Toward a learning orientation: the impact of design thinking pedagogy on creative identity formation in the first-year experience

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Montana State University - Bozeman, The Graduate School


Education and identity are connected in important ways, especially during college. College students inhabit an in-between state, having gained independence from their parents but not yet committed in other capacities. College students emerge into adulthood through identity exploration and optimism about their future while feeling the instability and self-focus of an in-between place. Creativity, and the problem-solving behaviors associated with it, may play a role in supporting college students through this developmental stage. The three studies in this dissertation examine the impact of design thinking pedagogy on creative identity formation in first-year experience programs. The central question of the studies is how students' experience with creativity and problem-solving early in the college experience can encourage design mindset development and support creative identity formation through the intentional integration of design thinking pedagogy. Three pedagogical models of first-year courses using design thinking at three institutions formed the context for the studies. Two methods were employed: qualitative interviews engaged students in meta-cognitive reflection on experiences and outcomes gained; and a survey assessing design thinking mindsets was administered. The model for creative identity formation drawn from the qualitative analysis indicates that students form creative identity through individually-tailored mixing of creative thinking actions and attitudes cultivated by the course experience. Flexibility and symphony are creative thinking actions that engage students intellectually with creative problem-solving, while agency, authenticity, and delight embrace the development of creative identity. Survey analysis demonstrates three clusters of design mindsets that support the impact of creative identity formation in higher education: openness to diverse perspectives and learning orientation share high mean factor scores across all three institutions, underlining first year experience goals; strong correlations between experimentation -- productive failure, optimism, tolerance of ambiguity, and problem framing support key design approaches; and learning orientation, desire to make a difference, and optimism align with guiding theories of emerging adulthood. Results from the studies support the integration of creativity, creative problem-solving, and design thinking in the first-year, to encourage the development of attitudes and mindsets that support the learning and identity-formation experience of college.




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