My Biology II students are completely immersed in what started as a fictitious PBL about toilet designs and sanitation and has morphed into something much bigger, and so very awesome. Below, is a blog post that was written about my students by one of our library scientists, which discusses their progress thus far. I will come back and add information and photos as we move along, but these kids are going to make an amazing toilet to help solve issues surrounding sanitation and safety with regards to proper access that will make a difference. I am bursting!

#everybodypoops: exploring affordable sanitation in developing countries

It’s true.  Everybody poops.  It’s also true that 2.6 billion do not have access to clean water or adequate sanitation.  In response to that distressing problem, Shayna Cooke’s Biology II students are exploring ways to design an inexpensive, light, and easy-to-use toilet for densely populated regions in India.

Prior to the Skype session, the Bio II students brainstormed potential user groups, researched existing toilet options and developed questions about materials, privacy issues, and cost.

Brainstorming notes

The students talked with Jasmine Burton, founder and president of Wish for WASH, about her experiences and current work with Wish for WASH and the Society for Family Health in Zambia.  Burton, a recent Georgia Tech Industrial Design graduate, considers herself a empathic designer, who places emphasis on getting to know a product’s users in order to design for and exceed their needs.

Bio II students Skype with Jasmine Burton.

Burton talked about the importance of getting to know one’s users before embarking on design.  What’s the point of designing and building something if the product is not going to be used.  Burton also discussed how important behavior change and incentivizing that behavior change can be in getting people to accept and use products.  The students also considered the different user groups designers need to consider.  Not only do designers think about the person using the toilet, but they also ask how they design for the person who may be disposing of the waste and how that disposal affects the population.

Based on their research and the information they gained from their talk with Burton, the Bio II students will now design a prototype of a toilet.  They plan to talk with Burton again once their prototype is finished.  Burton cheered on the students’ desire to build a prototype by saying that research and ideas are awesome, but making something and bringing something into the world matters.  The testing of a physical thing matters and can result in so much knowledge.