Tri-C: Bringing student voice to the heart of planning

Using multiple sprints to improve students’ college experience

Running sprints to solve problems has become business as usual for Dr. JaNice Marshall, Vice President at Cuyahoga Community College, Ohio, and her colleagues.

For the last few years, they’ve been using design sprints to help find more innovative and effective ways to achieve the goals set out in their strategic plan, which are all about connecting with potential students, enrolling them at the college, and ensuring they progress successfully through their courses.

Our goal was simple – to integrate innovative mindsets and approaches while co-creating new approaches to meeting the needs of our diverse community. Our projects included topics such as designing an app to increase student engagement, creating new approaches of moving content from face to face to virtual, and increasing inclusive approaches to those often are not served.

Whilst supporting the college with the development of its strategic plan, Dr. Judith Cardenas at innovation consultancy Strategies by Design, introduced Dr. Marshall and her colleagues to design thinking and Sprintbase.

Since discovering the approach and the platform, they’ve been able to move their efforts online and engage more colleagues and people in the community.

Here, Dr. Marshall shares her experience:

“I have about 21 teams and they focus on something different, whether it’s College and Career Readiness, Women in Transition, supporting students who are already in college, or programs that help adults over 20 to secure their high school diploma.

We were already running sprints, but then we found Sprintbase and it gave us a unique opportunity to run sprints remotely, and bring people together who weren’t necessarily all on the same team, which was fantastic.”

Building empathy

Sprintbase has enabled us to run sprints for unique populations. We bring teams together from multiple perspectives to explore what we know about how students engage with a particular program or service, and how the college can improve that experience.

Using Sprintbase has helped us recognize that there are a number of barriers individuals face. Now we’re able to pull together teams to focus on different aspects of the user experience to serve the students better and meet the outcomes of our strategic plan.

The beauty lies in the relationships we garner with our populations, whether it’s high school students or community-based students, we recognize that building those relationships first is key. And once you have the relationship, you have to understand that no one student’s journey is the same, and nor are the benefits a program will bring.

Before the pandemic hit, all our programs were delivered face to face. So not only did we need to connect and convert people, but also design remote programs that our teams could deliver, and that our audiences would want to engage with.

So communication was key. Even though we’ve worked with these populations before, we don’t operate on the assumption that we know everything. That empathy stage is taken very seriously – of gathering the information and allowing that research phase to guide the rest of the process.

What they learned

We’ve all learned how to listen differently and how to collaborate more effectively.

It’s now second nature for us to think in terms of ‘How might we…?’ questions when we face a challenge, and we no longer assume that we already know what the solution is.

We’ve learned to listen to what the evidence tells us and to let go of fear about innovating.

We’ve also really learned to understand the process, and allow ourselves to fail fast. We know we don’t have to get to the solution that’s going to be right straight away.

It would have been so much easier just to do what had already been done. But we weren’t meeting the needs of as many students as we could. Using design thinking as a framework demands that we go through this iterative process to get to the solution that’s best.

Our sprint teams include between seven to ten people with great cross-team collaboration. It’s led to much more engagement beyond immediate teams and into the community. We’ve seen how much people love being asked to add their voices to a sprint. It gives them a sense of pride and importance.

Outcomes

A lot of things have changed along the way as a result of running sprints. In some cases, we’ve innovated processes and programs from start to finish.

Here are three examples of things we’ve done:

  • 1. Our educational opportunity center is a community facing program that supports adults who are interested in coming back to college.

    The team serves a broad audience of people who are 18 and older. They made an assumption that going out, doing an information session, and giving people the link to sign up to apply would be enough. But then they ran a sprint looking at ‘How might we work better collaboratively to do our outreach?’

    It helped us to step back and see where in the process we needed to iterate, and integrate an outreach component working with community partners. It was a real ‘aha’ moment for the team.

  • 2. Another program was looking to iterate its recruitment process. Their typical approach was to go to schools and speak to different classrooms about their offer.

    But when we engaged students in a sprint, they shared that one of the main ways they found out about our programs was through their mom, aunt or other family member. It showed that they were missing the wider community that influences people’s decisions from their whole recruitment process. Speaking to students helped us to understand that.

  • 3. On a more strategic level, we’ve also used sprints to inform how we become an education institution of the future. Engaging a group of leaders across campus, we were able to leverage our experiences, knowledge, and research to inform a transformational, tactical strategic plan. It’s exciting to know that a design sprint was part of that outcome.

Sprintbase Whiteboard

Benefits of using Sprintbase

The capacity to work together and alone has allowed individuals to work when it suits their calendars. Before using Sprintbase, whenever we needed to get together, it was difficult to manage so many different schedules.

Having access to a workspace for everybody is fantastic. Gathering your research in those first phases, and having it in one place makes such a difference. We love the voting aspect too.

That we didn’t have to engage a secretary or administrator to take notes was incredible. Everything we produce goes straight into the system. When we were doing design sprints in person, somebody had to gather and type up all the paper and post-its.

The training and information sessions have been invaluable as it’s given us all confidence that we can do this.

The whiteboards and the iterations being made are fantastic. I know that I am valued as a Sprintbase customer from the iterations I continue to see in the design.

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