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The MatchMaker

Matching educators and classes to real-world projects.

Photo of Rana Chakrabarti
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Context : 

In our goal to discover how to introduce design-doing into the higher education experience in the United States, we stumbled into a foundational insight about the American college experience: IT'S A BUBBLE.  

While it is has its value, we also discovered a darker side to this benefit : Students are coming out of the system out of touch with industry realities, qualified, but missing critical skills.

One student told us : "we're qualified to lead the team in companies, but not to join them".

Every insight is also an opportunity in disguise. We discovered that students have an insatiable appetite for solving real-world problems, probably in response to being inside a bubble. Most students we spoke to are clear that they're there to get a job and are finding ways to stay relevant to industry. Hackathons and design clubs are mushrooming at colleges in response with the support of faculty, who tacitly acknowledge this.

However, our second insight is that this is no where close to enough to prepare students for the real-world.

Problem Space: 

Today we see a "big bang" approach taken by universities to introduce their students to a real-world experience.  These are the capstone projects — expensively put together and for all its benefits, a one-time thing. We see preparing students for the real world as a repeated process not a terminating one.  What is needed is not one big bang project but many "little bang" projects over the duration of the college experience — also called corner stone projects in some literature. 

A useful analogy would be to think of the capstone project as capital expenditure — large, one time, mammoth. And the corner stone project as operating expenditure — small, repeated, bite sized. We need more op-ex style projects.

However what stops educators from introducing real-world projects into their classroom ? The problem seems obvious enough. Why not ask industry for small projects which students can do and learn in the process?

Our third insight was that educators do not trust industry to do the right thing. At the very least, they have a fear of being used as extended workbenches for corporate managers.  

We found numerous successful examples of service learning projects where the engagement benefited the community and the students but these were the exceptions.

The pattern we see : A professor looks up his alumni in a company, assured the alumni knows how her class works. They agree on a project. The project is re-cycled ad nauseam. In a variation , the educator creates a project she feels represents real-world and that is re-cycled ad nauseam.

Pretty bleak.  Every professor was hand building their own apparatus.

There was one glimmer of hope. Our fourth insight : It's not that the educators mistrusted the industry. It was the fact that they needed flexibility in re-framing the problem which industry was reluctant to give. They wanted to either abstract the problem one level or take a sub-problem. Their goal was to create a teaching problem, not simply an industry problem. If that was made possible, our bet was the Educator and Real-World could be matched appropriately, resulting in students coming our better prepared for the real-world.

Our final insight which tipped us into the solution space was : for the design-doing mindset to "take" it is necessary that the mindset be taught rigorously, and the student get sufficient "mileage" in solving real-world problems on an increasing ramp of complexity. This ensures they develop a "felt sense" of the design process, essential for practitioners. Both must happen in class to ensure good evaluation

Solution Space :

Our bet was IF we matched Educators and classes with real-world problems with appropriate flexibility and commitment THEN Educators would be encouraged to try out new and different cornerstone projects in class RESULTING IN students coming out better prepared for the real-world 

Our embodiment of this hypothesis is the Matchmaker.

See the full storyboard: here told from the Industry's point of view. We have a separate storyboard representing the Educators point of view. Available on request.

The core value is lowering the barrier of entry for real-world projects by ensuring a match between the levels of commitment and flexibility Industry is willing to offer and the levels of commitment and flexibility the Educator needs. 

This is two sided market, with Educators putting up classes and Industry putting up real-world projects.  

Once a match is made, the matchmaker temporarily takes the project and the class "off the market". Once an agreement is reached it is permanently taken of the market. If not, it is put back on the market.

Nudges are provided by the matchmaker to both parties to let them know that there are parties interested on both sides where relevant. 

The matchmaker also provides the necessary templates for terms of agreement etc to make signing off on the statement of work easier. 

Meeting requests are sent by the matchmaker to both sides, locking in time.

During the engagement, assets are uploaded or linked by students for the client to see. 

After the engagement, both the educator and the client rate each other. The average rating is visible against each, making it easier for a new educator or a new client to decide to take the plunge. 

