While a significant amount of the Autodesk family was attending Autodesk University last week, I was busy co-facilitating a design thinking workshop for educators at the annual Big Ideas Fest, "Designing the Future of Education" conference. My primary goals in attending this event were to expand our team's address book of design education champions, exercise my design thinking and facilitation skills, and keep an eye on education innovation trends to share with our content teams. One goal I did not set out to achieve was to get all teary-eyed. I attained that one on multiple occasions though, no problem. Big Ideas Fest kept the dialogue around education injustice loud and clear this year through resonant presentations, hard questions, and rolled up sleeves. Below are some of the trending topics at this year's event.

Image credits: Bifniks on the twitter feed - Thank you in advance. These will not be used for commercial purposes. 

Trending Topics at Big Ideas Fest 2015


Isn't it ironic how common it is to find yourself at an education conference where some sage on the stage is talking all about 21st Century Learning (design ed/maker ed/digital literacy+++) and you end up sitting in your seat for 3 days as a passive, compliant, rote memorizing learner? Not at Big Ideas Fest. Time at Big Ideas Fest is spent moving between Rapid Fire speakers and working in Action Collab groups, during which participants exercise design thinking skills while tackling massive challenges facing education. This allows attendees the benefit of short bursts of inspiration mixed with real time exploration and practice of the type of learning we want to see in schools, while also connecting that process to relevant issues affecting them in their day-to-day lives. PS - Design Thinking Is Not Dead. In fact, design thinking, while growing legs in some schools around the world, is far from reaching the status of a mainstream methodological tool for education in the way that the scientific method has, for example. Let's try to be patient in realizing that education has historically been slow to change before we abandon concepts that have yet garnered widespread availability in schools.

Several design thinking methods and mindsets were exercised at Big Ideas Fest this year, including Analogous Inspiration, Interviewing, Rapid Prototyping, Collaboration, "Yes, And," Improv, and "How Might We?" challenge framing.


More and more education stakeholders are recognizing the criticality of connecting youth with their communities and empowering their sense of agency in making social impact, as well as what this could mean if enacted at a global scale. It is not uncommon to hear stories from around the world of students using design thinking and digital technology to enact change and solve problems. Several major issues were passionately discussed at the Big Ideas Fest this year, including how to disrupt the school to prison pipeline (underscored and made very real through a live spoken word performance by Tyson Amir, a teacher of incarcerated high school students at 5 Keys Charter School), how to stop failing youth minorities of color by cultivating awareness and responsibility for systems of privilege and oppression (deeply resonant in the times of the "Black Lives Matter" movement), and how to bridge the generational digital literacy gap. Youth from various schools and non profit organizations participated in the conference, and provided vital insights to the education challenges being confronted in the Action Collabs.

Youth conference-goers provide voices of insight.


The light continues to shine on the need for emotional literacy as a foundational aspect of public education. The launch of the "Emotion Revolution" from the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence in partnership with Lady Gaga's Born This Way Foundation, is one of the latest examples of initiatives working towards building awareness around this crucial gap. As we attempt to encourage educators to help develop students' "EQ," and "21st Century Skillsets," (which generally champions empathy as a cornerstone characteristic), we must acknowledge that we are having to go through some growing pains ourselves. During facilitation of the conference, as well as in past workshop facilitation experience, it is not uncommon for teachers to demonstrate resistance, frustration, and defensiveness when encouraged to work outside of established comfort zones. The call to action when it comes to emotional literacy is one that invites us all to the table.

Meaningful conversation over a few scattered popsicle sticks and some pipe cleaners - Luis walks listeners through his Action Collab team's prototype for a radical trust building obstacle course for students at schools. Their team's challenge was "How might we encourage students to feel safe to share their voices and identities at school?" The proposed solution would invite students to go through a built metaphor for life (complete with rings of fire), with support from their teachers and peers, in order to forge trusting relationships.


A growing cache of educational resources, including learning content, tools, and events, is a conference trend that never seems to get old. I'm waiting for the conference that shows teachers how to navigate and manage this barrage of offerings!. The Big Ideas Fest featured several speakers and workshops that provided access to various resources, including: The OER Commons, Duolingo for Schools, The Hour of Code from, and Mindblown Labs, which helps kids to shape their own financial futures. The efficacy of gamification in learning and the gamification of lesson content, such as is evidenced in Duolingo, and Mindblown Labs, were also notable themes.

Participants at Big Ideas Fest exploring a wall of design challenge solutions

Being the change we want to see in schools. Hands on, collaborative, iterative.

Kadi FransonComment