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Next Generation Design

NetDragon's Dejian Liu joined Professor Chris Dede to build a J-Term course on using design methodology to produce new learning environments.

Next Generation DesignHow can educators can use innovative design models to develop and implement data-driven educational approaches in a digital learning environments? This was the question explored in Next Generation Design: Methods and Heuristics, a January-term course co-taught by Professor Chris Dede and Dejian (“DJ”) Liu, the founder of NetDragon Websoft Holding Ltd., one of the most successful online gaming companies in China.

Liu, the inventor of the “design methodology of planning,” was excited about the prospect of teaching a course at Harvard in which students would learn to develop and refine a design product proposal. “Harvard is an interesting place to be,” Liu says. “The students are very smart … it’s a great place to get started.” (Hear more from Liu, below, on the Harvard EdCast: From China to Harvard.)

“DJ’s framework is unique in two ways. First, it provides an exhaustive analytic breakdown of every stage in the design process. This is valuable for designers who wish to create mature products competitive in the marketplace,” says Dede, who met Liu at a smarter learning institute in China. “Second, DJ’s framework has a rich range of real-world examples from NetDragon to illustrate these design processes, allowing students to learn through case-based reasoning.”

The five-hour long course, taught over two weeks, centered on teaching students to apply — through hands-on experiences — Liu’s sophisticated methodology for designing learning environments that have proven successful in China. For the 17 students enrolled, mostly master’s candidates in the Technology, Innovation, and Education Program, it was a unique opportunity to plan and develop their own proposals.

“There’s a lot you learn about education if you view it through the lens of a why someone might play a video game,” master’s student Heidi Burgiel says. Burgiel enrolled in Liu’s class with interest in expanding an idea that originated in another HGSE class, and is now working on a proposal for a MOOC that would create a more sensory learning experience online.

Master’s student Jay Galbraith, who previously taught high school science, agreed that game design can open an entire world of learning. “One of the big issues you see is student engagement,” he says. “We need to find ways to make [learning] more appealing especially with complex topics.”

During fall semester, Galbraith and a team began working on a physiology game, Body Squad, where students work on devices to better understand the body. Building on that, Galbraith is now proposing a similar game that would tap into the study of economics. He took Liu and Dede’s course not only to evolve the design, but also to gain the unique perspective of both business development and education.

Providing the latter was part of Dede’s intent for the course. “It’s unusual for learners in an academic setting to have the opportunity to learn state-of-the-art processes from a major design corporation,” Dede says. “We’re fortunate to offer our students this option.”