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The Lab kicks off the 1st Convening for the Seamless Transfer Pathways Design Challenge

Last week, the much heralded Seamless Transfer Pathways Design Challenge kicked off with the presidents of George Mason University and Northern Virginia Community College welcoming 26 administrators and staff from four transfer teams, representing 9 institutions. Our design question is: How might community colleges and four-year universities dramatically improve transfer and baccalaureate attainment rates by reframing the end-to-end experience from the student’s point-of-view?  The intense two-day, interactive design engagement focused on what the Lab calls the  “Understand”  phase, parsing out important data and information gaps that can help the teams understand this challenge and solution opportunities from the student perspective.

Day 1 began with a fast-paced hands-on activity, Redesigning the Gift-giving Experience, to help participants practice a full design cycle in just under an hour. After this jumpstart, we rolled up our sleeves to map the data story of each team’s transfer experience. Who falls out, who has excess credit, who takes too long to graduate, and most importantly, why? After a day of thought-provoking inquiry and discussions looking at the “big data” and data gaps,  the cohort attended a dinner at the Mason Club with 5 special guests, current transfer students from Northern Virginia Community College and George Mason University.  Each team conducted a short interview with the students and built an Empathy Map. As one administrator said, “We think we know what are students are experiencing, but we don’t actually get to learn from the ones who don’t make it through.”

On Day 2, we began designing Human-Centered Design Research Protocols to add a “little data” component to what we understand about the transfer experience.  Teams considered what they need to learn qualitatively, beyond the numbers, about the motivations, needs and behaviors of community college students hoping to transfer.  Journey maps helped detail the specific actions and emotions and opportunities for failed pathways, as well as patterns of opportunity.

The biggest “ah-has” so far: How much we don’t know about the students who are unsuccessful… How much of the problem seems focused around two key problem statements:

  1. many students are underprepared academically for the fields they hope to pursue which creates many unintended consequences, and
  2. Students who don’t choose majors early are much less likely to succeed and/or may be pushed into a limited number of career options at greater expense.

The cohort and teams will continue to work together to surface and publish specific insights for each team and co-design Seamless Transfer Pathways that will dramatically improve transfer and baccalaureate attainment rates. After the research phase, starting in January 2018, the Lab will visit the teams for design sessions on each campus.  Stay tuned!

“This opportunity forces us into a time and space to see where are our strengths and weaknesses, where are the gaps where we need to draw straight lines that form a seamless transfer path.”