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Solving Real-World Problems with Open Design

Solving Real-World Problems with Open Design

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

In light of COVID-19, how might we transform learning at Duke?

It’s a big question and really, there is no better group to find a solution than Duke students. Aria Chernik (Social Science Research Institute and Innovation & Entrepreneurship) and Kevin Hoch (Innovation & Entrepreneurship) co-led Open Design+, a summer course where students were taught how to ideate, create, test, and iterate impactful solutions to real-world, complex problems. The pandemic, of course, is an example of just this kind of problem. We need to be able to think big and act creatively—and above all with empathy—to find solutions that can propel communities forward.  

“Open design is derived from design thinking and the human centered design process. We spent a lot of time on the ethos of open and open source methodologies and principles. We go through the design process but are very attentive to things like transparency, inclusivity, collaboration, and community,” said Chernik. 

Working in small, interdisciplinary teams of undergraduate and graduate students, students in Open Design+ gained an understanding of open design, a variation of design thinking that emphasizes the ethical implications of how and what we design. The challenge for Chernik and Hoch was how to create a virtual environment in which the team could collaborate authentically, meaningfully, and frequently. Very little of this work could be done alone: interviewing stakeholders, brainstorming sessions, testing and evaluating prototypes, defining problems, and communicating results. Collaboration was key.

Hoch stated, “The students came in without a deep understanding of open design, but within six weeks they’ve learned about the design process, specifically open design, became experts in education innovation, tackled challenging problems, and provided solutions. They’ve come a long way.”

At the end of the session students joined together on Zoom to present their findings. Grouped into three project teams, the students discussed their approach, using open design.

When asked about student presentations, Chernik explained, “This is so exciting, especially at Duke, because we think that open design reflects and articulates a new vision for teaching and learning, and a new vision for experiential learning that is very co-creative, purposeful, and joyful.”

Team 1

Question: How might we give students more space, time, and opportunities to reflect deeply on their time at Duke and the paths they’re taking?


  • A field guide to being human at Duke (focusing on first-year students)
    ~Exploring Duke and Durham
    ~Document experiences
    ~Get to know your peers

Team 2

Question: How can we use design thinking methodology to rethink online learning environments to increase student engagement and further learning outcomes?


  • Duke In-Space: An exploratory visual experience map
    ~Purposeful Wandering”
    ~Finding community and connection from home
    ~Emphasis on academic spaces and resources

Team 3

Question: How can we create a tool that helps professors to gauge the level of understanding in their online class and give students a voice to foster community and informal learning?


  • Temperature Gauge: A gauge to “read the room” in the highly impersonal online setting
  • Knowledge Tree: A visual platform for students to get to know each other and collaborate
  • Open-Sourced Data: Improving education together and in an open discussion environment

What students are saying about Open Design+

"I thought I understood the design phase before coming into this program, but now I see that my understanding then only scratched the surface."
~Zsofia Walter (Class of 2023) 

"The most fulfilling aspect of the program was the diversity of options, interests, and experiences of the Open Design+ team."
~Sanya Uppal (Class of 2022)

"Open Design+ helped me realize not only the true importance of problem-solving and design, but also the importance of empathy and the relationships that we form with those around us."
~Florence Wang (Class of 2023)

"I reminded myself that I enjoyed and embraced design-thinking because it teaches me how to embrace and navigate ambiguity."
~Anwuli Onkojo (Class of 2021)

"Listening without judgement has been a rather freeing experience."
~Drew Flanagan (Class 0f 2023)


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