How Might We Learn Innovation Techniques Without a Professor?

This was the challenge from our students at Santa Clara University.  Our mission was to create a way to teach human-centered design in the Innovation Space at Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship without a professor or staff person present.  Our design team accepted the challenge, and we are prototyping a method using augmented reality to use technology to teach innovation in a variety of settings. Our method may be the first of its kind in the world, but that is normal for Miller Center!  

Augmented reality is currently being used in a variety of applications:  training workers in hazardous jobs, gaming and entertainment, fashion, marketing, and now education.  Augmented reality (AR) differs from virtual reality in that it allows end users to still see the “real” world around them - AR provides an overlap or insertion of content that is not “real,” but looks real.  Whether you are shooting at scary, fire-breathing dragons that are flying around the ceiling, searching for colorful Pokémon Go characters at a local park, or deciding which colors of makeup look best with your complexion, AR will become ubiquitous in our everyday lives.  We believe the best way to know about AR is to experience it, so we invite our readers to participate in our challenge at the end of the article.  


Why Augmented Reality?

We selected AR as a tool to teach innovation because it is interactive and engaging, and it allows the end user to work at his or her own pace.  Preliminary research suggests that it may lead to better long-term learning of information, and it excites or surprises the brain, holding the interest of the end user.  In our research thus far, we have found that most end users enjoy the experience and learn the basic steps of design thinking in an hour or two without the aid of a professor.    


Our AR Challenge

The innovation challenge in our AR experience is “how might we reduce food waste at school?”  Individuals or teams are guided through The Innovation Journey process by an AR character. End users first brainstorm what they know, don’t know, and assume they know about food waste, and then they go on an empathy “safari” to interview and observe people at a cafeteria or restaurant.  Our first cohort of students interviewed a chef, food service workers, students, and faculty, and analyzed trash, recycling, and compost bins. Based on new insights, the teams reframed the challenge, brainstormed lots of wild and crazy ideas, and then made a prototype of one or two solutions to solicit feedback from end users.  Most students had no knowledge of design thinking before the challenge, but, by the end of the AR experience, they learned the basic steps of design thinking, and they generated innovative ideas on how to reduce food waste.  


Next Steps

Our AR design team will continue to refine our work, but, in the meantime, we would like to share it with others.  If you want to participate in The Innovation Journey, you will need some basic office supplies like paper, pens, and rough prototyping materials (tape, glue, markers, etc.)   You will first need to download the free Zappar application from the App Store on your phone or smart tablet device (be sure to spell Zappar with an “a”). Go through the basic overview of Zappar, and then begin The Innovation Journey by Zapping the Zappar design on the design below.  Wait until the full yellow circle appears, and then you are all set. Feedback is a gift in design thinking, so we welcome your input!  

Our many thanks to Mr. Jay Dold, who created all of the design elements of the project. Without his talent, expertise, and generosity, this project would not exist.

Our many thanks to Mr. Jay Dold, who created all of the design elements of the project. Without his talent, expertise, and generosity, this project would not exist.

Please share your input with our team!

Ms. Kelly Grunewald, Miller Center Innovation Research Fellow, kgrunewald@scu.edu

Dr. Tonya Nilsson, Senior Lecturer, Department of Civil Engineering, tnilsson@scu.edu

Dr. Christina Ri, Senior Instructional Technology Resource Specialist at SCU, Christina.Ri@gmail.com

Dr. Michelle Stecker, Director of Education and Action Research at Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship, drmichellestecker@gmail.com

Prototype created by a SCU student team.

Prototype created by a SCU student team.


About the Author

Michelle Stecker, PhD, Miller Center’s Director of Education and Action Research, teaches and designs social innovation and entrepreneurship curriculum and leads the effort to integrate human-centered design thinking into the College of Arts & Sciences at Santa Clara University.