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Education through Collaboration Initiative: Online & In-Class graduate program w/ Internship. (Feedback & Next Steps updated 12.14.15).

A collaboration between School Districts, MOOCs, Local Universities & Organizations to provide 4 year graduate program with internship.

Photo of Swapna Bellare Balsekar
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Who is the target audience for your idea and how does it reimagine the cost of college?

ETCI is specifically targeted to high risk student population (low income & drop-outs) who want to seek higher education but cannot afford due to financial constraints. ETCI has a guided educational track that allows students to take free/low cost online courses and few in-class courses. In addition, one year internship at the end of the program helps students to pay any accumulated loan.

Education Through Collaboration Initiative (ETCI) aims in creating a niche service to high risk students (potential college drop-outs) who want to seek higher education but cannot afford due to financial constraints. It does it by creating a partnership between  school districts, virtual educational service (MOOCs : Udemy, Coursera); brick & mortar universities (local community colleges and universities) and corporate organisations.The framework of the initiative is to:

  1. Identify, engaged and aspiring students from public schools, who come from low income families. 
  2. Create a Student Profile, by assessing students' aspirations, aptitude, learning needs, career goals, and economic status (family income). .
  3. Create a Personalized Program: A customized educational and internship track for students based on their student profile.
  4. Feedback Loop: Students are expected to attain monthly, yearly goals and check in with their mentor to see if they are on track.

The program aims to lower higher education costs to students as it:

  1. Guides them to take the right courses that helps to make informed career choices.
  2. Provides alternate ways to seek free or low cost education options via MOOCs, and online courses offered through universities.
  3. Enables them to save money and cut-down living costs by living with family and working part-time.  
  4. Provides income generating internship at the end of the program and helps to network with professionals and pay for a loan (if taken).

Experience Map (Student in the pilot testing )

Jenny comes from a lower middle class Hispanic household in Austin, Texas and is a freshmen in one of the low income schools in Austin. Despite her financial disadvantage, she aims to achieve big in life. Her goal is to pursue a career in psychology and be a counselor/social worker to help children in her community realize their potential.

She is aware of her precarious situation and fears that she won’t be able to go to college due to her financial constraints, limited financial aid opportunities and rising higher education costs.

Meanwhile, the local government and Austin ISD has launched a pilot of  ETCI to reinforce schools to participate. The pilot results will help establish the initiative's viability and effectiveness for launch.

Jenny and her parents are made aware of this initiative by the school's educational counselor and is presented with the ETCI brochure and the package.

Jenny's parents encourage Jenny to participate in the pilot study.  She is asked to take a 4 week online course class on principles of psychology. Upon completion, she will be given a mini hands-on project to illustrate her learning and how she applies in real life. Along with her, there are many students of Austin ISD, participating in the pilot.

Jenny is very thrilled to get her personal profile, a guided program structure and weekly check-ins with her mentor. She can also communicate with her class peers after school hours and work on homework collaboratively.

After 4 weeks, she has completed her course with flying colors.  Success stories like hers will help launch this initiative at a large scale. The school authorities plan to present case studies/success stories to local organizations to get their support for this initiative.

Journey Map (Company)

The school pitches ETCI to key company executives and discusses the pilot results.  The main purpose of the meeting is to develop professional relation with organizations, where they can provide internship opportunities to ETCI students at the end of the 3 years.

Companies are requested to confirm their participation and provide a signed agreement to the school district by the following week. The agreement indicates that: 

1. Companies should be open to provide 1 year paid internship opportunity for students under ETCI. (The payment value will be based on current market value and existing economic/employment conditions at the time of hire).

2. The ETCI students will go through the same hiring and recruitment process like traditional students (4 Year Graduate) and will be selected based on merit, interview success and future potential. (this in common terms means that there will be no discrimination between students under ETCI and Traditional Students).

Once, the agreement is signed, the school and consulting company (commissioned under local government) will launch the planning and execution of the initiative. 

Validation Research Process

I conducted 1/2 hour interviews with target users to understand their perception about the initiative and likelihood to use in future. The user groups include:

1. Family of children in middle & high school.
2. Talent and recruiting staff.
3. Middle/High School student.

The interview insights helped me to gauge the adoption and interest on ETCI; and assisted me to come up with a conceptual prototype and next steps.

Validation Research Results

Based on the interview feedback, the following themes emerge:

Student and Family Feedback Themes (Beige Paper Notes)

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Company Feedback (Yellow Paper Notes)

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Based on inferences, interview insights, the concept I want to present is as follows:

Website Prototype

A website that educates about the initiative and helps student to:

1. Create their profile.

2. Schedule meetings with mentors.

3. Create dynamic portfolio.

4. Register for courses (online and offline).

Website Structure & Taxonomy

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Next Steps

A. Promotion & Planning ETCI (Jan 2016 to August 2016)

1. Consulting company will pitch the idea and will continue to build relationships with MOOCs, local universities and corporate organizations to build a bigger network.

