Viewing entries tagged

International Service Learning Trips are Good Things, Right? - Laura Labb

International Service Learning Trips are Good Things, Right? - Laura Labb

Statistics tell us that 80% of Notre Dame students participate in some sort of service learning during their time at the university. In our class on “International Development and Design Thinking”, the number would be 100%.  We could all relate to the topic of service learning, especially in an international context, and how service opportunities can be analyzed for their sustainability as well as their accountability to the communities they serve. 

However,  controversy arose when we tried to quantify the change being made by these service trips. We intentionally provoked students to think critically about service learning through readings and videos that challenged the idealization of international volunteering, suggesting that there are scenarios in which more harm is being done than good. For instance, imagine a scenario in which volunteers distribute vitamins to malnourished children. 

At first glance, this seems to be a good, even a great, thing. However, follow-up with these communities may reveal that children ate all of the vitamins in one sitting and became constipated because of lack of instruction. Or, parents will choose to purchase vitamins in the future instead of other medications, which could have been more beneficial. The hidden “side effects” of these service trips are very rarely discussed, so we took this opportunity to ask students to consider their own experiences. Drawing on their own reflections, we then asked students how different aspects of their own service experiences could fit into three general models in the form of a stop sign:

Red: service made them stop and think if what they were doing was “right”
Yellow: service may have been sustainable, but unclear/ don’t know
Green: service brought long term change
We inspired conversations about how service can be beneficial, and what to beware of in the future when doing service. However, our imperfect analogy of the stoplight forced restrictions onto a topic that is by no means black and white. The blurred lines that exist between the red, yellow, and green muddled our ability to reduce projects to be totally good or totally bad. For instance, a classmate noted that while she had experience working with organizations that served vulnerable children, it was difficult to pinpoint what exact aspects of these organizations made some better than others.

 It is important to consider different components of the same project individually, and to analyze them separately in terms of impact. Additionally, the sustainability of a project is difficult to define. If you have created a meaningful relationship with one person while there, does that count as having a sustainable impact, even if it is only one person? How many people do you need to impact to “make a difference”? Additionally, what is even considered short-term for service trips? A week? A month? A year? 

I believe that my biggest take-away from planning and executing this class is the importance of considering the assumptions and the restrictions of certain topics. For instance, when we introduced the activity, we assumed that the class knew what we meant by a “green” scenario, when in reality we had not even begun to discuss the parameters of sustainable change. Additionally, we learned that certain aspects of service could not be restricted to just a red, yellow, or green, but that there existed a sliding scale of impact in which service can create both positive and negative change at the same time. 

With this in mind, if we were to continue our conversation from class, I would begin by first discussing what we considered sustainable change and how to determine if service has a positive impact. Then, I would tweak our stoplight model to reflect the blurred lines and eliminate binds to “good” and “bad” labels. From here, I would hope to be able to develop our own ideas about what aspects of service lead to sustainable change. This would generate a mindset for our classmates when entering a service learning project that is conscious of the impact of their work.

 If students are more mindful and critical of service, then contributions to sustainable change are possible e through the service learning model.


“Facing the Fear of Failure”: Practicing What You Teach - Emily Pohl

“Facing the Fear of Failure”: Practicing What You Teach - Emily Pohl

I’ve had my share of failures:bad tests, cringe-worthy interviews, and failing to overcome hurdles (literally, as I plummeted to the ground face-first not once, but twice in my first hurdle race). While many focus on the topic of avoiding or learning from “failure,” what is often overlooked is the paralyzing  effects of the fear of failure itself.

Learning to translate failures to success is critical but to begin, one must first overcome the barrier of fear by daring to fail.When my group and I were asked to “co-create” and teach a class on a “design-thinking” topic, we looked to the problem-solving process for inspiration and realized that the common thread that united all challenges was this fear to failure. Using this concept, our presentation took shape around two key questions:

1.     Why and how should one dare to fail?

2.     How can one evolve from failure towards success?

We looked at failure through a new lens: viewing the doubt and anxiety attached to the “fear of failure” as powerful motivators rather than inhibitions. After reframing failure as a foundation for change and preface for success, we encouraged our classmates to approach failure unconventionally—looking at it not as an outcome, but as skill to be practiced and developed.

