Annual Report 2019

Year Four: Beyond the Start-Up

2019 was an important year in the short life of the Hub for Innovation in Learning and Technology. This is the year we transitioned from startup to our first “run” phase, which we marked by engaging in strategic planning for the first time with campus partners. We delivered some of our most impactful projects to date, and we also leaned into perhaps our most future-facing work. We highlight some of that work in this report.

We believe more deeply than we ever have that there should be a premium placed on design and change functions in higher education — on creativity, innovation, and change management. We face significant issues such as persistent systemic oppression, demographic change, continued defunding of public education, cost pressures for both public and private institutions, and the opportunities and challenges of educational technologies. Then, of course, we have the shock of the COVID-19 pandemic, which will reverberate for years. Given that, it is surprising how few institutions have functions focused on thoughtful, iterative problem-solving and opportunity identification.

The Hub is a response. It is a design group inside a large university, and in this respect, it is a bet that faculty, students, and staff are willing to bring forward ideas for change and engage in design as a way to explore the possibility that our universities can be other than they are. It is also a material argument for a kind of work that must happen in higher education.

Can higher education institutions actually redesign themselves? We’ve seen it happen. Moreover, we think it will be necessary to do so in ways that are thoughtful and sustainable. We believe the projects we highlight in this year’s report are a good example of meaningful, sustainable change.

If the challenges facing higher education are as grave as the literature suggests, then the biggest challenge is the extent to which we are capable of asking and answering fundamental questions about the needs of students, faculty, staff, and communities and our ultimate purpose in meeting them. To ask and answer questions like these is to design. Please join us.

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iOS Design Lab

The iOS Design Lab is a learning experience that prepares students for innovation in the digital age. By bringing design, technology, and entrepreneurship together within Apple’s iOS ecosystem, the lab amplifies students’ skills with the integrative mindset that we need to see in our future leaders.

Students in iOS Lab working on laptops, tablets, and coding pieces.

End of year snapshot

This year, a group of 25 students participated in the iOS Design Lab. They were introduced to the basics of app design through a collaboration with campus experts and Apple employees. Teams of students were then guided through Apple’s Challenge-Based Learning (CBL) to solve challenges in their communities with design principles, before pitching their app prototypes to audiences of interest. By focusing on creativity, design, and teamwork, the one-year, cohort-based experience was an opportunity for students to explore and practice sociotechnical 21st-century skills while connecting with partners on campus and beyond.

On the horizon

The iOS Design Lab project has attracted interest from other peer institutions in the U.S. and was featured at the Apple CIO forum as well as at the national MBA Roundtable in 2019. Strategic plans for 2020 include offering the opportunity for more students at MSU and giving the option to receive course credits for it. We will also move to a semester schedule to increase availability to students, while continuing to partner with the College of Arts and Letters, the Broad College of Business, and the Libraries to staff our instructional team. We will also provide Year 2 options for returning students, including the opportunity for students to become coaches. Finally, we are also planning on creating an online/hybrid version of the iOS Design Lab to respond to situations where face-to-face instruction might not be available.

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The MSU App is a native mobile app for iOS and Android devices built to improve the daily experience of students and community members at Michigan State. With a heavy focus on the design process and input from students, the app includes a variety of features useful to users who need to access information quickly and on the go such as course schedules, dining hall menus, and an interactive map of campus.

iphone screen with MSU app

End of year snapshot

iphone screen with MSU app.

This year was the second academic year the MSU App has been available to students, and we saw a 166% increase in monthly active user count compared to the first year. For the first time, the app was used at New Student Orientation, assisting the transition to a more digital orientation experience by providing students with a personalized schedule of events and helping them navigate campus using their phone. The app also underwent a complete redesign based on feedback from visiting the Apple Enterprise Design Lab in May 2019, as well as many on-campus input sessions with students. The redesign focused on making the app easier to navigate and understand, allowing users to access important information quickly.

On the horizon

The MSU App project is transitioning from a phase in which already existing information and services are migrated to a mobile format, to a period where new features and experiences are designed in a mobile-first way. The visual and architectural redesigns of the app during the past year were completed in a way that allows for easy expansion of capabilities and new features, particularly around more personalized content targeted at each individual user. Two of those big initiatives are already underway, stemming from the student feedback we have received over the past few years. A new “Discover” section is being developed as a way for students to learn of opportunities they may not have otherwise known about, such as different majors and minors, events happening on campus, and student clubs and organizations. Users can search for content, as well as receive personalized suggestions based on input about their interests. Also in the works is an overhaul of the degree planning and auditing process, which will allow students to plan and sign up for courses, and check their progress towards a degree.

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Master of Social Work Degree Program Inquiry

The Hub facilitated an inquiry process with the Master of Social Work (MSW) degree program to further examine their curriculum and student experience and inform the department’s curricular practices, structures, and conversations.

Social Work meeting with people at tables and a large screen with a presentation.

End of year snapshot

The MSW Curriculum Inquiry project team spent most of the calendar year 2019 deeply engaged in efforts of inquiry and research. More specifically, we looked at ways to surface key departmental disciplinary and pedagogical values through multiple methods and multiple perspectives. In order to achieve project objectives, we needed to identify what it means for the MSW experience to be safe, useful, and beautiful within various inquiries, insights, and contributions. We also needed to distinguish mapping methods and sustainable inquiries that were both resource-light and insight-rich. The project team divided into 12 different subcommittees each focused on a given subproject. This format allowed smaller groups to dig deeper into areas of interest and expertise as well as incorporate colleagues of interest or expertise into these efforts. For example, one subcommittee conducted focus groups to explore the student experience for first-year students, field placement participants, and recent graduates. Another subcommittee formed to review syllabi to look for assessment diversity and weighting as well as the number of course objectives vs. program-level competencies and the number of required textbooks. Our biweekly meetings consisted of whole group conversations as subcommittees shared status updates on their progress as well as insights that required further exploration or raised new questions.

