Education Trends

One-Minute Papers: A Way to Further Design Thinking

November 12, 2013
Image credit: iStockphoto

Connecting Design Thinking to Your Area of Expertise

Many of us have sat through long lectures believing the material did not connect to us at all. This should not be the case with design thinking, a process that involves rethinking and reframing problems to make things easier, more streamlined or different. However, many people view design thinking as an insular activity that does not mesh with their specific domain of expertise. This should not be the case. Design thinking can relate to any topic.

This post offers a step-by-step description of how using the "One-Minute Paper" learning technique can enable educators to connect design thinking with their area of expertise quickly and effectively. One-Minute Papers, as described by Thomas A. Angelo and K. Patricia Cross, involve asking one or two probing, open-ended questions on the material covered. This task takes about one minute to complete. The hope is that, through these questions, students will be able to self-assess their learning while in turn the teacher gauges student understanding.

What is Design Thinking?

Design thinking uses a structured approach to solve problems (Coley, 2013). There are many flavors of design thinking, but for the purposes of this conversation, we'll talk about the following eight phases. (For a full description, please see my previous post, Design Thinking in the Classroom: Free Inspiration from the Ad Award Winners.)

  1. Define the problem
  2. Research the problem
  3. Analyze the situation
  4. Redefine the problem
  5. Ideate
  6. Prototype
  7. Refine
  8. Repeat

However, as Helen Walters (2011) points out, design thinking is not a magic wand, but holds real value when working with difficult, challenging and chaotic problems.

What Are One-Minute Papers?

One-Minute Papers, as mentioned above, are a learning and teaching strategy where the learners are asked one or two quick but deep questions on the material covered. Angelo and Cross (1993) recommend asking questions designed to make a student think critically and not just repeat what is in his or her notebook. Typically, the questions take a form similar to:

  • What was the most challenging aspect of today's activity?
  • Give an example that relates to the topic of the day.

How Can We Connect Design Thinking to Subject Expertise?

The easiest way to connect design thinking to our subject expertise is to ask ourselves simple questions modeled after the one-minute paper learning technique for our students. Below are some examples:

  • What is the purpose of design thinking?
  • What is the most challenging aspect of design thinking?
  • Give an example of where design thinking would be useful in your area of educational expertise.

These questions require an educator to be actively engaged. But even more, they act as a prompt for educators to give their opinion, analyze their learning and create connections. If teachers ask themselves these types of questions when learning about design thinking, the results could be amazing.

How Long Will It Take?

These questions should take about one minute to complete, as the name implies. The questions should act as a quick and easy way for getting instant feedback to see whether you understand the design thinking process.

Why is All of This Important?

Design thinking is so powerful that teachers should harness their knowledge of it and apply it their area of expertise. In many cases, we do not discuss design thinking with regard to more traditional subjects such as mathematics, history and physics. My hope is that, through these questions, we can reframe and rethink the way we approach our subject expertise to be more innovative in our classrooms. Design thinking methodology could be the perfect way to tackle specific classroom issues such as student memory lapses in history class, boredom with routine exercises in mathematics, or apathy in physical education.


Angelo, T.A. & Cross, K.P. (1993). Classroom Assessment Techniques (2nd ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.
Coley, S. (2013). "Here's to the crazy ones: Simon Coley on design thinking." StopPress. Retrieved July 8, 2013.
Walters, H. (2011). Design Thinking Won’t Save You. Retrieved from Helen Walters' blog.

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  • Education Trends
  • Design Thinking
  • Formative Assessment
  • Professional Learning
  • Student Engagement
  • Teaching Strategies
  • 9-12 High School

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