Introduction

Learning by Doing At The Innovation Hub

Learning by Doing At The Innovation Hub

By Betelehem Gulilat – Lead Editor & Writer

Beth smiling towards the camera in a bright and sunny garden.

Since our launch in June 2016, our work has been led by over 100 work-study students across different programs and years of study reflecting the diversity making up UofT’s campuses. From undergraduate to PhD students, UX designers to engineers, we believe every students’ perspective and lived experience can help deepen our understanding of the complex and nuanced experience of student life on campus.  

The value we bring to our partners and the broader UofT community has in exchange brought immense value to students’ career development and experiential learning. This is demonstrated by the incredible careers our community members have embarked on as well as the lasting, meaningful connections we’ve developed with our former team members.  

Designing with and for Students 

If you are a regular reader of our blog, by now you’ve probably established that we design with and for students. The reason why we assemble a diverse student-led team is because we believe the very users of university campuses are the real agents of positive social change, alongside University partners.  

Students as users of higher education, are experts of the student experience. They provide invaluable insights on what is and isn’t working within the university landscape, including the changes that need to be made to design a campus experience for all students. 

For these insights to be fully grasped and embodied in our design principles, students are essential to our innovative process and are the very fabric of the Innovation Hub. From dialogue-based discussions to our final presentations, we want to ensure students’ messages are articulated and amplified when presenting findings to UofT partners and campus change-makers.

Students know students best. Using our equity-based framework, students develop our projects and facilitate our discussions to ensure our student participants are comfortable enough to share their personal experiences free from any apprehension.  

By working at the Innovation Hub, students gain the opportunity to learn and grow in a professional environment alongside their peers. Over the years, we’ve helped to hone our collaborative processes and teams to ensure that everyone has a meaningful learning experience here. 

As learners in a design thinking space, perfection is a nearly impossible feat. We often spend most of our time unraveling knots to wicked problems that are hard to define. In this space, students are expected to fail but most importantly, try, try again. This can be an uncomfortable space to be in but is part of what makes our work at the Innovation Hub a unique experience for students.

Skills Cultivated at The Innovation Hub  

Over the years, our past and current teams have shared a vast number of skills, obstacles, and new possibilities they’ve experienced while working with us. No matter what position you may hold on our team, our students have an opportunity to gain career-level experience within months of working at the Innovation Hub. Students can accelerate their professional development by strengthening existing skills and building upon new ones. Below we list a number of transferable skills our team members have developed throughout their time at the Innovation Hub.  

Communication

  • Whether it’s verbal communication or written, much of our work is immensely collaborative and can also challenge students to communicate in new ways.  
    • Learning effective verbal communication within a team to ensure that feedback is constructive and supportive 
    • Fostering a sense of trust to learn how to share ideas amongst team members 
    • Learning how to effectively co-write and embrace multiple perspectives in a project 
    • Writing about complex issues in accessible ways requires clear, effective, and succinct writing styles – many of our students have shared how they have learned this within our work  

Organization

  • Our work can be fast-paced and dynamic, while also being methodical to ensure that we approach our projects with equity and accessibility at their core. This requires an immense amount of organization. 
    • Learning how to balance and effectively meet internal deadlines to ensure that our work is complete when shared with our partners 
    • Effectively planning, checking-in and coordinating needs to ensure projects are completed in time – especially important when working with various team cohorts (such as the Design Research team working with Digital Storytellers to visually design their work)  
    • Prioritizing tasks and learning new ways to be productive
    • Sharing questions or concerns to team members to ensure you are supported in your work 

Collaboration

  • With effective communication and organization, collaboration can flourish! Here are some things students might learn and strengthen at the Innovation hub.  
    • Developing skills to regularly update teams on their work progress amidst busy schedules 
    • Being accountable, which is a major area in our work – team members learn how to be accountable with one another, share timelines, ask for help, and complete tasks independently and collaboratively to ensure that projects can move forward 
    • Goal setting and growth aimed to support students to identify their team’s communication styles, embrace strengths and weaknesses to grow together, and to better understand their team and their work 

A few other skills our team continues to develop are time-management and problem-solving skills which integrate with a lot of the skills we’ve mentioned above. Apart from work-related skills, students have named moments of self-realization and personal growth throughout their time at the Innovation Hub. From finding new passions to discovering their dream careers, we are incredibly fortunate to provide an opportunity for students to be involved in real meaningful work that directly impacts the UofT student community and beyond. 

How To Get Involved  

To design an equitable and inclusive campus experience, it takes the joint effort of students and University community members to collectively work together in recognizing and actively changing systems in place to improve the University experience. As a student, you can make a meaningful impact for your peers and future UofT students by joining the Innovation Hub team or participating in one of our dialogue-based discussions, which you can find by hovering over the Get Involved tab found on right corner of the Innovation Hub home page.  

A group of people around a table collaborating on a project
Our team’s co-working session in the 2019-20 Term

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