What if we put students in the driver's seat of a new kind of R&D to transform education? One that provided a platform for engaging students more fully in a real world effort that also involves faculty, education administrators and other system players? Could we improve a student's education experience? Yes. Could we take it a step further and transform education itself? Yes.

We invite you to learn more about our Student-Led Participatory Design Studio - what it is, how we do it, and how it makes a difference. Questions? Feedback? Contact us.

Introduction to the Studio

Student-Driven R&D for Educational Transformation

Introduction

What if we put students in the driver's seat of a new kind of R&D to transform education? One that provided a platform for engaging students more fully in a real world effort that also involves faculty, education administrators and other system players? Could we improve a student's education experience? Yes. Could we take it a step further and transform education itself? Yes.

The Business Innovation Factory's participatory design studio gives students the opportunity to use real-world research and design methodologies to transform their student experience. Framed within the context of a real problem, the lab leads students through the design process, ultimately landing on a set of solutions to improve their experience.

We invite you to learn more. Framed within a case story from our recent engagement with Utah State University, sections one through five will guide you through our approach for student-led R&D.

Methodology

The student voice matters. Through our Student Experience Lab, BIF explores how good design can improve the quality of experience for students by not only listening to the voices of the students but also engaging them in the development of new solutions.

We work closely with education officials, faculty and staff to ensure that students are given the tools, information and know-how they need to inform the design problem they are solving.

At the conclusion, students present their research and solution ideas for consideration of concept development and implementation.

Through the studio's "research-design-ideate" cycle of discovery students are required to:

  • Conduct secondary research to help inform their design problem
  • Formulate a primary research plan
  • Conduct field research into the experience of fellow students
  • Interview experts both inside and outside the system
  • Analyze their findings to reveal patterns, trends, and key insights; visually interpret these findings into an "experience map"
  • Generate ideas for new solutions informed by their primary research
  • Formally present their findings

Impact

Getting students directly involved in improving their own experience is priority number one for BIF's Student Experience Lab. In addition to offering education leaders with new ideas for enhancing the student experience, our participatory design studio demonstrates a new technique for engaging students in an ongoing innovation process that is both interdisciplinary and action-oriented. It's an important example of how organizations can proactively put students in the driver's seat of their own internal R&D activity.

Impact on Students

  • New way of thinking and doing
  • Working towards goal with no single answer
  • Ability to manage uncertainty and ambiguity
  • Ability to break down large, complex problems into workable pieces
  • Appreciation for systems-level thinking and what it takes to innovate and change
  • Increased engagement and strong sense of empowerment
  • Importance of collaborating with different disciplines

Impact on Faculty

  • New method of instruction that can be incorporated into other, more traditional class structures
  • A better and stronger understanding of the institution
  • Increased awareness of importance of collaborative teaching with people who bring in a variety of perspectives.
  • Renewed trust in students as valid contributors to conversation
  • Empowerment; Genuinely facilitating student-led research and development efforts to improve the institution.

Impact on Institution

  • Walking the talk: Forthrightly putting the student at the center of the R&D process
  • A new and genuine understanding of students' points of view
  • New, fresh ideas to improve student experience
  • Increased school pride
  • Breaking down of silos between departments and groups to enable collaboration
  • Activated network of students and stakeholders

Contact Us

The Business Innovation Factory (BIF) creates real world laboratories where organizations can design, prototype, and test new models for delivering value. BIF's mission is to enable business model and system level innovation in areas of high social impact, including health care, education, energy, and entrepreneurship.

BIF's Student Experience Lab provides an integrated model of design research that directly engages students in real-world R&D. By breaking through the bottlenecks that exist within education structures, BIF is pioneering a pathway that takes student-driven research and design off the whiteboard and into the real world.

In addition to building a broad open platform for transformation in education, BIF partners with a variety of organizations to conduct real-world systems-level experimentation.

To learn more, contact Sam Seidel, Student Experience Lab Director, or call 401-270-7906.

Approach

In advance of the participatory design studio, the Student Experience Lab works with key stakeholders to determine the challenge students will solve. This iterative and collaborative process allows for critical participant buy-in related to what the design problem is and what members of the institution will be called upon to help.

