Business faculty continue work on AppLab, a problem-based learning model to solve real-world issues

Faculty members at Appalachian State University are continuing efforts in 2016 on AppLab, a problem-based learning model focused on solving real-world issues through the "Design Thinking" process.

Design thinking is a formal method for practical, creative resolution of problems and creation of solutions, with the intent of an improved future result. In this regard it is a form of solution-based, or solution-focused thinking – starting with a goal (a better future situation) instead of solving a specific problem. By considering both present and future conditions and parameters of the problem, alternative solutions may be explored simultaneously. This approach differs from the analytical scientific method, which begins with thoroughly defining all the parameters of the problem in order to create a solution.

A member of the AppLab team Mark Lewis, who is an assistant professor of management in the Walker College of Business, has taught design thinking in the college for four years. The principles are used in his Creativity and Design class, and, more recently, are integrated into his Strategic Management class, in an effort to show the important role innovation should play in strategy formulation. Lewis earned his PhD from Georgia State University in the Center for Process Innovation, an interdisciplinary research center that focuses on industry/university collaboration and technology enabled innovation. Prior to his academic career, Lewis worked for IBM, where he spent time with their WebAhead group, a team dedicated to speeding up the adoption of technology innovations within IBM.

“I have been working in the innovation space for most of my career, and I believe passionately that the world needs more innovators” said Lewis. “We need to develop students that have both left brained and right brained skills, who have the capacity to look at problems and opportunities through an interdisciplinary lens.”

“Even more important, we need to develop students who combine these cognitive skills with the grit, perseverance, attitude and tenacity that innovators must possess. We are working to develop these skills and attributes in the Walker College, and I am happy to be working with AppLab to help cultivate them across the university.”

AppLab, which began in spring 2015, is led by Associate Dean of Fine and Applied Arts and Industrial Design Professor Kern Maass. The group includes faculty members and students from backgrounds as varied as recreation management and physical education to business management and entrepreneurship.

AppLab allows the researchers to work with community members and industry partners in order to deliver sustainable solutions that make an impact. The 2016 team plans to use the university's strategic plan as a guiding light - asking "How might we make Appalachian more sustainable?" Under this umbrella, the team is exploring how they might:  

  1. Increase disability (universal) access on campus and in the community?
  2. Help students align skills, passions, and opportunities more creatively?
  3. Increase access to recreation/food for low income families?
  4. Increase walkability of community?
  5. Increase community awareness/relation with AppTV?
  6. Develop carbon balance planning for the campus and community?
  7. Adopt carbon budget balancing in our county? a. How might we increase awareness of global climate change?
  8. Increase forest coverage and decrease forest fragmentation for UNC headwater streams?

Their research, observations, insights and corresponding solutions for economic development will affect the university campus and the region surrounding Boone, NC.  Solutions will be presented to a review board consisting of county, state and federal agencies as well as private sector funding, design, communication and branding expertise resulting in feedback for business model generation.

"The AppLab experience is very hands on," said Lewis. "Students have dedicated office space with 24/7 access, and faculty members work closely with student teams to develop prototypes and solutions."

Lewis added that principles from at least two courses he teaches, Creativity and Design and Strategic Management, are core to his work in AppLab. "Since most of the innovation will have a business/economic component, principles of business strategy and entrepreneurship play an important role in identifying market opportunities, designing business models, and assessing long-term viability of proposed solutions."

Transportation Insight Center for Entrepreneurship director Erich Schlenker and assistant professor of management Dan Hsu are also expected to work on AppLab.

The spring 2016 program will kick off with a two-day planning event that will include a design thinking charrette and team building exercises at the American Tobacco Innovation Campus in Durham, NC.

human-centered design thinking model
Published: Jan 5, 2016 11:15am