Using Design Thinking to Solve Real-World Problems

A Pedagogical Approach to Encourage Student Growth


  • Jill Waity University of North Carolina Wilmington
  • Alicia Sellon
  • Bailey Williams



Design thinking, team-based learning, community-engagement


This paper presents an innovative pedagogical model that incorporates components of team-based learning, problem-based learning, and design thinking in the context of a community-engaged applied learning experience. Students participating in this project build 21st century skills needed to be successful in their future educational and career pursuits. Undergraduate sociology and master's level social work students partnered with community organizations to solve a real-world problem for that organization. They were coached through the process by their instructors. Before participating in the project, students reflected on what they hoped to get out of the experience. After completion, they reflected on the process and what they learned. Analyzing student reflection papers, we found three themes: excitement and fears, challenges and opportunities, and personal and professional growth. We conclude by describing how instructors can incorporate aspects of this model into their own classroom, and the importance of teamwork skills, design thinking skills, and meaningful community engagement.