How the Crummer Graduate School of Business at Rollins College moved its design thinking course online

Graduate School of Business discovers the benefits of running a virtual innovation course

The challenge

When the global health crisis struck in early 2020, professors at the Roy E. Crummer Graduate
School of Business at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida, had no choice but to take their design thinking course online.

The School is one of the few anywhere that runs a human-centred design course in its MBA program as part of its core curriculum. The course was developed to provide the School’s students, who are recent college undergraduates as well as working professionals, the knowledge and experience they need to use innovation tools and mindsets to resolve business challenges – whether in their current day jobs or in the future.

But with a focus to date on experiential in-person classes, and limited use of remote learning tools as a School,  the flip to virtual came suddenly and was disruptive.

“You often think of design thinking as a group of people standing around whiteboards with post-its. But then when the whole model is suddenly blown to smithereens, what do you do?”
Dr. Keenan Yoho, Professor, Crummer Graduate School of Business, Rollins College

Classes were in the middle of an applied design challenge when the crisis hit and the professors realised their face-to-face approach was no longer going to be feasible. They needed a virtual solution to use instead, and fast.

“I was searching the internet with the keywords ‘best software for design thinking’ and Sprintbase came up as number one. The differentiator was that it provides methodological scaffolding which supports taking people through a process, which is what we needed. Additionally, and perhaps more importantly, the Sprintbase team partnered with us – they adopted the same sense of urgency we had to deliver the learning experience to our students.” Dr. Keenan Yoho

The Crummer Graduate School of Business at Rollins College runs its design thinking course across six weeks, so it was crucial that the team didn’t lose time getting everybody up to speed with a new system. The Sprintbase onboarding process took just over an hour, and by the end all students were ready to get started.

“We can’t afford to lose time getting our bearings, we need to get going straight away. We found Sprintbase and were onboarding everybody the following week.”
Dr. Keenan Yoho

How they did it

The School used Sprintbase to support its teaching and to give students hands-on experience running design and innovation projects. All of the students went through multiple cycles of the design thinking process, going a bit deeper each time.

Students were given a number of broad design challenges to work through, including ‘Design for lifelong learning’ and ‘Design for life in a pandemic’. The titles were purposely open ended, so that teams could go and speak to people and identify solutions with them in mind.

These conversations inspired students to look into a range of ideas, including how to design speech therapy for children in a pandemic, a new protective mask, and a better home office space. One group came up with an on-boarding experience for employees starting a new job during a pandemic, which could be delivered virtually.

Recreating college classrooms online

If students had come together in person, they would have worked in groups in different classrooms and had visits from their professors to discuss how they were getting on. Sprintbase enabled a similar environment to be created – with everybody coming together on the platform, and then dividing into breakout groups which their teachers could visit. They also encouraged students to drop in on each other’s meetings, as they would in person.

“It was like we were walking the halls like normal, it’s just we were doing it online.”
Dr Keith Whittingham, Associate Professor, Rollins College

Teams did a mix of simultaneous group work and individual work to keep progressing their projects. Whereas in a classroom setting, notes written on a whiteboard would have been erased after a class session, with Sprintbase work was continuous. People had the freedom to contribute their ideas at times of day when they felt most creative.

Crummer Graduate Business School professors share six reasons Sprintbase worked for them

  • Balance of flexibility and structure – Sprintbase is open enough so people can explore it, but it also has enough footholds and handholds that are structured in the platform so that progress is directed and evenly supported. It made our approach to teaching more flexible. Students could keep moving through different sections of the process between our sessions together.
  • Choice – It’s great for a professor acting as a course leader, as there are so many tools, and you can choose what you want to use. We were able to align with the six-step process that’s in there. The ability to upload our own information into the guidance section was incredibly useful.
  • Speed – Real-time updates meant everyone could see everything inputted as it happened. Teams got more done online than they would have if they were in the same room.
  • Connection – Design thinking courses work best when you’re there over your students’ shoulders, and Sprintbase provides that. We’re able to see exactly where they’re at any time and help out.
  • Possibility – Students liked that this process could take them anywhere. They’d go out and build their empathy, see the challenges we’d set from people’s perspectives, and start generating ideas.
  • Mindset shifts – Some students were initially sceptical about working online, but everybody got so much out of the experience. And as teachers, it showed us just how much we can achieve virtually – both now and in the future.
“This has changed how we will teach this course in the future. We will always use this, whether teaching in person or not, as it opens up what you can do with design.”
Dr. Keenan Yoho and Dr Keith Whittingham

Feedback from students

“Sprintbase has been HUGE in tackling this very in-person, hands-on class in an effective way.”

“Hands on experience through Sprintbase was amazing and helped us learn almost as well as we
would in the classroom.”

“I thought the Sprintbase tool was an amazing resource for us in this course. It has everything we
need to complete design challenges and keeps it organized, simple yet creative.”

“It was difficult [being in a virtual environment] but the Sprintbase platform helped a lot in
keeping the momentum of the class going.”

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