Redefining Traditional

This year, the Redefining Traditional team is continuing their virtual community for student–parents that have been inspired and innovated through partnerships with the University of Toronto Libraries, School of Graduate Studies, Family Care Office, Student Family Housing, Sport and Rec, and moreThis is a community where student-parents can work together and consider how we can redefine traditional in higher education. The team will work to provide an accessible website, resources and opportunities to connect and engage through a Facebook Group 

The Redefining Traditional Backstory

Redefining Traditional emerged from the Innovation Hub's previous design thinking projects that directly engaged with student parent communities at the University of Toronto. This journey began in 2018 in collaboration with the Family Care Office, where design research teams gained a deeper understanding of student parent needs through three design research projects. The need to redefine the traditional university experience into one that is more inclusive of families became immediately evident. From 2018-2020, we explored this need and what higher education communities can do to support student parents.

A tree with colourful triangles as leaves, growing outside the walls of a box

In 2020 we began to work with multiple partners at U of T, including the University of Toronto Libraries, School of Graduate Studies, Student Life, Family Care Office, Student Family Housing, Sport & Rec, and additional community partners. We began asking an important question: how might the university community better support student parents? Through research and collaboration, we began to envision a day-long conference that would bring together student parents & their supporters in the higher education community: student parents, researchers, staff supporters, faculty and policymakers. Unfortunately, the global pandemic pre-empted the conference, and we changed directions to build an online community to support student parents around the world. Since 2020, we have been building a virtual student parent community, sharing insights and stories, highlighting research and resources, and more.

If you would like to learn more about what we are currently doing at Redefining Traditional, visit our website. Our findings from each of our design research projects are also available below.

Our Findings

Our work with Redefining Traditional began in Fall 2018.

2020-2021: How can we bring together student parents, researchers and practitioners?

This project explored "how might we best connect and inspire all participants in student parent communities in higher education - including student parents themselves, student representatives, and university personnel". Through this inquiry, design researchers asked two core questions:

  • What are the challenges and opportunities that university personnel and student representatives encounter in supporting student parents?
  • What is needed for university personnel and student representatives to talk about creating, together with student parents, more family-friendly higher education?

Our report presents three themes describing barriers to, and opportunities for, supporting student parents within the broader university culture:

A diagram of four hectagons connected, each representing the themes in the research provided.
  • I Want to Know Who You Are
  • We Are Resources
  • We Need to Access Them Too
  • Building Community Across Divides

The themes include discussion questions to prompt conversation and for facilitators to use in their own communities. The Innovation Hub also used these themes to create design principles and recommendations to ideate a June 2020 symposium on student parents’ needs (currently postponed).

Read more about the project:

2019-2020: How can we better support student parents on campus?

The needs that were highlighted in our previous project were further explored through an additional design research project in partnership with Family Care Office. This happened through a series of student parent design research events to engage in meaningful discussions and ideate possibilities for higher education communities. Core questions that were asked were:

  • What simple things can U of T do to be more family-friendly?
  • What resources and support systems would create a more inclusive culture?
  • How can we take concrete steps to address some of the issues identified in the 2018– 19 inquiry?

These questions highlighted needs of:

  • Developing Connectedness
  • Changes to Communicating Information and Accommodations
  • Creating Spaces and Providing Resources
  • Increasing Inclusivity and Visibility

To learn more about these needs actionable steps communities can take, please visit the report & blog below.

Diagram of Colourful circles intersecting, each overlapping point represents a theme outlined in the reserach.

2018-2019: What are the experiences of student parents at U of T?

Design researchers gained a deeper understanding of student parent experiences, what they need, and how higher education communities can support student parent experiences and needs. The 2018-2019 report highlights core needs of:

  • Finding Belonging
  • Navigating Systems
  • Emotional Pressure
  • Practical Needs

These core needs became the foundation of design thinking research in collaboration with student parent communities and the Family Care Office.

Colourful icons of individuals, representing different types of people and families