The highlights of the solution are :

  1.  Automatic matching of client and educator based on "jobs to be done", flexibility and commitment levels
  2. Templates to make negotiation and communication easier
  3. Uber-like rating system to lower barrier of entry for new parties. 

Who is your idea designed for and how does it reimagine higher education to support the needs of tomorrow?

For Educators who want to bring in real-world projects into their classroom on a regular basis and "real-world" partners - communities, non-profits, startups, enterprises and others who want to engage with universities to have their problems solved as a learning challenge by students. This creates a marketplace mechanism between industry and universities allowing for smaller universities to compete with larger universities in the strength of one good class, and a new interface to colleges

This idea emerged from:

  • A group brainstorm

What skills, input or guidance from the OpenIDEO community would be most helpful in building out or refining your idea?

We have validated the Matchmaker with over 20 Professors from 6-7 colleges. The value proposition holds. We are looking for partners or colleges who might be interested in developing this concept to a prototype level, or interested in hosting the matchmaker in their college, if the prototype is available.

What early, lightweight experiment might you try out in your own community to find out if the idea will meet your expectations?

We did a wall-walk with over 20 Professors from 6-7 colleges and had them comment on every stage of the storyboard with post-its. The resulting post-its told us the storyboard is valuable, and needs refinement in a few places. We can repeat the same online by sending out the storyboard and having educators leave comments on different stages of the the narrative.

Tell us about your work experience:

I am a self-taught engineer-turned-designer since 2007. I work as an experience designer, design facilitator and mentor for startups. I follow a design process I call Startup by Design and love designing interventions for Big Systems. I've worked in spaces of enterprise, entrepreneurship, non-profits, healthcare, education, manufacturing and a few other sectors. Since late 2015 we at SAP have been on the journey to introduce design-doing into the higher education system in the United States.

How would you describe this idea while in an elevator with someone? 2-3 sentences.

Solving real-world problems while in college is the path to design-mindedness and resilience. One capstone project is simply not enough for this. What is needed is access to real-world "cornerstone" projects - smaller projects that can be easily introduced into classes and done in weeks : from problems on campus, in the community, at a non-profit, at a for-profit or in an enterprise. We match educators with real-world partners with a high "fit" in their flexibility and commitment levels.

What is the specific problem your idea is trying to solve? 1 sentence.

Matching educators with classes to real-world partners with problems that need solving in order to give students the mileage necessary to reinforce and deepen their design-doing mindset.

How is your idea different or unique from what is currently on the market?

In two ways : 1. We address the issue of trust and fit : Educators reuse the same problems because they don't trust industry to give learning problems. We match educators with real-world partners based on their degree of fit in problem flexibility and commitment levels. 2. We help introduce the projects into the classroom : Most other approaches leave it up to the educator to figure this out. With our Course Design process we help the educator do this, making adoption easier.

How do you plan to measure the impact of your idea?

By the number of real-world projects students are solving. That is the final metric which tells us whether the design-doing mindset is taking hold. To begin with, we need 10 universities who would be willing to try this on, and at least one that would be willing to help build this.

How might your idea be transferable to a large number of people?

The Matchmaker is a platform. Once this is proved in the initial cohort of universities, this can easily be scaled to universities all over the United States. Every university can then access real-world problems for its students (locally as we see it). We see the University Corporate Relations as the key actor which find new real-world partners to on-board and makes new classes available for matching on the Matchmaker

What are your immediate next steps after the challenge?

Find a partner who is willing to build out a prototype. The high-fidelity prototype has been validated by 20 odd educators and we know its valuable.
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Attachments (2)

Matchmaker Competitive Analysis.pdf

Competitive Analysis done by UC San Diego students for the MatchMaker


Proposed homepage for the Matchmaker


Join the conversation:

Photo of Anna Beridze

Hi Rana,

This is a great idea which presents a broad set of opportunities for students! What would the incentives for educators be to work with companies and present their challenges and projects to students? Also, do you think students will provide more valuable solutions to challenges if they are rewarded for them?

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