By now you likely know that the Innovation Hub is talking to students in order to learn about their experiences at U of T. But did you know that we are also talking with staff and faculty to learn about their experiences working with students? This lesser-known aspect of the Innovation Hub is the work of the Organizational Learning team. Organizational learning refers to how knowledge is created, shared and preserved within an organization. We are trying to learn about how staff and faculty collaborate in order to share knowledge across divisions and how they collaborate in order to assist students.
What is Design Thinking?
In September I introduced you to the Innovation Hub project and explained how we are working on developing innovative solutions to improve the student experience at the University of Toronto. In this post I’ll describe the method we are using to innovate. At the Innovation Hub we are using a “design thinking” approach. This approach has its roots at IDEO, David Kelley’s global design firm, where techniques used to design products were applied to the design of organizational operations and services. You may not have heard of IDEO but you’ve likely been in contact with their design innovations. Among other things that IDEO has patents on are the Apple mouse, laptop computer hinges, and the stand-up toothpaste bottle.
As a recent graduate from the University of Toronto, I know first hand how intimidating and confusing the school can be. While experiencing services and opportunities that are offered was one of the highlights of my time at school, navigating the student experience at the University of Toronto can easily be overwhelming.
That’s where the Innovation Hub comes in.
By Emma Beaulieu, Domain Team Member, Access for Every Student Domain
It’s a more complicated question than it sounds. I’m an occupational therapy student, and accessibility is a big part of my chosen profession. Occupational therapy is all about helping people do the things they need to do, want to do, or are expected to do, and for that you need access to resources. In the most basic sense, that can mean putting ramps outside buildings so people using wheelchairs can get inside, or making “handicapped” spaces in parking lots. But that’s far from enough. Being a student involves a lot more than physically getting to school.
On November 10th and 15th, students and staff from across the U of T community gathered for the November Innovation Hours at the Centre for International Experience. Team members from each of the five domains—access for every student, fostering connectedness, future-ready students, integrated learning experience and whole student development—were present and ready to engage!
The Fostering Connectedness domain team has been talking with students about their sense of connection with U of T. An interesting insight we have discovered is that connectedness means different things to different people.
For some, it means knowing what is going on and not feeling like they are missing out on experiences just because they didn’t know how to find out what is available. Other students have said that a friendly environment where strangers smile at each other or making a friend in a class is what connects them to U of T.
One of the strengths of the Innovation Hub is its flexibility; the way we can adapt our process to fit the users (i.e. the students). Our goal is to inform our process while gathering information to continuously inform our process. Clear as mud? Probably. The process of innovation that we are embarking upon is quite unique to many processes we are familiar with. Our usual methods of data collection are carefully planned and meticulously executed; however can we really capture our ever-changing student population by narrowly defining what we want to capture? Or might it be interesting to instead tailor our tools to discover how students are captured best. While we don’t want our parameters to be constrictive, parameters are certainly helpful…especially when embarking on a series of student interviews.
During the October Innovation Hours we asked students, staff and faculty to help us create a map of the University of Toronto ecosystem as it relates to our five domains of innovation.
Ecosystem mapping is an exercise designed to discover all of the resources an organization has at their disposal including people, programs, services, members and their relation to each other in both digital and physical realms. An ecosystems framework is borrowed from biologists who study the relationships between organizations and their environment, especially the impact that they have on each other.
On October 5th, members of the Innovation Hub’s Domain and Operations Teams attended a training day where we learned about design thinking for innovation from Nogah Kornberg of the I-Think Initiative at the Rotman School of Management.
You might be wondering: what is design thinking exactly? It is all about developing innovations that respond to real people’s needs. As the Innovation Hub seeks to understand and respond to the unique needs of UofT’s students, design thinking is a method we are utilizing to learn more about students and develop innovations that provide further support.