A walk on the student side of the street

Earlier this week I was invited to take part in one day meeting for the Jisc Student Summer of Innovation competition.  Never one to grumble about going to Birmingham,  I was really pleased that I could make this meeting to see and hear from the student projects as I hadn’t been able to make the previous meetings.

The rationale for the competition was to involve students in designing products to help the student experience. Who better to understand what students need than students themselves? The winners of the initial competition are now developing their ideas (for full details on who they are and how they were chosen read this blog post).  Monday’s meeting provided an opportunity to refine and present their “product pitches” to their peer group and invited external experts. The pitches were grouped into four sessions, where each project had a one minute pitch  followed by short “market place” sessions of c.20 minutes where further questions could be asked to the teams.

One minute pitches are quite an art form, so I’d like to say publicly how well I thought all the projects did. I was really impressed by the amount of work that they have all put into developing their ideas, and in some cases developing fairly sophisticated products already.

A couple of things did stand out for me, but more in terms of the issues (or should I say challenges) that the projects are dealing with. It seems that time management, sharing of notes, additional study skills, more tailored feedback (primarily via q&a), all done online with various peer recognition and/or reward systems (yes badges did come up more than once) are really high on the agenda. I did find this quite reassuring as I think most on the teaching side of things recognise these issues and there is lots of work (not least funded through various Jisc programmes) which are exploring and developing solutions to these issues too. The recognition of the role of students themselves was also really positive. However, there was maybe a slight “build it and they will come” naivety from all the projects.  Which is totally understandable coming from a bunch of  highly motivated students who have taken the time to get involved in the competition itself.  And they’re not alone in that respect.  Moving from a great idea to something that actually works and does actually “improve the student experience” is no mean feat, and very rarely relies on just technology itself.

I had fun playing at being a “dragon investor” for the day, and talking to a great bunch of students who were not only enthusiastic about their ideas, but also about the experience and opportunities that being involved in the competition has given them.  I hope my feedback, which was mainly around thinking about actual implementation, how people would actually use the products, evidence of need for the products, as well as some links to quite similar products and some relevant research were useful. I  was also not swayed at all by the fact that one of the projects brought along sweeties 🙂

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The teams are going to be doing it all again in a couple of months,  but this time to people who have real money.  I’m looking forward to seeing which of the ideas progress to real products.

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