Exploring Conversations Between Students and Faculty

Photo of MichaelBy Michael Clark, Manager, UX at EASI and Innovation Hub Big Ideas Team Member – Student-Faculty Exploration Cafe

I initially heard about the Innovation Hub during a conversation with Julia Smeed. Through our conversation, I learned that the purpose of the Innovation Hub was to bring students, staff and faculty together in an effort to improve the “U of T Experience”.  And, that’s where my involvement came in.

I signed up to be a part of one of the Big Ideas Projects, namely, the Student-Faculty Exploration Cafe. Our group was tasked with the investigation of a cafe that would facilitate valuable exchanges between faculty and students. The idea behind our project was inspired by a contemporary take on 19th-century English coffee houses and French salons that facilitated such exchanges in their time.  Our team is made of both students and staff. In this way, each one of us has had the opportunity to contribute our academic or professional experiences towards this project. 

Many of the team’s early conversations were focused on synthesizing insights from the formative work that preceded us in earlier stages of the Innovation Hub’s working teams. Those preceding exercises were conceptually quite broad, and covered a lot of territory.

Through a series of exercises, our team lead, Clara Luca, helped us make sense of all this pre-existing data that had been provided to us. This allowed us to look at the information from a different angle, and glean new insights that would inform our subsequent work. Furthermore, this helped us develop a clearer picture on what to include in our more focused recommendations. We complemented these initial ideas with precise input gathered from a series of interviews with relevant groups across the University community, including  potential student and faculty attendees, event organizers, space managers and more.

In addition to these efforts, through structured exercises of empathy, costs and benefits, as well as prototyping some of our more promising ideas, we synthesized the input of our interviewees, our own team ideas and our direction from the Innovation Hub itself into a refined list of criteria and principles that will help those working on the next stages of this project. I won’t pull back the curtain back on those details in this post but I look forward to the big reveal that’s coming soon.

So far, my involvement in the Innovation Hub has been an interesting journey. Enacting change across U of T is obviously a large-scale undertaking, but I’m excited to see what happens next. It takes a community to improve a community, and the Innovation Hub has been a successful example of  what a diverse group of engaged participants can accomplish at U of T.

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