We challenged our classmates to test this method and asked them to attempt to complete a set of 10 “rejection therapy” cards, each detailing a small task or action that essentially setting them up to “practice failure”:

  1. Ask your roommate to pick out your outfit for a day

  2. Ask the Starbucks barista to let you make a drink  

  3. Ask NDSP, the campus police force, for a ride to class

  4. Ask someone on a lunch date or friendship date

  5. Ask 5 strangers to tie your shoes

  6. Ask (anybody) to give you a tour of The Huddle (the small campus grocery store)

  7. Go to a club meeting that you’ve never been to before-challenge yourself to participate (even if you have no idea what’s going on)

  8. Ask to audit a class with a topic you’re interested in or know nothing about

  9. Ask to stay for free at the Morris Inn

  10. Try to arrange a meeting with the University President—Fr. John Jenkins, CSC

Co-teaching on a topic as salient as failure naturally led to an intriguing and interactive class discussion in which I saw my own topic from new angles. However, the challenge remained: could I practice what I preached?—Could I constrain my fear of failure through the process of actively failing and could I draw insights from this process?  

Challenge #1: To start my journey into failure, I chose the task that I knew would spark an eager and ruthless response—ask your roommate to pick out your outfit for a day. The result was as follows:

While my outfit did prompt some questioning and concerned stares, the “failure” of my pink dinosaur onesie to fit within social norms had the unexpected benefit of instigating conversations around the fear of failure. As my outfit prompted many “why’s” throughout the day, I was given a platform to expand on the discussion that had started in my co-taught class, gauging my peers’ opinions on the validity of “practicing failure” in an environment where there is little margin for error.

Challenge #2: Daring to fail requires vulnerability—a feeling I experienced first-hand as a long-line of customers tuned in as I, still dressed in my pink onesie, asked the Starbucks barista if I could “make my own drink.” As expected, my request prompted a series of negotiations where I proceeded to acknowledge the abnormality of my question and attempted to appease the barista’s apprehensions by offering to make the simplest drink possible. I then asked to talk to the manager who ultimately shot down my request.

My immediate reaction was the all-too-familiar sinking feeling—the one you get when you open a rejection email or realize you’ve slept through your alarm. However, as I reflected on the absurdity of my request, the sinking feeling was replaced with a sense of amusement as I began to brainstorm what I could’ve tried or accounted for in order to turn the “no” into a “yes.” Perhaps I could’ve succeeded if I’d visited Starbucks right before they closed or maybe I could’ve painted a clearer picture of the simplicity of my request by naming a specific easy-to-make drink like an “ice water.” I also began to notice that requesting a service from a stranger is much harder to swing than from a friend and realized that if I re-designed the process of trying to make my own drink such as trying to do so at a local coffee shop, I potentially could have a greater impact. Even though I approached the challenge with the intention of avoiding failure, I could not have drawn the same insights without poignantly experiencing the failure myself.

Challenge #3: After developing some inertia from the Starbucks challenge, I resolved to tackle another intimidating task—asking NDSP for a ride to class. However, my approach was something I should have learned not to do by now: I tried to take the path of least resistance. I decided to go with a simple backstory, that I had walked on my ankle weird, and a simple request, a ride to the University health center. Little did I know that 1. The health center was closed and 2. Apparently NDSP must send a whole medical team when someone reports an injury. After practicing my fake limp for an embarrassingly long amount of time and rehearsing the phone call, everything was derailed when the NDSP officer announced a medical team would come assist me shortly and I had to quite awkwardly apologize as I was unfortunately locked into my story.

