McGill University uses Sprintbase to engage students online

Moving design thinking learning online at pace

The global health crisis caught university professors and students around the world by surprise. Classes that had been planned for in-person delivery suddenly had to be changed so that students could access them remotely.

Robert Nason

“I was teaching an entrepreneurship class and suddenly realised that seeing students in person was no longer going to be an option. I had to redesign the curriculum so that I could teach it online.

“This was a very hard transition for professors who are used to teaching in a specific way. It was a scramble for all of us – teachers and students alike. People had to manage their work and their home lives, children, care responsibilities. We had a short amount of time in which to reconfigure everything.”

Robert Nason,Associate Professor, Strategy & Organization at the Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill University

Introducing Sprintbase

For his undergraduate social entrepreneurship course, Robert decided to use Sprintbase to set his students a challenge to develop their own social impact solution.

The class, taken by students from a variety of majors, including humanities, international development, music, and english literature, explored social entrepreneurship in the context of start ups, social movements, and non-profit organizations and the challenges they face.

Robert placed everybody into teams based on their interests in addressing particular UN sustainable development goals (SDG). Using the SDGs as an organizing framework seeded ideas for solutions that students might want to develop.

Typical sessions started with a guest speaker to help bring assigned readings to life, and were followed by a group discussion about that week’s content. Each class then proceeded to elaborate the design thinking approach underpinning each phase of the project and class work commenced in Sprintbase in breakout groups.

Robert joined each group as they went to provide coaching, to review each team’s whiteboards, and to guide them through the process and keep everybody on track.

Meanwhile with his MBA class, Robert worked with external organizations to set challenges for students based on real issues businesses are facing.

The most recent one-week intensive project in this classs saw students develop a lab-to-market commercialization strategy for a new technology emerging from McGill’s bio-engineering faculty.  Although this wasn’t a typical human-centered design challenge, it drew heavily on design thinking principles and group work was conducted on Sprintbase.

Teams had access to the company founders, industry experts, and consulting professionals who provided feedback on early drafts of solutions and tips on how to pitch their ideas. The top three pitches then presented live to a panel of company founders, employees, and a potential angel investor.

Robert shares the benefits of teaching online

  • It’s pushed me to do quicker, shorter breakout groups, which are actually easier to run online.
  • People who are normally shy about speaking up now have more options for contributing as they can share their reflections via the video conferencing chat function rather than verbally.
  • It’s great to be able to do quick live polling with students and get responses right away.
  • I’ve involved guest speakers in our sessions and have found it easier to engage a wide variety of people as it’s easier for them to be available remotely.

Robert shares his views on the benefits of using Sprintbase

  • There isn’t a lot of consistency when learning remotely – not going to the same classroom and having a familiar environment is a big challenge. Sprintbase provided some consistency by being a common learning space for students.
  • The structure provided on the platform aligned well with the structure we would use anyway. We’ve been able to set students up to tackle problems using the design thinking approach.
  • The built-in tools, structure and worksheets can be easily integrated into our classes.
  • I like the built in flexibility. Being able to upload your own templates that students can integrate into whiteboards is great.
  • Whilst it was a learning curve for students, it didn’t take them long to understand the process and get into it.
  • I can see the value of still using Sprintbase when we’re back to working with students in person. It’s a great repository for everybody’s work and I could see it being integrated into face-to-face teaching so that people can keep doing a mix of synchronous and asynchronous work.

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