Where Creativity Meets Community

SOU’s Design Thinking Course Builds 21st-Century Skills in Collaboration & Innovation


In a year in which the global pandemic has disrupted almost everything about everyday life, the theme of Southern Oregon University’s course in Design Thinking seems especially on-target: Reinventing College.

Student holds prototype constructed with paper
In Design Thinking, students start by building low-tech prototypes, then build up to more complex solutions

Offered in a special five-week format, COMM325 directs students to complete a Design Sprint, in which they conceive, prototype, test and improve innovative solutions to the challenges faced by higher education institutions today.

“We’re doing things that are so much more applicable to the real world than most classes,” said SOU senior Alivia Quitigua, one of the students in the Fall 2021 section of COMM325. “The fact that we are brainstorming ideas and I can visualize them happening in real life means a lot to me. It’s easier to be passionate about hands-on work, instead of a math problem that you have no way to relate to day-to-day activities.”

Student presents app prototype projected on screen
Working mostly remotely, students devise detailed prototypes that promise to solve complex challenges

First offered by the Communication, Media & Cinema Program in 2018, COMM325 applies the emerging practices of Design Thinking to explore complex problems facing large communities and audiences.

The course is inspired by the iterative, collaborative, problem-solving methodology that has been popularized by global design firms such as Ideo, XPLANE, Territory, Stanford University’s d.School, and other prominent companies and institutions.

Students add sticky notes with feedback to a whiteboard
Brainstorming and audience interviews inform iterative improvements to prototypes in Design Thinking

Students use techniques of visual brainstorming, rapid prototyping, qualitative interviewing, and guided collaboration to interrogate the past, present, and future of a significant societal or cultural challenge.

Each of the four teams in this section of COMM325 designed new communication platforms that responded to the moment and promised a more vibrant social future for learners. Each team deployed significant improvements to their solutions based on direct feedback from actual potential users.

“These projects made it crystal-clear how hungry students are for connection,” said Associate Professor Erik Palmer, who instructed the course. “As the COVID-19 crisis moves through its second year, we all have a sharper sense of the importance of community, and these students have shown how we can all be intentional in designing and building solutions.”

Story by Kelli Albert, Community Manager for the Communication, Media & Cinema Program at Southern Oregon University.



Comm, Media & Cinema @ Southern Oregon University

Earn BA/BS Degrees and Certificates in Communication Studies, Social Media & Public Engagement, or Digital Cinema @SOUAshland. #ThatIsSOU