Despite the uncomfortable encounter, I gained a valuable takeaway: you can’t plan for everything and telling the truth from the start is the only way to position yourself to be able to adjust to setbacks or rejections. I also realized that underneath my retreat to the “path of least resistance” was ironically the fear of failure I was working to overcome. The fear of failure not only manifests itself through inaction but can inadvertently influence people to take trivial or adverse actions that fail to attack the root of problems. Subconsciously, my desire to “complete” the task had overshadowed the underlying intention of “practicing failure” well by negotiating my way to a success.

Challenge #4: After surviving the rigor of the first few challenges, I decided to ramp up the stakes of my next one—asking someone on a friendship date. First, I challenged myself to ask a friend I knew on a surface level but wanted to get to know further. Second, I designed and sent my friend, Frankie, a formal “Evite” in an effort to deviate as far as I could from the norm of lunch invitations.


Luckily, Frankie happily obliged and the “weirdness” of my Evite naturally directed our lunch conversation towards the culture around failure and how we, as students, could encourage “practicing failure” or daring to fail outside of the high-stakes context of tests or responsibilities.

We realized that on top of practicing this vulnerability of failure, doing so in a collaborative manner that engages the community around us will help shape a culture of generative failure—where people feel free to voice their fears but simultaneously are challenged to use these fears of failure in a constructive way that informs the process of how one reaches a goal. In attempts to create a sustainable method of practicing failure, I passed my “rejection therapy” card along to Frankie and challenged him to complete the task and keep the conversation going.

Taking a step back to reflect on my trial run of “rejection therapy” as a whole, I realized I could group the challenges into two categories. The first were more micro-level challenges that required me to request something of an independent individual—my roommate or classmate. The second were macro-level challenges that pushed me to request something of an unknown individual, tied to a larger organization—a Starbucks barista and NDSP officer.

While I found myself more afraid of failure during the macro-level challenges, the practice of failing actually led me to draw more insights than when I “succeeded.” The act of failing can be discouraging, but when you openly address the possibility of failure and transcend this fear through action, it suddenly becomes an exciting starting point; failure triggers unexpected insights and can even introduce a new angle from which to view the problem.

Overall, practicing failure was a generative and arguably contagious process. Each challenge I undertook sparked discussions which translated into new ideas which informed the process of how I approached the next challenge. This idea of continual growth connects back to the nature of the fluid, interpersonal, and ongoing learning process of “co-teaching.” The insights I drew from practicing failure may be radically different than someone else who completes a parallel task. My hope is that the process of learning from failure itself will inspire others to do the same—extracting their own insights from their journey.


How to Leverage your Superpowers - Casey Kennedy

How to Leverage your Superpowers - Casey Kennedy

“Group project”: two of my least favorite words to read on a syllabus or hear a professor say. When I reflect on past group projects, positive experiences don’t usually come to mind. It always seems that at least one person free rides or that the group has to spend more time making the separate parts cohesive than it would take me to complete the project individually. So when my partner and I had to select a topic to teach a class on in our International Development and Design Thinking course, I was a little skeptical when we landed on high-functioning teams. How could I teach a class on high-functioning teams when I could only thinking of one or two that I had ever worked on? Yet, as we really dove into the topic I became intrigued by the literature around creating high-functioning teams.  
My partner and I focused on one aspect of high-functioning teams for our class, though there are many considerations when creating them. We looked at how understanding your strengths and weakness, your personal inventory, and your teammates’ personal inventories can lead to a more conscientious and productive team. We employed a tool created by consulting firm SYPartners, called Superpowers and Shadow Sides to depict this. Superpowers and Shadow Sides is an exercise for teammates to identify their individual strengths and learn how to activate their team’s strengths. The framework classifies 21 superpowers ranging from grit to systems thinking and empathy. All are strengths and all have descriptions denoting how someone with each Superpower works best. Furthermore, each Superpower also has a Shadow Side, the weakness that come with the strength, as well as examples of how to activate the Superpower and reduce the shadow side in group work. The idea behind SYPartners’ Superpowers and Shadow Sides is that when individuals are aware of their own strengths, and subsequently teams are aware of their team members’ strengths, the team can best learn how to activate those strengths to create more effective group work.


