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Innovation Research
initiatives

Problem Statement

How might we nuture student innovation, AKA discovery projects?

Background

University students are curious, capable, and ready to change the world around them. However, many of their efforts are destined to be short-lived because of their experimental nature. In particular, IT projects may deserve a longer life than their student-creators' academic careers. Impediments to longer life can be avoided by adopting sustainable practices including conventional software stacks. Also, early guidance on ethical and legal concerns can keep a project on track for success.

With longevity can come recognition from prospective employers, as students are able to point to their code running in production systems. Coordination of student concerns into mutli-semester for-credit projects addressed by multi-disciplinary teams can provide a strong foundation from which to move into post-graduate life.

My Role

  • Project initiator and director
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Methodologies

  • Literature reviews
  • Interviews
  • Co-design sessions
  • Journey mapping
  • Test class projects
Student Innovation Program

Process

With support from UC Berkeley's Academic Senate, I hired a graduate student researcher to perform comparative research about student innovation programs. Over a summer we created a proposal for a Student Innovation Program (SIP).

Over the ensuing year I conducted workshops with students, developed journey maps, and tested varied approaches to class projects.

journey map

Findings

  • Early experiences matter: Prior to workshops with students, I tested a journey mapping template I created for this research. Based on feedback, I modifed the format, script, and some icons. However, it was not until a few dozen students had drawn journey maps that I learned that the timeline started too late — on a student's first day on campus. Prior contact with campus in the form of a job or pre-college class had significant impact on student success. This underscored the need for early institutional contact in the form of orientation and outreach.
  • APIs and data sets: In tests of projects for academic classes, the scope of student work was limited by their lack of access to APIs and data sets. While federal law mandates some restrictions, modified permissions and test data sets allowed students to contribute more fully.
  • Two+ happy paths: STEM students' journeys often began with semesters of academic course work leading up to research questions and an exploratory project. In contrast, some humanities students had their research topics defined early on, and needed institutional knowledge before they could proceed. The many individual pathways challenge a fixed set of discovery steps with consistent support structures.
  • Resource catalog: Perhaps the biggest impediment to innovation projects is the sheer volume of opportunities and resources at the insitution. This suggests a centralized repository of locallly maintained resources.

Related Outcomes

  • Chancellor's Discovery Initiative
  • Division of Computing, Data Science, and Society's planned Data Hub, which will support research, discovery and innovation

Reflection

  • The emphasis on co-curricular experiences such as discovery projects in a student's academic career is a seismic shift away from the centuries-old classroom-centric model. Adoption of this emphasis will take time, along with the development of new tools and structures.
journey map