The Lab team then sets to designing a studio "syllabus" outlining specifics around the engagement including key learning, outcome and deliverables expected of the students or student teams.

The initial week of the studio serves as a foundation for students to understand both the design process and the challenge they will be tackling.

The Mission

  • Ignite passion and interest around student-centered R&D
  • Introduce students to the problem they will be solving.
  • Provide overview of the design process - it's methodology and purpose.
  • Establish virtual collaborative workspace for students

Quotables

Voice of the Student

Listen to what the students had to say about the design problem

"We all apparently have similar problems and issues. That is why it is important for us to address them in a way that makes secondary education more user friendly. I thought I was a lot different from everyone else but the problems would appear universal. I hope that I can be part of the solution. ~ Ann, Graduating Senior

"None of us have done this before. None of us know what the students are going to find. This is real world. We will see at the end. We have the process in place, but the students have taken this project on as their own." ~ Professor Jennifer Peeples, USU

Case Study

Fifteen students walk into a "classroom" at Utah State University (USU) on January 11, 2011 knowing they are part of a unique new course to improve their college experience. They range in age and matriculation from freshman to graduating senior. They are pursuing degrees from a variety of departments: international studies, language pathology, sociology, human resource management, biology, crop science. They are fairly certain they are part of something important because the class is being held in the Dean's conference room.

Instead of a standard syllabus, students are presented with a big hairy problem that suggested the following:

After high school, students must match interests and passions with an academic program and make important decisions about what courses to take and when to take them. Yet many students struggle with these choices and have little knowledge of the long-term consequences of their decisions.

Often, students have limited information about how elective courses or extracurricular activities fit with their chosen majors and/or programmatic or personal objectives. Many are frustrated that work-based or extracurricular learning is not counted or credited. Upon graduation, many have no idea how to represent the competencies and capabilities they've gained, and potential employers have little to go on in assessing candidates.

With this problem statement in mind, the challenge presented to students asked the following: What changes should be made to allow for a coherent and goal-focused educational experience for USU students?

Student Work

Re: What's in a college credit? By Dallen H

Read This

Attending college is like running a marathon. By Kenneth B

Read This

Reflections

What does it feel like for a student to be considered a valued contributor to improvement of their experience? Hear from students at Utah State University.

Quotables

"From the beginning of the project until the middle, the concept of the Design Studio class was rather confusing and shrouded in mystery. It was clear to us, however, that in order to get a solution, we had to work for it. Through time, we realized that, if anything, the experience would be worth the lessons learned if we invested as much time and effort as we could in diagnosing and finding solutions to problems." ~ Erica

"I discovered, probably more clearly than I ever have, that knowledge is power and people who were considered important within the University setting were willing to hear our voices because we knew what we were talking about." ~ Ann

Approach

Having identified a significant need or problem, the second phase of our participatory design studio helps students understand their problem as fully as possible in the context in which it occurs.

Research methods for human-centered design include secondary research, interviews, surveys, diary studies and other methods applicable to the formative stages of the design process. Students are introduced to various tools and techniques and asked to write a research plan.

With their research plan, students determine the biggest needs to accomplish their objectives, the types of people to recruit, the types of contexts to observe and the topics and questions to cover.

Working with experts both inside and outside the educational institution gives students the opportunity to understand the particular role their offices perform, how they currently address student needs, and the part their offices may play in potential solutions to the problems the students are exploring.

The Mission

  • Contextualize design problem
  • Develop research plan
  • Conduct primary research

Quotables

"I should be saying how privileged we were to be able to meet with and talk to all the experts we saw this week. I wish that all students could have that opportunity. It was apparent that the people we spoke to really cared about the students and wanted us all to succeed. I felt that they treated us as equals and didn't look down on us at all." ~ Ann

"The students' assignment was to conceive of a series of new ideas or tools to help the University, and its students, track and understand progress over time and represent student achievement. The problem is complex, the process, a bit ambiguous, and we instructors did not always have answers to their questions." ~ Christine

Case Study

Design-thinking is a process that aids multi-disciplinary collaboration. The process provides a structured creative process for discovering and developing products, services and experiences. Students are beginning to apply a wide range of design tools in this hands-on project.

