Sourcing ideas for digital technologies that students actually want

Paul Bailey on why Jisc goes directly to the learners themselves when looking for digital innovations

September 12, 2015
20 August 2015 digital edition

Nine out of ten start-ups fail, according to venture capital and investment database CB Insights, with the lack of a market for their product blamed by the majority.

In the fast-growing world of learning technology, organisations are being tasked to come up with new digital solutions that will positively impact on the learning experience – but how can they be sure that the products they develop are viable, unique, and actually in demand from students?

The answer, in my opinion, is simple: when seeking transformative technology ideas for student life, your first port of call should be the students themselves.

For three years Jisc has invited students to submit their lightbulb moments for improving education, research and student life in our Summer of Student Innovation competition. The view being that Jisc will take the best ones into product development, providing the sector knowledge and technical expertise to overcome some of the difficulties that cause so many start-ups to collapse.

In every case there needs to be an eye on the bigger picture – is there a genuine demand for a product of this type within the UK education sector? Is what’s being proposed scalable and beneficial to other departments, colleges and universities?

Two university teams from this year’s cohort have stood out with technology ideas that we feel genuinely fill a gap in the market and could have broad appeal.

Our panel was hugely impressed with SALT: The Student's Academic Literacy Tool from a team of students at the University of Teesside. The issue they have identified is in undergraduates having to meet the high benchmark in writing academic assignments. To aid students and help them improve, they are proposing a support tool where the individual can assess their writing and check off once they’ve attained an acceptable standard.

Early feedback is encouraging – already the team has conducted research on a prototype service with 160 of their peers, with the vast majority reporting positively on their experiences – and we see potential particularly with getting learners in further education (FE) and skills ready for university.

The other concept we will be looking to develop is Coursemash, by Imperial College London master’s student Henri Bouvier. Henri sees an opportunity to create a forum whereby current students can compare their course options for the coming year, including getting feedback and ratings on lecturers, course structure and exams to support them in making informed decisions about which ones to take. Currently there does not exist a single place where this information can be accessed, and an app of this type would provide important new intelligence to students.

Both SALT and Coursemash show much potential for improving student life. The next step is to take these ideas from the design stage and into development so that everyone can easily reap the benefits.

Paul Bailey is senior co-design manager at Jisc, the UK higher and further education sectors’ not-for-profit organisation for digital service and solutions.

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