In our session on Superpowers and Shadow Sides, we had our classmates sit with their Development Advisory Team (DAT) members for a set of activities and discussion to determine their own Superpowers. In determining your own personal inventory, we hoped DATs could then come together to understand their team inventory. This session was really valuable for teams identifying how they work together and allowed my DAT to create concrete steps as we move forward with our project. If you’re interested in executing these activities, here are the steps to set them up:

  • Download the Superpowers and Shadow Side app

  1. You can use the app to later take the quiz on your phone or you can print out the 21 cards on the app

In class:

  • Have each member of the team spend time individually reflecting on their strengths and weaknesses

  • Have each member of the team consider how their strength could also act as a weakness and how their weakness could also act as a strength

  • Have the teams discuss their reflections on this exercise

  • Pass out the 21 Superpower cards and spread them out at each team’s table

  • Have each team member identify the Superpowers their previous strengths aligned with

  • Use post-it notes to identify the Superpower each member has

  • Discuss which Superpowers each team possesses and which ones the team may be lacking

  • Have each team create steps for how to activate their team’s Superpowers and how to be cognizant of the ones they are lacking

The identification of personal inventory and team inventory was incredibly beneficial for my  Development Advisory Team. During the session, we were able to identify Superpowers we were strong in like two of my Superpowers, grit and cultural compass, as well as others like systems thinking and pattern mapping. This identification let us think concretely about how to use these Superpowers moving forward. For example, in being aware of the cultural compass skills our team had we thought more consciously about our client organization’s culture and how our project could be shaped to emphasize that. While it was really helpful to understand our Superpowers, it was equally as beneficial to visualize the Superpowers our team lacked like decision making. The visual absence of a post-it note on certain Superpowers made us realize where our team was stuck. We had done a lot of leg work and had strong avenues to move forward with, but we hadn’t made the decisions to narrow this process down.

Since this class session, our DAT has met to complete the tasks that aren’t our natural Superpowers--to make the necessary decisions. Since this process of co-teaching, I have become a lot more enthusiastic about group work. Not only has identifying my Superpower helped me to understand how I work in a group, but knowing my team members’ Superpowers has helped us activate our strengths. Most importantly, knowing the absence of Superpowers for our team has positioned us to actively engage the strengths that are less natural to us.

The Beauty of Design - King Fok

The Beauty of Design - King Fok

Co-creation, ideation, growth-mindset, design-thinking... Are we speaking the same language here?

Before taking the International Development and Design Thinking course, I only had a marginal idea of what these words meant. I will admit it was a little embarrassing for me, as I was a senior coming into my last international development course and having spent two summers conducting field research in Ghana, so I wasn’t sure what I expected from the course and what I hoped to learn. Little did I know that these same words and concepts would give me a framework to talk about how I view the world and a foundation to “design” my life going forward.

By taking this course, which has proven itself to be one of the most hands-on and practical classes I have taken so far at the University of Notre Dame, it has allowed me to understand how everyone can apply design-thinking concepts to not only global, societal development topics but also in the mundane, routine aspects of our daily lives.

When I first joined the course and looked at the syllabus, I felt a little lost in the design-based jargon. I didn’t know how I could engage in the conversation given that I have never done this type of work before nor felt that I was a creative person. However, as the class progressed,  I quickly realized that the core principles which guided the design-thinking class were the same principles that I’ve used throughout my life to view and interact with the world. I have always approached challenges and topics from an angle of curiosity and bewilderment, and I embraced failures and shortcomings as insightful learning opportunities to how I can improve. I just didn’t know there was a word for this same perspective until we did the class called Growth Mindset: a mindset that views our skills and talents as dynamic, and that they can be ever-improved upon through hard work, feedback and input from others, and from our personal experiences of failures and successes.

