Students in colleges and universities have changed over the past several years. Students are more diverse racially, ethnically and socio- economically (National Center for Education Statistics, 2022). The percentage of students who graduate in 6 years largely depends on the type of school, with open public schools delivering fewer on-time graduates than universities that are more selective (National Center for Education Statistics, 2022). Students are selecting majors such as business, health professions, social sciences, engineering and biology/biomedical professions, all of which account for more than three-quarters of the degrees earned in 2019 (Best Colleges, 2022). Outside of school, students spend a lot of time on social media (more than 3–4 h daily), which has led to increased negative feelings, low self-esteem, loneliness and stress (Dennon, 2021). They are experiencing changes to attention spans, information overload and are stressed out, and this has only worsened due to the pandemic and its effects on education (Morgan, 2021). Overall, as a result of the pandemic, college students’ mental health has suffered. Students showed increased stress and anxiety during COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdowns, including concerns about health, difficulty concentrating and sleeping, decreased social interactions and increased concerns about academic performance (Son et al., 2020). And we have yet to see the longer-term effects of the pandemic on students’ ability to learn, connect with others and be active participants in their educational journey.
However, despite these changes to the student’s body and the educational context, the structure of most classrooms has not drastically changed to meet the new realities that students face. Students typically still sit and listen to lectures, take traditional exams and write traditional papers, despite studies that show that hands-on and experience-based learning are more impactful engagement strategies (Instructure, 2022). Student engagement has declined over this period. One study found that only 64% of students reported they felt engaged with classes and coursework, which was a significant decrease from 2020 (Instructure, 2022).
The pandemic has likely hastened the decline in engagement as students are struggling with managing the challenges posed by COVID-19, including health concerns, the transition to remote or hybrid learning, and the loss of social structures provided by a normal campus experience.
Teachers, especially entrepreneurship educators, should also want students to be engaged in classes so that they can retain and apply the knowledge that faculty members are teaching them. The best way to engage students is to help them take an active part in the learning process. This article presents a way to use the principles of design thinking to help design more engaging experiences for students. The DFSE framework and tools should provide support for faculty members to apply design thinking methods in their classes and programmes starting today. Thinking about how to discover, define, ideate and iterate classes or programmes and putting students at the centre of the process will lead faculty members to make new discoveries, try new things and find new ways of working with course materials and students.