Pilot project with IBM Canada helps students at KPU

Fri, Mar 15, 2019

An innovative collaboration has allowed Kwantlen Polytechnic University students to be recognized for their Design Thinking.


The pilot project is a collaboration with IBM Canada that allows students at KPU to showcase their expertise through a case study exercise in a new course called Design Thinking and Innovation. Design thinking is a solution-based approach to solving problems. It refers to the steps by which design concepts are developed by designers. This includes cognitive, strategic and practical processes.


The project first started with the Faculty of Arts at KPU in spring 2018 and was expanded to the design course in the fall of 2018. Students in any KPU faculty can take the course.


“This is our first offering to bring design skills to students beyond our own design programs,” says Carolyn Robertson, dean in the Wilson School of Design. “Workplaces in the corporate, public and social sectors are recognizing that design thinking and design-led innovation are key elements for their organizations and employees to thrive in workplaces of the future.”


Design thinking was applied by the students at KPU’s Wilson School of Design to investigate future opportunities for sustainable growth at the Tsawwassen First Nation Farm. With support and expertise from the staff at the Institute of Sustainable Food Systems, the students gained a deep knowledge about the significance of social and environmental innovations in agriculture.


KPU Design students work with design thinking

“To explore design thinking as a tool for innovation in other workplace contexts, the students undertook a case study of IBM’s implementation of design thinking – as both a team design tool and a strategic company-wide approach”, says design instructor Iryna Karaush.


Following their work at the farm school, the students analyzed the similarities and key differences between the design thinking capability they developed in their project work and IBM’s corporate approach. The student responses indicated what they gained from this case study experience, with some noting it gave them a new perspective on what it takes to scale up design thinking to the organizational level.


IBM Canada provided access to their online module for IBM Enterprise Design Thinking Practitioners, a learning resource which over 100,000 IBM employees have completed.


As part of an emerging collaboration in Building an Innovation-Enabled Workforce for Canada, we’ve been using insights from the KPU pilot projects in our parallel initiative with six academic institutions and six workplace partners in Ontario,” says Karel Vredenburg, director of global academic programs at IBM and head of IBM Studios Canada. “I’m delighted that we’ve been able to ‘give back’ something to KPU through the use of these IBM Canada resources.”


“KPU has been leading the way within Canada in developing learning and teaching around innovation as a social process”, says Salvador Ferreras, KPU’s provost and vice president, academic. “Our initial pilot projects in the Faculty of Arts are expanding to engage design, science, business and trades.”


At the end of the course, the students earn a digital badge, which they add to their online professional profiles. Any student can take the program, which will be expanded to other faculties now that the pilot program has completed.