2. PTA discussions about the ETCI will continue to reinforce more participation in the initiative; and concerns will be addressed. 

3. Educational counselors and mentors will on-board potential ETCI students and provide assessment, guidance, portfolio and a future plan.

4. A full functional website will be launched to provide information; and help students to manage their programs.

B. Execution (September 2016 onwards)

1. For the 1st iteration, the initiative will be launched in Austin ISD for the 2016 High School cohort in select low income schools.

2. Students will be paired with local mentors for any questions and concerns they might have. 

3. After 1 year, when students are quite settled in the program, their testimonials will help promote the initiative at a large scale. It would help launch it in other ISDs and/or state wide schools.



Presentation Package

A brochure will provide an overview of the initiative:

  • Cost Comparison  between Traditional Education 4-Yr Program and Education Through Collaboration Initiative (ETCI).
  • ETCI Advantages
  • Student's Portfolio
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What early, lightweight experiment can you try out in your own community to find out if the idea will meet your expectations?

I conducted an interview to gather initial feedback from key users: 1. Families with children in middle & high school. 2. Talent and recruiting staff. 3. Middle/High School students. The interview insights helped me to gauge the adoption and interest on ETCI; and assisted me to come up with a conceptual prototype and next steps.

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

Ideas are always welcomed!! Graphic Designer who can create visuals.

This idea emerged from

  • An Individual

Are you interested in the Path to Pitching track we've developed for this challenge?

  • No


Join the conversation:

Photo of Anne-Laure Fayard

Thanks Swapna for sharing this idea. It provides an interesting model and I also like how you thought of how you could try to prototype it. This prototype would be helpful not only to assess the students' experience and learning but also see if there's interest from companies and universities. Maybe before doing a pilot, you would want to do a "quick and dirty prototype", e.g. creating a brochure for what this new model would be and then have a booth / table at your university and gauge the interest of other students.

Here are a few ideas that you might want to check as they touch on similar points. You might be able to collaborate with the posters.

Looking forward to seeing your idea evolve.


Photo of Swapna Bellare Balsekar

Thanks for the feedback Anne.I definitely would love to prototype this concept and perhaps show an experience map. I am thinking how a student identified as a talent is selected for this initiative to pursue her psychology degree.This will not only provide an overview of an concept but also provide a strong case on how it is cost effective vs. the traditional track 4 year graduate program.
Thanks for helping me push this idea forward!

Photo of Shane Zhao

Great suggestion Anne-Laure! Swapna, it'd be helpful to consider how quick and scrappy prototypes can be created to collect early feedback.

Photo of Anne-Laure Fayard

Glad the feedback was helpful Swapna. As mentioned by Shane, doing very quick and dirty prototypes: it can be a few sketches showing the journey and showing it to students at your university. It would be also great to see whether universities would be interested in engaging in this kind of initiative.
You could try to have 2 personas: one, a student with a talent, and another who does not necessarily have a talent. How does the experience will differ for them? What will be the value for each?

Photo of Joanna Spoth

Love the convo about your prototypes, Swapna! I'm curious if there are any updates from the past month. Did you try getting your awesome prototype in front of anyone? Any further iterations on what a prototype might look like?

Photo of Swapna Bellare Balsekar

The current ones I have is a presentation for pilot study, that will help during feedback gathering phase.

My next plan is to
1. Receive feedback from these groups
a. Parents of children in middle or high school.
b. Recruiting team/HR directors.
c. Students.

2. Finalize the draft prototypes.  Is there a forum where I can post a request for anyone/student who can help me on visual design? I definitely will benefit from a graphic/UI/UX  designer who is willing can be a part of my team.

3. Based on user research, my next iteration will be to create:
1. Finalize marketing materials (Flyer, brochure).
2. A mock website (internal page on a  local school website).

Thanks for commenting!

Photo of Anne-Laure Fayard


it's great to see the updates on the idea (sorry for not having reacting earlier but I've been busy with work). I like the fact that you've done the experience journey for both the students and the companies and got feedback from both stakeholders. And this is encouraging feedback!
A missing stakeholder, and an important one, is universities. Have you talked with some universities? Moreover, you mentioned a collaboration between MOOCs and traditional universities? Have you thought of how this will work? Will students receive an accredited diploma? If yes, from whom? 
Good luck with the next steps.

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