mentioned, and maybe most importantly, the role of creativity and innovation in the art classroom.

All right, Abby Schukei is joining me. Abby, how are you?

Abby: I am doing pretty good. How are you doing?

Tim: I’m doing well. It’s been solid what, three weeks, since you’ve been on the podcast. So super happy you can come back again.

Abby: Okay. But before then, it’s been quite a while though.

Tim: That’s true. That was true. It was just close to… I don’t even know. I want to say almost to a full year but-

Abby: I could say potentially. I think it could be. Okay, this is totally off-topic, but I’ve just been pulling people a day, so I’m just going to ask you this.

Tim: Yeah, let’s do it.

Abby: So just because it’s springtime here, it is also dandelion season.

Tim: Yes.

Abby: I don’t have very many dandelions in my yard, but my neighbors do, okay?

Tim: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Abby: My neighbors do and no hate, no shade against dandelion yards. I just had an observation the other day. So the other day I was like… Well, did you know that dandelions closed?

Tim: Yes. I did.

Abby: I did not know that.

Tim: Hmm. I actually voted in your Twitter poll.

Abby: Oh, thank you. But it turns out a lot of other people didn’t know that they close. I know tulips do, and there’s a lot of other plants that do. And I actually know a lot about gardening, one of my fun facts, but I didn’t know that they closed. So anybody else listening out there, maybe you didn’t know this.

Tim: Who cares a lot about dandelions? This episode is going to be right in their wheelhouse? No, we need to talk about dandelions more because I have a lot in my yard. I don’t put a ton of chemicals on my yard. And so I get… My neighbors probably don’t like me, but that’s okay. I get a few dandelions in the front where everybody can see, and I try and pull most of those. But then in the backyard, I just kind of let them grow because bees love them. They’re like-

Abby: Right, yeah.

Tim: … tulips or like all of the pollinators who come around, so I just let them go because nobody can see them in the backyard. It’s no big deal. So-

Abby: Yeah. I mean, they’re actually pretty until they seed and then are just the deadheads.

Tim: Yeah, yeah, that’s not great.

Abby: But I did not know that they close.

Tim: I was going to say I’ve been watching them for years now and, yeah, especially when it’s cold, they will close up at night.

Abby: Yes, because my neighbors’ there was all yellow and then the next morning I woke up and they were all gone, and then obviously, they open back up in the afternoon.

Tim: So this is the best way to start a podcast episode.

Abby: I needed it.

Tim: I love it.

Abby: I needed it. I needed… This is a burning question on my heart I’ve been asking everybody all week. And so, here we go.

Tim: All right. Good. All right. So you are here besides talking about dandelions, I also wanted to talk about the new Innovation Through Design course. I’ve been hyping it up the past couple of weeks, just at the end of each episode because I think it’s going to be a really cool course. I’m really excited about it. So I guess to begin with though, can you just tell us about the new innovation through design course, everything it involves, what people can expect from this graduate course?

Abby: Sure. So I’m also really excited about this course and even though I helped create it, I also am kind of sad that I don’t get to take it just because it’s going to be really cool. So the main goal, the main focus of this course is to really hone into what creativity, innovation and elements like design thinking and just how we can use all of those things to take what we’re doing in our classrooms to the next level, to elaborate on what we’re doing a little bit more. And I know, if you’re thinking about maybe you want ways to make learning more meaningful for your students or more authentic to them, this is going to be a course that allows that because we are really focusing on… We’re not just doing things. What is the purpose for this? And how does innovation drive what we do in our courses with our students? How does design thinking or incorporating design challenges and things like that, how does that really impact our students?

So to simply put it, if you’ve taken a graduate course with Art of Education University before, it is going to be a different class. I was given permission here, as far as we’re talking about innovation and creativity. So the assignments that the students will be doing in the course will be reflective of that, so that’s the exciting thing. I don’t think there’s any writing of papers or anything like that. You’re going to be actively doing things, and you’re going to be doing it as a participant in the course. But one of the cool things too is you’ll learn a lot about yourself throughout that, but then there are going to be a lot of those same principles and ideas that you’re going to be able to carry over into your classroom right away, which is the most exciting part.

Tim: Yeah. And that’s what I’ve always loved about AOEU’s courses, just taking them or teaching them, whatever my role is, I love how they’re always immediately applicable to the classroom. I think that’s just something that’s so needed and it’s missing from a lot of higher ed courses. So I always appreciate that, but I wanted to hone in on something you said. How you got to design that course. So I guess the question is how does one go about just designing a graduate course? Can you walk us through the process? What are some of the things you did when you’re developing our course?

Abby: Well, that’s a really great question. It was not easy. It took a lot of work. And thankfully, we have a wonderful team of instructional designers at The Art of Education University who work alongside you the entire way, who, like, “This is what their backgrounds in, designing things like that,” so then they pull in people who are content experts about these certain things, a certain topic to hone into, so a lot of research. There was so much research to be out there that I had to do just because, one, we wanted to create something that doesn’t exist anywhere else. What’s the point of creating something that you could just do somewhere else.