At the end of the calendar year, we were able to discuss and review the key learnings that surfaced from each subproject through creating insights reports. Ongoing discussions also increased the departmental receptiveness to the need for evolution and overall change, while centering our participatory design efforts.

On the horizon

In order to identify key areas of opportunity based on the insights, the project team will analyze and identify common themes across subprojects and generate ideas for how MSW might provide an even stronger student and community experience. In this analysis phase, we are working towards producing a recommendation report that includes proposed changes to the MSW program based on the outcomes and learnings of the inquiry work. Although based on the initial findings and ideas generated from the work within subprojects, the recommendations report will be developed and finalized through participatory engagements with the wider MSW community. These collaborative brainstorming sessions will be structured around generating ideas/solutions that might be addressed in the short term (i.e small modifications), mid-term, and long-term. The recommendations report will be presented at MSW’s Fall 2020 retreat for further planning resources and engagement.

Expand/Collapse Next Section is a platform to support discovery, marketing, and prospect growth of all 70+ graduate online and hybrid degree and certificate programs featured at MSU. This platform launched on March 10, 2020.

screenshot of the homepage of

End of year snapshot provides a standardized and user-optimized experience for prospective students to engage with programs of interest from MSU’s online and hybrid degree and certificate portfolio. The platform launched on March 10, 2020 and marks the first time in MSU’s 20+ year history of offering online and hybrid programs that prospective students can engage with a user-optimized platform to explore programs of interest and use a seamless pathway to engage with program representatives.

The project team, our project partner, Wiley, and several internal MSU stakeholders contributed to the successful launch of the platform. Deliverables in this project are very concrete and visible and as such, the project team is able to state that all project deliverables were met. Designing and delivering the platform was only the first phase of the project. We are currently in soft-launch status and need to build out our marketing and strategic plan.

On the horizon

Designing and delivering the platform was only the first phase of the project. We are currently in soft-launch status and need to build out our marketing and strategic plan.

  • Internal marketing campaign and process for leveraging University stakeholder outlets (e.g. U-comm, Admissions, Registrar, and Alumni offices); college communication coordinators and program leads. An initial plan has been developed by University Communications and refined by Provost Communication Team
  • External Marketing – this will be largely dependent on our ability to secure resources going forward. An initial plan has been developed by University Communications and refined by Provost Communication Team
  • Develop a strategic plan for online program growth, with goals, at the President/Provost level to help set enrollment targets and a pace for adding new programs. Without declared goals, it will be difficult to assess the success of marketing improvements or investments in advertising that drives clicks.
  • The on-boarding process for new programs.
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Spartan Studios

Spartan Studios is a signature transformational teaching and learning experience. We are designing team-taught studios where undergraduate students and faculty across majors–along with industry and community partners — co-create solutions that address complex contemporary problems.

MSU Food Waste Challenge students presenting to an audience of local government and business leaders at the East Lansing Public Library, April 25th 2019.

End of year snapshot

We had an extremely active year, starting with running two pilot courses (Food Waste Challenge and Wildlife Sanctuary: Communicating Science through Art) in the Hub’s Flex Space during the Spring 2019 semester. Team members coached faculty through the design, implementation, and assessment of these student-led, project-based courses and facilitated students’ experiential learning in the Flex Space. Students in the food waste course ran a prototype anaerobic digester, which captures energy from food waste, and planned events on campus and in conjunction with their community partner, the East Lansing Public Library. These events designed messaging around food waste and environmental solutions for families, students, and a group of local government and business leaders. The wildlife sanctuary course developed artifacts and communication platforms to raise awareness of the Rachana Rajendra Neotropical Migrant Bird Sanctuary. For the remainder of 2019, we began a design inquiry and opportunity sprint to explore how best to scale these pilot courses, setting milestones for sustainable implementation by aligning this work with existing MSU structures. We also investigated data from our pilot courses to refine our framework for transformative experiential learning.

On the horizon

There are three major areas of opportunity ahead for Spartan Studios. First, we have partnered with James Madison University’s X-Labs, whose core members presented a plenary and workshop on social entrepreneurship in experiential courses at the Hub in February 2020. This partnership will support joint research projects and shared processes that will benefit both institutions; we have a lot to learn from this successful model of co-taught transdisciplinary experiential courses offered across the university. Next, we are investigating on-campus partnerships and planning our next round of prototype courses for Fall 2020. We are learning what frameworks can best support multiple faculty members in lieu of extensive in-class facilitation and coaching from the Hub, which helps us with the challenge of scaling up Studios courses. With contributions from pilot partners, and in consultation with the Center for Community Engaged Learning and University Outreach and Engagement, we are producing a toolkit for faculty professional development that outlines approaches to teaching, partnerships, assessment, and scholarship. Lastly, we are involved in research on student and faculty outcomes from last year’s courses and mentoring undergraduate research assistants in their own research projects based on students’ experiences in the Spring 2019.

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Scholarship: Our Publications

One of the principles that drives our work is that it be grounded in evidence-based practice. We design learning experiences and focus on teaching practices in this way. What may not be completely clear is that our projects produce evidence as well. The design of our projects always looks for ways to engage in scholarly or analytical work, and we are happy that many faculty are eager to participate in scholarship as well. We are proud of the scholarly productivity of the Hub.


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