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Interview: Middlesex University Faculty Engages Students with OpenIDEO

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Wyn Griffiths is the Product Design Course Leader at Middlesex University (MDX). For two weeks, at the beginning of December 2012, he cancelled all classes across the three years of his Product Design course, to bring students and staff together to work on the OpenIDEO Workplace Wellness Challenge. Together, they worked under the banner of ‘compete with the issue, not one another’, to introduce the concept of Open Innovation and to get involved with community collaboration.
What made you first decide to get your class involved in OpenIDEO?
Participatory and sustainable design has been a major part of my design life for over twenty years. The power of design should be as a force for social cohesion, as a shared creative endeavor, rather than a way to increase divisiveness and inequity. OpenIDEO’s collaborative, international community seemed the perfect way to help our students experience and contribute to this vision. It’s also a wonderful platform for them to experience the joy and enthusiasm of sharing, connecting and making more than the sum of the parts, rather than seeing the vision of collaboration and social innovation as worthy, but dry.
How did you plan your class involvement?
I was lucky enough, as course leader, to be able to cancel all classes, for the two weeks, for all levels of our Product Design degree so we could focus on OpenIDEO. This included close to 100 students and was the first time we'd united students across all years on a single project. We created a resource pack which extracted the brief, examples, processes and benchmarks from previous challenges – and then layered inspirations which we compiled to help students step outside of usual notions around work and health, in order to expand their points of reference before we began the challenge.
We focused on one challenge – Workplace Wellness – and on two stages: Inspiration and Concepting, so that we could get deeply embedded in the challenge and contribute as much as possible. Contribution was a key requirement. To nudge students towards fully engaging in collaboration, the marking scheme for the work emphasised that the student’s OpenIDEO Design Quotient (DQ) and contribution to others – from MDX and beyond. Inspirations and concepts were of equal importance to their own development of ideas.
We envisioned and organised the course as one big design practice, with functional teams within that, due to the numbers involved (nearly 100 students and staff). We approached the work through intense and rapid cycles of what we termed RPOI (Rapid Physical OpenIDEO) – printing out inspirations / ideas, sharing in class, everybody commenting through post-its, then iterating. We wanted to layer as much ‘OpenIDEOness’ into the physical experience as possible, in the hope that this would carry through to the virtual platform, which it did.
So, how did it go?
Brilliantly! All the enthusiasm, exuberance and fun that we were hoping for was evident, plus more. There was great work, with three of the students (nicely, one from each year) reaching the Top 20  Refinement  stage – but all of them relishing the challenge and feeling like they’d contributed as a whole while learning a huge amount on the way.
Lots of them got very active on Twitter and some lovely feedback and discussions emerged on there. OpenIDEO's co-founder, Nathan Waterhouse, summed up the positive feeling we all had with this tweet:
@MDXDEM @griffwyng You guys are amazing – the ideas that have been uploaded are fantastic! Please congratulate & thank students
It ended, for me, in a somewhat unpleasant manner. On the final day of the project, the day I was rounding up and we were all heading out to celebrate as a group, I came down with a rather nasty case of Camphylobacter food poisoning which took me down for two weeks. Even this was turned around though into something very touching, when the students who were out celebrating sent Twitter pics of themselves celebrating and created a ‘Wynspiration’ window to cheer me up.
Here at OpenIDEO, we're fans of an always-in-beta approach.  What would you do differently next time?
Arrange more time for each phase and go through more phases, if possible. Also, in preparation, include visits or real experiences in the context, to help students engage with human-centered insights. Connecting with real people, in real contexts would be an ideal complement to ideating and collaborating online.
Do you have recommendations for other faculty thinking to get their students involved on OpenIDEO?
Get involved! The joy of participating with such a vibrant community as OpenIDEO, sharing ideas for improving society, of being part of something which celebrates and harnesses the power of the individual and the collective should be a core in any educational experience. It’s a great opportunity to participate in collaboration, problem solving, real life engagement, confidence building, social awareness – all with the support of a global community.
Read more on Wyn’s student’s participation  on the MDX site: Designs for Good Health and download our University Toolkit for further tips on how to get your class involved with OpenIDEO.
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This is really inspiring!

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At Umass boston, Professor Lavine is introducing students to OpenIdeo, which is great and we are all enjoying it!

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Fantastic! I like the emphasis on 'compete with the issue, not one another'. It would be great to see more traditional design studios (like architectural ones) also get involved in collaborative projects about large scale world problems.

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Thank you Julie. I think it's important to challenge students' perception of the world and their practice and how they can collaborate not compete. I think increasing numbers of traditional practices are engaging with collaborative projects, but there's a ling way to go, before it becomes the norm. Installing the idea of collaboration into the next generation of practitioners is an important step.

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So glad to see that OpenIDEO challenges are being tackled in Universities!!

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Thanks Waris. We're planning future work with OpenIDEO, and, hopefully, the OpenIDEO University Toolkit will encourage more courses to get involved.