The class broke into four groups to study how students devise pathways through the university. Class participants researched and analyzed how students track their academic progress, utilize university resources, understand the skills they are learning and ways to better articulate their capabilities to future employers. The students met with representatives from across the university including its advising center, career services, student services, and central administration. They learned about the university from the top down and then they talked to students themselves in order to improve it from the bottom up.

In the column to the right there are representative examples of work from each of the teams.

Student Work

Team AK-47

"The idea that the credit hour has, apparently, been an arbitrary measure of accomplishment is disturbing."- Dallen H.

Read This

Team The Miners

"The question 'Why doesn't everyone know about these things?' haunted us."

Read This

Team Rethink Your Resume

"All students come from different backgrounds, and students seek a higher education for a variety of reasons. Students have a wide variety of opportunities. However, what one gains from the college experience is highly influenced by one's perspective." -Jana P.

Read This

The Track Team

"Whether it's dropping out, "stopping out," or graduating, most students have no idea what lies ahead for them." ~ Kyle

Read This

Reflections

Design-driven research relies on deep empathy to explore the socio-cultural context in which people and organizations operate. Sensemaking in this crazy, complex and hair-raising environment proved challenging for many students. Instructors are mindful of this and we present the following "design squiggle" illustration from Damien Newman to illustrate the characteristics of the journey we were on. As uncomfortable as it is in the beginning (plenty of uncertainty and ambiguity) we were on a path to focus on a single point of clarity by the end.

The Process of Design Squiggle, Damien Newman
Source: The Process of Design Squiggle, Damien Newman

Quotables

"It's been quite the ride. Our problem was in reality quite hairy. It may have been a bit more hairy to me due to the fact that I have never been involved in or experienced a research project quite intensive as this. It opened my eyes. I was able to see, first-hand, just how important research is to work. My thinking was stretched, my creativity expanded, and my frustrations were pushed." ~ Braden

"I also learned how powerful teams can be. I've always hated group projects because I feel like it's so much harder to coordinate with and schedule around others. While that was still an inevitable difficulty, this was the first time I've actually enjoyed working with a group. We all came to really care about what we were doing and we were determined to see it to the end." ~ Kara

Approach

From observation and research, the Student Experience Lab guides students into analysis, showing them how to recognize patterns and anomalies from their research and ultimately, portray results through a "journey map" that visually charts the process and various touchpoints of the particular experience being examined.

With gathered data in hand, students begin to synthesize and interpret what they've seen and heard in order to translate the data into insights that help them describe the experience today in such a way that it points to opportunities for the future.

The insights will allow students to see big, important aspects of the experience in a new light. They will be actionable (something that can be translated into concrete, sensory, direct experience elements); meaningful (deeply linked to the research data); and inspirational (to help focus the student's creativity on the design problem).

The Mission

  • Make meaning of the data collected via key themes and insights
  • Produce a visual journey map of the student experience based on themes and insights
  • Write a preliminary research report outlining the findings

Quotables

Voice of the Student

Listen to what the students had to say about making sense of it all

"We were asked to return to the drawing board of our project after misinterpreting some of the major aspects of our Journey Map. Pinpointing problems and being self-critical was not pleasant. But it ensured a better outcome." ~ Erica

"Design thinking is a repeatable process for solving problems and discovering new opportunities for an improved future experience. At its core, design thinking learns from the experts in the system, including the people directly involved in the experience." ~ Christine Costello, Business Innovation Factory Design Director

Case Study

By far, this was the most challenging aspect of the design studio for the students. Building a student journey requires the observation of experience and the representation of that experience through various touchpoints. Our students were asked to examine in great detail the interviews conducted and then visually portray their findings. A healthy dose of iteration was built into the process.

In the column to the right, you will see the outcome of this effort and how each student team made meaning of the data they collected.

Student Work

Team: AK-47

Problem: Students struggle to meet the necessary requirements to succeed during and after their school experience; creating a network of "guesses" between higher education and students.

Read This

Team: The Miners

Problem: As students progress in their education, they become disenchanted and disconnected from the university. This is due to seemingly diminishing academic culture of support, loss of connections over time, etc.

Read This

Team: Rethink Your Resume

Problem: Do students understand the value or importance of the diploma, transcript or college experience?