Tim: Great.

Abby: So a lot of analysis and research as far as what else exists out there around these topics. And while there’s a lot of great information about the topics that we’re going to be exploring, so the main components in this course, if you take it week by week, the topics are creativity and innovation, design thinking, STEAM, makerspaces and growth mindset. I think that’s all of them, but all of those things are wrapped up and they’re sequential in how they apply to each other in this course.

And that doesn’t exist anywhere else as far as if you wanted to take a course like this specifically for art teachers. So it’s going to be really awesome in that regard where it’s unique and one of a kind. But yeah, designing it like there are, I guess before I started this, I didn’t really know what was entailed with all of it as far as Carnegie hours and all of these things. There’s a formula basically to make it a graduate-level course and so lots of research and time, but we got it done and it’s going to be really exciting. So I’m looking forward to that.

Tim: Yeah. I think it is exciting. I think it’s going to be a really, really good course. And so I guess since I’ve known you, which is quite a while now, you’ve always been big on design thinking. So my question for you is why do you think design thinking is so important for students and what kinds of things can our students learn when they’re involved in that process?

Abby: So I think one of the cool things about design thinking, and I think we hear that sentence or that phrase sometimes, and it seems a little bit scary or maybe something that you have to force into the art room where we actually are using it all the time, but maybe just not really reflecting on the cycle of which we use it. But I think one of the coolest things about design thinking is that at the end of the day, it’s a concept that centers around applying creativity and innovation to our actions, our decision-making and our problem solving because it’s human centered. It is all centered around human beings and it focuses on how what we do impacts the individuals of whatever we’re creating something for. So it’s a really powerful learning philosophy to just enhance our teaching practices and to ultimately empower student learning.

So I think one of the stages of design thinking, well, the first one, and it has to be the first step, is empathy. You have to empathize in order to understand why are you even doing this in the first place? So it brings a meaningful rationale to the creation process when we are talking about it in the art room, we’re not just doing it to do it. Students are really honing in on why it’s important. How does this reflect in other individual or impact somebody else? So I think that’s one of the really exciting things about having the opportunity to talk in, implement design thinking more in the classroom just because there’s something with empathy, and it allows us to just take it so much further, beyond the art room. And I think ultimately, that’s what all our teachers want to do.

Tim: Yeah, absolutely. Next question, I would love to get your thoughts on makerspaces because I feel we’re not hearing quite as much about makerspaces as we used to, and maybe that’s just because they aren’t new, they aren’t the novel hip thing anymore, but how important do you think makerspaces are or can be and what role can they play for our teachers?

Abby: Yeah. So I think that makerspaces have certainly evolved a little bit more where they aren’t just dedicated to an art room space and oftentimes maybe they’re in your school’s library or media center, or maybe your community, your local library has one. And I think one of the misconceptions about our makerspace is, “There has to be a 3D printer, you have to have a laser cutter, you have to have all these high-tech things, widgets.” We all know how an art room budget works and that’s not going to work for us. So I think this idea of tinkering, which always put into when you’re talking about makerspaces, tinkering, you’re exploring and design thinking fits really well into the concept of makerspaces because students have the chance to go through the cycle, but also they have a set up of tools that they can explore with.

So I think a lot of times teachers might have a makerspace type of situation in their classroom that they don’t really even intended to be that way. When we’re talking about centers or stations or things like that, where it’s like, “Hey, here’s the tub of toothpicks or cotton balls,” or I don’t know. And you know, kids will go in there. And so if you’re able to have those accessible materials to kids, they can create some really wild things.

I have a little area in my room that’s kind of like our mini-makerspace spot or cupboard that the kids can go to. And there was this old, I don’t know if it was like a magazine rack or something, but I don’t know, the kid took it apart, and he was like, “Oh, I’m going to turn it into a Christmas tree,” and made this whole thing, and it was interesting. But he was so involved with the process just because he saw those materials, and he was able to really dive in, and he was so engrossed in it that it’s like, “I don’t need anything from you. I’m just going to explore with this stuff.” So when you talk about play and just creativity, the makerspace gives an opportunity for that.

Tim: Yeah, absolutely. And like you said, a lot of times people put pressure on themselves to have the perfect makerspace, but it so often can be a cupboard or a tub or just some manipulatives to let kids explore and create. And I think that is some pretty valuable learning that can take place right then.

Abby: Yeah. And one of the things in the course too, in regards to that, it’s not going to be… We’re talking about innovation and design and all of these things, but you don’t need those high-tech things available to you to… Some people do and that’s awesome. So no matter what you have available to you, this course will be able to relate to any of that high-tech, low-tech, it doesn’t matter. It’s-

Tim: It’s what works for you.

Abby: … going to be equitable. Yes, yes.

