Hasso-Plattner-InstitutSDG am HPI
Hasso-Plattner-InstitutDSG am HPI

Ambidextrous Thinking (Sommersemester 2020)

Dozent: Dr. Julia von Thienen

Allgemeine Information

  • Semesterwochenstunden: 2
  • ECTS: 3
  • Benotet: Ja
  • Einschreibefrist: 01.04.-30.04.2020
  • Lehrform: Seminar
  • Belegungsart: Wahlpflichtmodul
  • Lehrsprache: Englisch

Studiengänge & Module

IT-Systems Engineering MA
  • Kommunikation
  • Management und Leitung
Data Engineering MA
Digital Health MA
Cybersecurity MA


Ambidextrous Thinking


Update: As long as we can’t have personal meetings in class, this course is hosted on openHPI. To find it on the platform, please log in at openHPI and then search for "Ambidextrous Thinking." The course starts on April 27. If you have trouble finding the course on openHPI, please reach out to Julia.vonThienen@hpi.de.



Abstract: Ambidextrous Thinking means Design Thinking, with special attention payed to the body. How do body motion, the use of all human senses, or physical interactions with prototypes impact creative engineering? In class, participants have great creative and artistic freedom to self-select body parameters and pursue projects of their choice. The aim is to track and use body-parameters for purposes of (ethically sound) creative engineering. State-of-the-art research methodology will be conveyed to assess the effects of chosen approaches.



Ambidextrous Thinking is part of an evolving Neurodesign Curriculum at the HPI.

Neurodesign is a new academic work domain at the intersection of (i) neuroscience (ii) engineering and (iii) design thinking - creativity - collaboration - innovation. This class covers all three domains of neurodesign. It also encourages experimentation and projects at the intersection.

Regarding design thinking, this course takes a closer look at the concept of Ambidextrous Thinking developed at Stanford Engineering, which set forth a strong and lasting emphasis on the role of the body in creative engineering.

"Combining 'Ambidextrous' with 'Thinking' creates at least two intended images. 'Ambidextrous' means the ability to use both hands, so the first image implies the use of the hands, and by extension, use of the whole body, in creative thinking. From Archimedes to Einstein there are so many examples of the importance of kinesthetic thinking that it is a shame not to recognize this fact and encourage its use in engineering. A second image suggests extending the notion of ambidexterity to the brain […]. In other words, humans can and do think with their entire brain and with their eyes, hands, and whole body." (Faste, 1994, p. 1)

The concept of Ambidextrous Thinking also invites (more) syntheses of engineering and art. This means to grant engineers artistic freedom in the exploration of creative, novel solutions. It also implies striving for high levels of attentiveness and skill in the delivery of engineering solutions that yield emotionally and aesthetically meaningful experiences beyond functionality.

In this course, we underpin the concept of Ambidextrous Thinking with state-of-the-art research methodology, and we measure physiological parameters, in order to better understand and utilise the role of the body in creative engineering.

In class, participants think up and tackle brief engineering tasks. Before, during and/or after the engineering activities participants measure self-chosen physiological parameters. Available equipment includes consumer-grade EEG kits (Muse 2, Bitalinos), Empatica E4 wristbands for the measurement of skin conductance, motion and heart rate and Tobii Pro Nano for eye tracking. Physiological measures are analysed regarding four major ends: (1) We search for physiological parameters that are early indicators of favourable vs. less favourable project developments, and to predict engineering outcomes. E.g., can we see early signs of unproductive frustration as opposed to signs of creative flow? Can feedback based on physiological parameters help creative engineers better self-regulate their own processes? (2) We include physiological measures in usability studies to provide even more comprehensive insights into user experiences. (3) We explore the use of physiological measures in digital engineering designs. E.g., can eye-tracking or motion-capturing provide alternative means to control a computer? How might physiological parameters help us better address all human senses with digital engineering solutions, e.g., can users receive more information via data sonification or tactile experiences? (4) We explore opportunities in the novel field of neurodesign, e.g., by applying digital engineering solutions (data analysis, modelling, machine learning etc.) to physiological data. 

As long as we cannot meet in person to exchange equipment, there is even more reason and opportunity for being creative. You are welcome to experiment with all body-related measures that you deem interesting, which you can assess. E.g., you could use your webcam for self-recordings, analysed for emotions or posture and body motion via open source software. You could use your mobile phone to track body motion; maybe the phone even allows you to track your heart rate. You could analyse your own typing behaviour, the impact of sleep, of break times, music, meditation or nutrition on your work and/or wellbeing, or whatever you would like to try out in this field. In addition, this course is supported by several expert neuroscientists, who have ample data available that you can analyse, visualize, sonify etc. 

It is possible to conduct a bigger project by working on your subject in the class “(Neuro-) Design Thinking for Digital Engineerings” as well. It is also possible to continue a project begun in an earlier neurodesign course if you would like to.


There are no prerequisites for attending this class. 

To intensify your learnings, you can also take part in the Lecture “(Neuro-) Design Thinking for Digital Engineering” on Mondays (11 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.), but this is not obligatory. As long as the challenging health situation endures, the lecture will also be hosted online in the form of a b.MOOC on openHPI.

Lern- und Lehrformen

Knowledge and Philosophy

In this course you learn about the concept of Ambidextrous Thinking. You can probe the approach and reflect on its potential to inspire your own works, and creative engineering more generally.


Methodological Skills

In this class you learn…

  • to design your own empirical research studies. The introduction covers classic randomised experiments, repeated measure designs and quasi experiments. Simple to fill out templates help participants develop their own studies in methodologically sound ways, and to reflect on the limitations of a chosen approach.
  • design questionnaire items. You will also learn to assess the psychometric properties of your scale, survey or test.
  • design items for neuroscientific studies. This line of research introduces further constraints beyond the quality criteria in survey studies. Items need to be very carefully designed, e.g., to be extremely short and different only in minute details across study conditions. In a previous class (Neurodesign Seminar 19/20), we conducted a brief fMRI experiment. Here, we explored how digital engineers process (i) natural language versus code and (ii) errors in code. In class, you can reconsider these studies including its shortcomings due to non-optimal stimulus material. You will learn to design improved test items for such neuroscientific research.


Highlights in this course:

  • Offered by Irene Plank: The class can either conduct a brief fMRI experiment or a brief state-of-the-art 64-channel EEG study.
  • Offered by Dr. Marisol Jimenez: Based on inspirational input, you can create your own sound or mixed-media installation. Optionally, you can self-make an instrument with strings, which allows experiments with the tactile process of creating sound. 
  • Offered by Dr. Shama Rahman: Ambidextrous digital engineering


  • 1/4 of your grade is based on your method competence that you demonstrate in response to brief methodological challenges/tasks posed during the course.
  • 1/4 of your grade is based on your first project presentation.
  • 1/4 of your grade is based on your final project presentation.
  • 1/4 of your grade is based on an academic poster you submit on behalf of your project. The poster is due until August 31, 2020.


Dates (preliminary)

27.4. Introduction to Ambidextrous Thinking

4.5. Randomized experiment, quasi-experiment, study with repeated measures 

11.5. How to design survey and test items

18.5. How to assess the psychometric properties of scales, surveys and tests

25.5. Irene Plank: How to design items for neuroscientific studies

8.6. Ambidextrous Thinking projects

15.6. Dr. Shama Rahman: Ambidextrous Engineering

22.6. Dr. Marisol Jimenez: Ambidextrous Sound-Experimentation

29.6. First project presentations

6.7. (or other date) Irene Plank: fMRI/EEG study 

13.7. Project refinements

20.7. Final project presentation