Read This

Team: The Track Team

Problem: Many students struggle with matching interests and passions with an academic program and have little knowledge of the long-term consequences of their decisions.

Read This

Reflections

This studio wasn't a breeze. It challenged many beliefs and assumptions about learning and education. Hear what struggles students encountered at Utah State University and how they overcame them.

Quotables

"If only every student at Utah State could have the same experience that we have! I learned so much that would have helped me in the past. I'm just glad I still have at least two years to apply what has been shared so far." ~ Kyle

"I think we collectively feel like the artist who has been staring at the same canvas for months, who finally lets a few people see the unfinished painting, they get really excited, and provide a renewed passion for the artist to finish the masterpiece. It was comforting to know we do have intelligent and meaningful points to share. We are now empowered to talk to the bowties - yes!" ~ Kenneth

Approach

From observation, research and analysis, the Student Experience Lab guides students into ideation and brainstorming to identify opportunities for improving or innovating the experience. Brainstorming is one of the most stimulating and enjoyable steps in the innovation process.

Students are given tools and methodologies for brainstorming and techniques for interpreting their journey maps in order to identify opportunities that translate the currrent state of the student experience into a set of future possibilities. Solutions ideas are then generated for presentation.

The Mission

  • Create a social contract for collaborative idea-generation
  • Use creative tools for idea-generation
  • Develop opportunity areas for exploration
  • Devise novel solution ideas within opportunity areas

Quotables

Voice of the Student

Listen to what the students had to say about ideation and brainstorming

"Split into teams we quickly learned how to play to each anothers strengths and make the most of our combined abilties. I realized that teams that work well together can accomplish anything they set out to do." ~Ann

"The student emphasis was not on getting the grade, but on doing something meaningful and impactful. Most importantly, the students found they had a role to play in decisions being made at the institution. I anticipate that a new sense of agency will be the most lasting effect of students having taken this class." ~ Jennifer Peeples, Associate Professor, Speech Communication, Vice President, Environmental Communication Division, National Communication Association

Case Study

When our group of students where put to the task of finding solutions to problems within their university they were only participants in the system. It's fair to say they never considered any issues facing University faculty, staff, administrators and the system overall. They were mostly concerned about their own outcomes. Being participants in the system gave the teams some unique advantages in approaching their design problems. It was evident early on that they were unafraid to ask questions that may have been obvious to those who are more experienced with these problems. Viewing the current system of higher ed with fresh eyes and having a vested interest in their own outcomes in this system caused them to have a very strong approach when the teams developed their design solutions.

During this phase of the participatory design studio each team determined several opportunity areas for investigation. Their individual opportunity areas can be viewed in the sidebar to the right.

Student Work

Team: Rethink Your Resume

Problem: Do students understand the value or importance of the diploma, transcript or college experience?

Read This

Team: AK-47

Problem: Students struggle to meet the necessary requirements to succeed during and after their school experience; creating a network of "guesses" between higher education and students.

Read This

Team: The Miners

Problem: As students progress in their education, they become disenchanted and disconnected from the university. This is due to seemingly diminishing academic culture of support, loss of connections over time, etc.

Read This

Team: The Track Team

Problem: Many students struggle with matching interests and passions with an academic program and have little knowledge of the long-term consequences of their decisions.

Read This

Reflections

How did the design studio impact students personally and professionally? How will the experience impact their future academic journey? Utah State University students describe the influence of being part of student-led innovation in education.

Quotables

"This class was very unlike anything I've ever done, and especially like any class I've ever taken before. I've probably never been so uncertain about a class while still so motivated to see it through. This class has definitely taught me to be persistent. There were times when I thought we'd never find solutions or "figure anything out" but I cared enough about it to keep trying." ~ Kara

"I have learned to be teachable and fluid. Often the concepts of design, opportunity areas, insights, and solutions (etc.) were disconcerting, foreign, and confusing. Practicing the pieces that did work, while simultaneously experimenting, improvising, and improving was daunting; applying a partial "correct" while working to discover more "corrects" was difficult, but successful. Success was made possible by the constant conveyance by our advisors that it was ok to be confused or a bit off-kilter. What a great lesson for life. Something certainly does not have to be perfect to produce amazing results." ~ Dallen