Tim: All right. That’s a really good point. So, all right. Now personally, I spend a lot of time thinking about creativity. I know as art teachers, we place a premium on creativity, but I’ve heard you talking about how there’s a difference between creativity and innovation and when I heard that, like it really got the wheels turning for me. So can you talk a little bit about how creativity and innovation are similar, but how there are also some major differences between the two?

Abby: Sure. So I think often we use the terms interchangeably because we’re just like, “Oh, that’s innovative, that’s creative,” but they aren’t the same thing. They certainly do compliment one another, but they can exist without the other. So when we think about creativity, that’s the act of thinking or creating something and something new. That probably is a variation of an existing idea or it could be something entirely original. You just have this unique idea. But innovation is putting that creative thought, that creative idea, into action, into practice, so the example that I like to give for this is… It’s the difference between suggesting that an aircraft could go to outer space. And so that’s the creative aspect of it, like, “Oh, we could have… We could build a flying machine.” Innovation is actually building a rocket that astronauts can go to the moon.

So I think that’s a really good way to think about it. Well, I’m sure that as artists and art teachers, we can probably relate to the amount of creative ideas and the thoughts that we have, but are we putting them into practice? Do those creative thoughts actually come to fruition? Some of them do, but not all of them probably do. So I think that’s my favorite way to grasp that concept. It’s hard. Creativity is challenging. I feel, especially when we’re in the art room, it’s like, “Oh, it’s art, it’s creative,” but there can be a lot of non-creative things happening inside of an art classroom. So I mean, we do have to practice it and really try to instill it within our students just because it is the art room doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily going to be taking place.

Tim: Yeah. That’s a good point. Okay. One thing I was thinking about while you’re talking, is it fair to say that you can have creativity without innovation, but you can’t have innovation without creativity?

Abby: I would say so, yeah. I would say so.

Tim: I felt smart when I came up with that. I want to make sure I was on the right track.

Abby: Yeah. That sounded very philosophical. So, yes.

Tim: That’s what I’m going for, and then-

Abby: Even if it’s wrong, it sounded good.

Tim: It sounded good, so that’s all we need. One last question, I guess, to wrap everything up, give people a couple takeaways from this conversation. Can we teach kids creativity? Can we teach them innovation? Logistically, how do we develop those skills? What can teachers do in their classrooms to help students develop creativity and innovation?

Abby: Yeah. So yes, creativity can definitely be taught and creativity is actually something that we unlearn. There’s a really interesting study, George Lands Creativity Test, and we’ll dive into it a little bit more throughout the course, but it was a creativity test developed for NASA, but they tested people at 5 years old and then 10 years old, 15 years old. And at five years old, the level of creativity was 98%. And by the time kids were 15, the level of creativity was 12%. And this was implemented in the 1970s. I can’t even imagine what that would be today. And then when you talk about it with adults, it drops down to 2%. So like, “Ooh, it’s a little scary.” So that really tells us that yeah, creativity is something that we all have, but we learn not to use it.

So when we’re talking about how do we get our students to become more creative or innovative? How can you promote curiosity to your students? What creativity exercises can you establish with them? Because you do have to practice it. Just think about the amount of times where you ask your kids, you have this really awesome introduction to a project, and then kids are like, “I don’t know what to do.” That’s because they don’t have creative thinking skills, and they just want to regurgitate what they’re seeing from others. And so by developing some type of creative exercise, promoting curiosity, ignoring the limitations, so trying not to say no to your students. I know sometimes it’s not easy to do, but when we do say no, we do stifle that a little bit more. So just finding ways to nurture it because it is a skill. Creativity is a skill that we can grow in and develop a little bit more. So just by making a conscious effort to infuse that a little bit more to create more imagination in our classrooms, that’ll be a good place to start.

Tim: Yeah, absolutely. All right. Well, we will go ahead and wrap it up there. Abby, thank you so much for giving us a little peek into the new graduate course. And thanks for talking over some of the big picture ideas with me too. It’s been fun talking to you.

Abby: Yes. Thanks for having me. And yeah, come take the course with me. I’m going to be teaching some of the first ones.

Tim: I love it.

Abby: So I’d love to see you there.

Tim: That’s a good selling point right there. Thank you to Abby for coming on and for talking far too long about dandelions. But in all seriousness, I appreciate the look behind the scenes at the development of the course and the big picture conversation we were able to have about innovation, design creativity, and what it means for our students and for our classrooms.

I would recommend, if these topics interest you, to look into the innovation through design course sometime in the coming month. The first course will start at the beginning of May. I’m not sure if you can still sign up for that, but you can definitely sign up for future months at any time here. We will link in the show notes or you can go to to learn more. And honestly, like I said in the beginning, I’m really looking forward to all of the learning that is available here. I don’t have time to take the course immediately with the now conference coming up at the end of the summer, but the course is something that I’m going to really consider for August or September when it works for my schedule, and I would encourage you to do the same.

Art Ed Radio is produced by The Art of Education University with audio engineering by Michael Crocker. Thank you for listening, as always, and we will talk to you next week.

Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.