This spirit of peer mentorship, continuous feedback to refine our skills, and mutual growth was embodied in the relationships in the course between my classmates and also with my mentor, Jenna Ahn, who has previously taken the course four years ago. On our first meeting, I told Jenna about I am learning things about myself that I never really thought about or revisited since I was a child in elementary school. How can I learn and view challenges in life? How I can be creative and express my creativity?  How can I work well and communicate with others?

These were all topics which shape my daily interactions and worldview, yet I haven’t really studied these topics in an academic manner such as exploring Tom and David Kelley's Creative Confidence to nurture our innate creativity or  Chip and Dan Health's anecdotes on how to work with others to find solutions to complex problems.

Jenna and I joked that these were “academic-adult works” which essentially engaged with childhood topics that everyone knew about growing up. As opposed to the calculus or organic chemistry courses I took as a pre-medical student, this class does not require prior knowledge because it draws on the universal aspects of our humanity. It asks questions that are rooted in our everyday experiences as a human being, which is why this topic so approachable to everyone.

And that is the beauty of this course. It allows people to interact with these principles whether they are from different disciplines, ages, and cultures because it revisits topics that are universal. The inviting nature of it has allowed me to find the relevance of how “design” can fit into my own life. I’ve found my experience in the course to allude to the bigger message of the potential of development: the underlying, transcending ability to unite all human beings regardless of geo-political and social distinctions.

How Do We Co-Teach? - Catherine Edmonds

How Do We Co-Teach? - Catherine Edmonds

How could you take a concrete idea through the process of design thinking? How would I be able to follow a creative experience, with an idea so fundamental as teaching? When first presented with the idea of creating a teaching experience I was at a loss of words. How would I create an experience that is engaging and encourages students to interact outside of the normal lecture? As these thoughts whirled through my head, I started thinking about past experiences I had facilitated. One particular experience I thought about was mind-mapping a team building experience. There are concrete details that go into this, but team building automatically sets the idea of engagement into the mind. I began by starting with the problem in the middle of the window. Then, expanded on how we could approach this problem with solutions that engage the mind beyond to the unexpected. As you see below here is a picture of me doing it on a window. Eventually, I took these ideas and started creating a linear timeline that could incorporate the best ideas resolving the problem in the middle.



After this reflection, Josh and I started in on the design thinking process for a classroom experience. As we began this process, we started with the theme in the middle: communication and prototyping. The ideation phase was great as we had many ways we could take these topics.The hardest part was focusing our ideas on a few themes. We were hesitant to prototype our ideas, and find the best way to convey them in a way that would stick with the students. The hesitation came from the fear of failure. What if our great ideas couldn’t be combined? What if this flopped right on its face? The hesitation was overcome by putting something on the page, and just going with the ideas. I started by creating blank slides on a piece of paper and got messy with it.



As you can see above, we began to prototype, what co-teaching about communication and prototyping might look like. This is how we started to see our ideas come together under an overarching theme of communicating. It was easier to understand how prototyping fit in, when we framed as a way to communicate our ideas to the clients. During this prototyping we were able to see a clear linear progression of the solution.

The opportunity to facilitate class discussion was amazing. I enjoy facilitating activities and creating ways to connect back to a bigger theme. During our class we were able to engage in a few different activities that would connect the reading materials that we had assigned to their DAT projects. The common feedback we received from our teaching is that it provided groups with tangible tools they can use. It also helped groups understand the importance of engaging the client throughout the process to provide the best and most useful deliverable. One thing I learned from co-teaching is to check the assumptions you have regarding the material you are teaching. Reading the feedback I realized I should have provided more concrete examples on what a minimum viable product is. I will take this feedback, and use it for the next iteration as the design thinking process is a constant cycle of testing.

The teaching experience provided me with a new perspective. I realize that any message I want to convey to a large group, I need the message to be simple enough that an 8th grader would understand. If the message passses this test, then it is simple and concrete enough for any customer to understand. This experience of teaching was great as it provided me the opportunity to further engage with the design thinking process and test my strengths in the classroom. All at the same time engaging with the students in a unique way.