"The project was frustrating, hectic and took over my life in a way that no other college experience has. I discovered, probably more clearly than I ever have, that knowledge is power and people who were considered important withn the University setting were willing to hear our voices because we knew what we were talking about. As I graduate I know that I might never see any benefit to the work we did in our Design Studio, life at USU will go on with out me, but I am proud to have been able to be a pioneer in a new kind of venture - one where students actively participate in their education and are empowered to make changes that will benefit others." ~Ann

Approach

Our participatory design studio begins by collaboratively defining a challenge for students to solve. We then work with students to create a research plan. From there students gather data - listening to and observing the people and experiences they identify to study. Next students synthesize and interpreted experiences into insights; insights into journey map; visualizing the particulars and realities of the student experience today. Finally, from their research, students identify opportunities and solutions for improving or innovating the experience.

The Mission

  • Create a social contract for collaborative idea-generation
  • Employ storytelling techniques to encourage adoption of proposed solutions.

Quotables

Voice of the Student

Listen to what the students had to say about final presentations

"The undergraduate research course has been one of the most rewarding experiences I have had in the fifteen years I have taught at the university level. The students immediately recognized that this was a different type of learning opportunity. Instead of studying for exams and writing papers (that may only be read by the professor), they were out in university community, focusing on real problems, asking questions, finding information and coming up with workable solutions." Jennifer Peeples, Associate Professor, Speech Communications, Utah State University

"We tried an experiment that allowed students to actually think about their own education during college. We created a course that nobody has ever taught before. This will be taken seriously by the administration, and by the larger world." Norm Jones, Professor and Chair of History & Director of General Education, USU

Case Study

In April 2011, the class presented its findings and recommendations to an audience of faculty, staff, administrators, and state education leaders.

Teams unveiled several proposals such as introducing a moderated chat system where students could get their questions answered informally - anytime - and accurately by trained advisors; moving advising and career services to one more visible location, and requiring freshman to take a yearlong class where they are informed about the colleges, services, and opportunities offered at USU throughout the year.

The idea is to introduce the information in spoonfuls rather than a lump sum during orientation when students are overwhelmed with emotions and more likely to forget.

The groups also suggested creating a more formalized process for declaring a major so that students can verbalize why they want to do what they think they want to do and receive feedback from faculty; and create an online tool that merges currently existing resources like Degree Works, major sheets, general catalog, onto one site.

Student Work

Team: Rethink Your Resume

Problem: Do students understand the value or importance of the diploma, transcript or college experience?

Download Final Report

Team: AK-47

Problem: Students struggle to meet the necessary requirements to succeed during and after their school experience; creating a network of "guesses" between higher education and students.

Download Final Report

Team: The Miners

Problem: As students progress in their education, they become disenchanted and disconnected from the university. This is due to seemingly diminishing academic culture of support, loss of connections over time, etc.

Download Final Report

Team: The Track Team

Problem: Many students struggle with matching interests and passions with an academic program and have little knowledge of the long-term consequences of their decisions.

Download Final Report

Reflections

Utah State University students explain why other colleges and universities should consider student-led R&D and describe some of the important outcomes from their journey.

Quotables

"This was a fantastic experience, mainly because it required a lot of me. I like things that are important and require a lot of effort. That makes it better. The best thing about having this experience behind me is not what conversation I can have about it, but the reality that it make me a better student and, one day, a better educator." ~ Andy

"The confidence to trust my competence came incrementally, though there were huge moments; there is a grand amount of validation that came when the Dean walked directly up to me after the student Menand panel discussion, through a crowd of people - both student peers and faculty - shook my hand, looked me in the eyes and said 'You should be Dean, I swear.' In that moment, my abilities were respected on par with the best in the room. That is motivation that continued hard work will create an ever-increasing amount of those moments." ~ Dallen

"This was a class that really had no predetermined end result; it was geared to teach the selected students design processes, and then allow the students to distill out original solutions. As a result I learned a new style thinking not often found in college; critical thinking. Normally a student does the work in order to find the professors answer; in this class we did the work to find new answers. While this may sound intuitive, it is a difficult switch for the a student, and one that I believe has benefited me greatly." ~ Wes