Under the leadership of Carey Moncaster (MA ’94) and Liyi Ye (MA ’16), Stanford e-China recently concluded its Spring 2021 session. Launched in Winter 2020, Stanford e-China, Technologies Changing the World: Design Thinking into Action, is offered twice annually and introduces high school students in China to cutting-edge technologies that are defining the future and providing exciting areas for academic study, professional opportunities, and entrepreneurial innovation. Focusing on the fields of green tech, finance tech, health tech, and artificial intelligence, students engage in live discussion sessions and real-time conversations with Stanford University scholars, Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, as well as American high school students. Moncaster partners with Stanford e-China Advisor Liyi Ye and Ye’s team at Third Classroom in Shanghai.
A key challenge in developing Stanford e-China has been finding and refining a framework that encourages students to analyze the challenges facing each of the technologies highlighted in the course and then brainstorm innovative solutions. To showcase the dynamic research and teachings at Stanford University, Moncaster honed in on Design Thinking, a creative-thinking and problem-solving framework widely utilized throughout campus and Silicon Valley. Moncaster explained, “Design Thinking is a very hands-on, interactive, team-based experience that is dependent on critical feedback from other people. Translating the Design Thinking concepts online, with students, scholars, and practitioners virtually scattered across the world, presents an exciting opportunity to create curriculum that effectively introduces the relevant skills and mindset.”
For final projects, Stanford e-China students delve into an area of personal interest in one of the technology fields, applying aspects of the Design Thinking framework to develop a prototype pitch and action plan. Some of the sample projects have focused on improving the accessibility of digital healthcare for China’s rural residents, improving the mental health of Chinese students, utilizing solar energy at rural schools to provide electricity to students at night, and lowering carbon emissions at traditional power plants. Once it has been deemed safe to travel to the United States again, the top three students from each session will be invited to annual ceremonies at Stanford University. During the ceremonies, students will present their pitches and sharpen their Design Thinking skills with Stanford community members present.
Based on feedback from students, a highlight of Stanford e-China has been the chance to collaborate with American high school students studying about China and U.S.–China relations in SPICE’s China Scholars Program (CSP). With the support of CSP instructor Dr. Tanya Lee, the Chinese and American students work together in small groups on WeChat and Canvas to apply Design Thinking to an environmental challenge in their respective communities. In the process, they figure out how to bridge different time zones, tech resources, learning styles, and cultural perspectives.
Moncaster reflected, “Since Tanya, Liyi, and I are trying to cultivate future leaders in U.S.–China relations, we are hoping to increase the interaction between the students in Stanford e-China and the China Scholars Program. It has been fascinating to hear them discuss not only cutting-edge technologies but also how they can serve as change agents and address topics such as social inequality.” She continued, “Thanks to our inspiring guest speakers and the robust dialogue between my students and the CSP students, I am confident that many of my students have been inspired to become social entrepreneurs of the future. I also hope that some of my students will consider applying to Stanford as undergraduates or graduate students.”
In terms of next steps, Moncaster and Ye hope to shift some of their attention to training schoolteachers in China—including the regular schoolteachers of their Stanford e-China students—via professional development seminars. SPICE Instructor Dr. Mariko Yoshihara Yang and Dr. Rie Kijima already offered one such seminar, which focused on Design Thinking. SPICE hopes to offer additional seminars to teachers in China on Design Thinking as well as other pedagogically focused strategies such as Project-Based Learning.
SPICE is seeking support to broaden its work with Stanford e-China, the China Scholars Program, and teacher professional development in China.