Teaching j-school students problem solving skills

Lily Ciric Hoffmann
4 min readMay 29, 2018


Last semester, eight senior journalism students attended my advanced multimedia class at the Philip Merrill College of Journalism. From the start, the students were placed in three teams and each group worked on a community issue of their choice.

This class had an emphasis on interactivity, design thinking, creative problem solving and action planning. My goal was to teach them advanced JavaScript data visualization, using third-party APIs, but most importantly I wanted them to learn the design thinking method and apply it to their media and communication projects.

This class allowed for a lot of creativity and creative problem-solving. This was not meant to be a linear class where students think of a problem, come up with solutions and be done with it. That’s not how the real world works.

Our process evolved with each phase and the students learned how to be flexible and develop a growth mindset. They learned to embrace change, constant adaptation and iteration as the normal part of the process.

For their final presentations, all the teams created pitch decks, demo videos using PowToon, and splash pages for their apps using GitHub.

These are their final projects:

News4U, https://news4u354.github.io/ — An app improving media literacy and news quiz scores for journalism students.

PathPal, https://pathpal.github.io/ — An app displaying local trails and their features, such as distance, environment, and accessibility so runners can more easily challenge themselves.

Drops, https://projectdrop.github.io/ — An app displaying water refill stations on College Park campus to help reduce the use of disposable plastic water bottles.

The five phases we went through are:

1. Brainstorming & researching
2. Coming up with the problem statement
3. Describing the solution/idea
4. Prototyping
5. Testing

I. Brainstorming & research

During this phase, students worked on reframing problems into opportunities. Each group made a list of problems they’ve noticed on campus or things they wished for and came up with a list of statements using “What if or how might we…”

When they chose the idea, they used mind mapping to generate, visualize, structure and classify it to look for patterns and insights. The end goal was to pick an idea that is approachable, understandable and actionable.

The groups used the mind mapping method to visualize, structure and classify their ideas.

They further researched their idea and conducted preliminary interviews to test their assumptions and find if there is an interest for it in the community.

II. Defining the problem statement

Based on their internal and external research, and defining their audience, each team reframed their challenge into an actionable problem statement. They articulated it by combining three elements — user, need, and insight.

III. Describing the solution/idea

In this phase, the groups named their concept, created a one-sentence description, and described what types of needs/opportunities does the concept address.

They also submitted their preliminary sketches and user flows illustrating how the user will navigate through their apps.

News4U team app sketches.
Drops team app user flow.

IV. Prototyping

The groups took their sketches and user flows and created interactive prototypes using Mockingbot.

Take a look and test their prototypes (links in the caption):

https://mockingbot.com/app/ZNxZsz4phdTEj7eZmQ9zPisYy980kM2 (pwd: water)

V. Testing

In this phase, they tested their prototypes with people they interviewed during their research phase as well as new people to gather feedback and create a list of iterations.

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Click on the links to view their complete phase documentation: News4U, PathPal, and Drops



Lily Ciric Hoffmann

Creator of @dishmeetup. Creative techie who is continuously learning, growing & using the healing powers of homecooked food. https://dishmeetup.slack.com/