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Punya Mishra, PhD, has devoted his life to studying and improving instructional design, but his global view of the subject has been deeply influenced by his personal experiences, he said while delivering the Benjamin Cluff Jr. Annual Lecture at Brigham Young University.

Mishra, associate dean of scholarship and innovation at Arizona State University, said he considers it a moral imperative to improve education through design thinking and innovation. “I went through a four-year transformation when I was in school to become an engineer,” he said. “I was beaten down and felt I was a failure. But I have learned since it wasn’t a failure of myself, but a failure by educational design.” Recalling a childhood experience in which he was considered a mediocre artist in one city in India and a major talent in another city, he added, “Talent is often contextual, and if we provide our students with the right context, they can thrive.” 

Mishra reminded the audience of the drastic change in education that began in February 2020 with the COVID-19 pandemic and quickly spread across the world. “Within months, 1.96 billion learners became a part of this educational social experiment. My coworker emailed me and said, ‘What if online learning is required for longer than a year? This is a great opportunity to do some imagination and re-imagination.’ I think he may have jinxed us.” Mishra joked. 

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His coworker’s observation proved correct, and Mishra’s research now focuses on what makes the difference for students during times of crisis. “There are five spaces within education where there is opportunity for design: artifacts (objects used for education), processes, experiences, systems, and culture,” he said. “We must move from designing artifacts, processes, and experiences, to instead creating systems and cultures that allow for greater learning.” 

How can schools accomplish this? It comes down to a few core principles, Mishra said. “Have a design-based mindset,” he said, “Everything in education was designed at some point. Be willing to try, learn, and retry. Build technology into the system and identify key core values and stick to them. You can’t build a resilient system and culture during a crisis.”

He also emphasized the need to design for the disadvantaged. “[Educational] problems do not belong to one domain of expertise, and the negative impacts always fall on the most vulnerable. We cannot forget our responsibility. Education asks us to respond to the legitimate needs of those placed in our care.” 

In his conclusion, Mishra said that “there are many reasons for the global challenges, but one is failing to imagine what education can be. If we have serious issues of equity and access, it was designed to be this way, whether intentionally or not. If students are not being creative or not enjoying school, it was designed this way. We have a moral imperative to leave education better than we found it.” 


2023 Benjamin Cluff Jr. Awards

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Excellence in Public School Support -

Sydnee Dickson, State Superintendent, Utah State Board of Education

“My mission is making this world a better place for children.”

Excellence in Educational Research -

Erin Whiting, Associate Chair of Teacher Education, McKay School of Education, BYU

“One of the things I’ve learned in my research is how important it is for teachers and adults to have empathy for students, and the difficulty to be in these emotional and social spaces.”

Excellence in Educator Preparation -

Dawan Coombs, Associate Professor, English Department, BYU

“It’s inspiring the way so many people are working to make space for teachers.”

Lifetime of Excellence in Education -

Lynette Erickson, Associate Dean, McKay School of Education, BYU

“This is a great place to be. It’s been wonderful to be a part of something larger than just an academic education for our students. We are here to help them in their spiritual and emotional development, as well as their academic and cognitive development.”


Writer: Alysha Rummler

Contact: Andrew Devey