Delving into the Digital Campus: Birds of A Feather, Do Flock Together

Sanskriti smiling to the camera outside

By Sanskriti Maheshwari, Design Researcher

This blog post is part of Delving into the Digital Campus, a four-part series in collaboration with the Digital Community & Connectedness Project, aimed at understanding how students find and make connections in digital spaces. Each post is a written reflection from our Design Researchers, sharing how the insights from their project has resonated with them in their own lived experiences. 


Ever been told that opposites attract?

Through taking a course on Interpersonal Relationships, I uncovered something quite eye-opening. ‘Opposites attract’ is just a fantastical expression used to keep us invested in the romantic relationships and friendships that play out in front of our TV and movie screens. In reality, I have found that birds of a feather do in fact flock together. For example, in my own life I have observed that most of my closest friends have identical hobbies, personalities, political views, and so on. When meeting new individuals, any differences in interest or personalities can seem more pronounced than they really are. Possibly because a foundation built on a shared purpose hasn’t been established just yet.  This is also something I learnt from my experience conducting the Stories from a Distance Sessions and The Digital Community & Connectedness Project.  

In Community: the Importance of Reflection & Meaningful Work

By Betelehem Gulilat – Lead Editor & Writer

Betelehem outside smiling at the camera

ZOOMlockdown and asynchronous. These are some of many words that come to mind for this academic year. It’s also been a year of many firsts. Many more students have been attending classes remotely, campuses have transformed, and the Class of 2020 has celebrated their graduation virtually in their homes within their bubbles.

The uncertainty unearthed many concerns for the future both near and far. Whether its deciding where to study or spend time with friends, or travelling amongst a sea of students, losses have been felt all around. For others, the pandemic might have also felt like an unexpected gift to reflect on what’s important. Perhaps it’s been a mix of everything, too! We have seen these realities in our work, both through research projects and in our own teams. Reflection on what we have accomplished this last year not only helped us learn from our experiences, but it also reaffirmed why holding space for meaningful work is so important.

Transforming the Instructional Landscape: Moving Towards Learner Centric Design in Times of Change

By Philippa Gosine, Senior Research Assistant

Philippa Gosine, Senior Researcher, smiling at the camera in the sunny outdoors.

Through our user-centered consultations, we’ve realized that learning spaces are extremely personal and important places for the people that use them. Instructors and students have a strong sense of ownership over their classrooms and want to see their individual needs and preferences in the design of learning spaces.  

Student & Youth Mental Health Research Initiative – The Student Advisory Committee

By Emma McCann – Engagement Lead & Kristin Cleverley – Chair, Student & Youth Mental Health Research Initiative

A headshot of Dr. Cleverley smiling to the camera wearing a dark blue blazer.
Dr. Kristin Cleverley

A headshot of Emma McCann smiling to the camera, wearing an olive green shirt.
Emma McCann

The Innovation Hub has been involved in a scope of conversations on mental health, wellness, and initiatives to support students. Most recently, our work with the Presidential & Provostial Taskforce on Student Mental Health shone a light on many needs in the community and has been a launch pad to important partnerships and initiatives to further support students at the University. We deeply understand how it’s so important to continue to highlight what is happening now in the community on student mental health and opportunities to be a part of these important conversations.

If you are a student and are passionate about improving campus mental health through collaborative research, we encourage reading this week’s special blog post on the Mental Health for Students & Youth Research Initiative!

*** Please note that the deadline to apply to this wonderful opportunity has been extended to January 11th, 2021! ***

Embracing Change – How our Process of Innovation Has Empowered New Areas of our Work

Kaitlyn Corlett smiling at the camera
Kaitlyn Corlett, Senior Project Assistant

In times of uncertainty, navigating an unfamiliar space can feel like an impossible task to achieve. Last March, we were in this very spot where we didn’t know what our work at the Innovation Hub would look like. But what we did know is that whatever it may beit would be immensely valuable in these times. By embracing change we’ve been exploring new ways to support the UofT community and ensuring we continue to drive our work by students for students through our design research projects. We’re so excited to share that by embracing change, new channels of our work have been inspired to connect individuals and build community in dynamic ways.

What Matters to UofT Students? The Innovation Hub’s 4-year journey to understanding this question

Julia smeed smiling at the camera, wearing a striped shirt
Julia Smeed smiling at the camera

Well into our fourth year at the Innovation Hub, we continue our mission to improve campus life through student-centric design. Over the last four years, we have collected an immense amount of data, including over 600 interviews from students and other community members from across campus. Our diverse teams of students have logged over 4,600 hours of data analysis to generate empathy for students and their experiences on campus.

There is tension in our work, and our teams have learned that we must recognize the biases we carry from our respective capacities. The diversity of our teams is a strength and we challenge each other daily to understand how our own perspective is just one perspective, shaped by our own positionality. I feel so privileged to lead these diverse teams of students in this work and I learn alongside of them each day. I also feel honoured that so many students have felt safe to share stories of their experiences with us. Our job is to constantly think about how we honour these stories and ensure that they are shared back to the larger UofT community.

Lessons in Listening

Innovation Hub members practising their interviewing skills

By Anusha Arif, Writer

To design for students, we need to understand the student experience. Thus, the Innovation Hub prioritizes learning to listen—interviewing empathically and attuning ourselves to the world revealed through participants’ words. Though ‘listening’ is a basic skill, listening deeply is another art, and learning is an important part of the process. Some Innovation Hub members come with experience from anthropological, sociological, or other human-centred research, but many others are new to empathic interviewing. How does this learning process go for them? What do they find challenging and interesting?

Student Life Redesign: Gathering Student Perspectives about Campus Life

Students at UofT

By Sujaya Devi, Design Research Team Lead (Student Life), and Cynthia Zheng, Writer

Each student’s journey through the university is unique. Yet most students spend a significant amount of time on campus—going to classes, studying at the library, hanging out with friends—and the services, resources, and student services at the university play a crucial role in their experiences. Among other services, the Division of Student Life handles Health and Wellness, the Centre for International Experience, the Career Centre, Academic Success, and Housing, and thus it provides a space for students to get support and strengthen skills, including mentorship, leadership, and time management.

Gathering Student Voices on Mental Health

Kate Welsh, Design Research Team Lead, Mental Health Task Force

The cornerstone of our approach at the Innovation Hub is “students talking to other students.” We believe that peers relate to each other more openly and advocate for each other more strongly and that peer-based support both provides comfort and leads to change. This belief invigorates all our projects, including our upcoming partnership with the Presidential and Provostial Task Force on Student Mental Health, in which we are leading student consultations to gather perspectives about mental health on campus. While I, as a staff member, am coordinating this project, students are co-leading the initiative with me.