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Iquali.co (previously emptydesks.com)

Iquali.co will be the clearinghouse of a college network where students can register for on-campus courses with discounted prices

Photo of Daniel Aldana
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Who is the target audience for your idea and how does it reimagine the cost of college?

Low-income students can register at Iquali.co for discounted prices in on-campus courses in a large network of high-quality colleges. Students receive academic credit for their completed courses and profit from an on-campus experience. Colleges receive additional income by using their capacity more efficiently and get recognition for reaching out to a more diverse student population that otherwise could not afford them. Everybody wins.

BACKGROUND

Solutions for increasing access to higher education, no matter how creative, usually require new and large funds. Iquali.co will instead use the existing excess teacher and infrastructure capacities of colleges. Top ranking universities usually select a small percentage of the students that apply, but there is a large number of high-quality colleges that do not get as much demand as they intend to, and end up with large vacancies in their programs and courses.

On the other hand, many low-income students do not get to enjoy or have to put a stop to their on-campus higher education, due to financial restrictions or to their full-time jobs. Those students do not find in the traditional college system the flexibility they need for spreading their courses in time or in different physical locations. They might look for that flexibility in online programs, but they do not find it in high quality on-campus education.

The proposed model is inspired by the hotels and airlines industries both of which use websites such as www.expedia.com and many others, as clearinghouses for selling their empty seats and empty rooms at discounted prices.

Iquali.co will build a similar service that will connect a large network of high-quality colleges with low-income students who cannot afford full tuition or cannot attend classes regularly in a full-time basis.

Main benefits for students

  • Discounted prices
  • Registration to a large array of on-campus courses in a vast network of high-quality colleges
  • Academic credits for courses approved, to be able to continue building on their higher education
  • Study planning advisory and tools
  • Courses graded and reviewed by the community
  • Online payment and simplified registration


Main benefits for COLLEGES

  • A more diverse student population
  • Required demand for using excess supply in programs and courses
  • Significant additional income
  • Exposure as a social responsible and innovative institution

  

main users and user experience

We have identified many types of student users, but we believe that we will have the greatest impact by serving "Teresa",  who we describe as a low-income, first-generation college student who dropped out after taking several semesters, but is lent a hand by Iquali.co to be able to earn a degree some years later. In the US 89% percent of students like Teresa drop out before earning a degree. The largest ethnicity group among low-income, first-generation students is Latino.

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During the next years, and while she keeps her job as a retail manager for a small shop, Teresa will use the flexibility provided by Iquali.co to register at colleges near her work or home in those courses that better suit her career objectives and preferences.

As an on-campus student, she will have the required face-to-face interactions with students and faculty to be able to get an impactful education and at the same time she will get to build a strong personal and professional network.

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In addition to the traditional benefits of an on-campus experience, Teresa will get to use the ratings and reviews provided by the online community plus the detailed information and advice provided by Iquali.co, to take the courses that best fit her career objectives, all at a significantly reduced price!

Near the end of her career, she will register back to her original college to finish her thesis and get her diploma. Her college will be more than happy to take her back and scratch her off its high attrition statistics. At Iquali.co we will feel very proud for having helped Teresa getting back in track and benefiting from an impactful higher education experience.

Aside from Teresa we are sure that there will be plenty of other audiences who might want to try Iquali.co. For example, adults who want to build on a continuing education or just take a course that fits their interests; first-time students who want to try college before committing fully to it; even college students who want to complement their educational experience with the perspective of a second college, or might want to take the best course available and not just settle for the one that their college provides. 


Our progress since the beginning of the challenge

In September 2015 we started out with a simple idea and now, less than four months later, we have an existing and operational start-up with a Board, CEO, workplan, seed funding, and very excitingly, explicit orders from two high-quality universities to start offering their courses through our website!

The challenge allowed us to use a world class methodology – human-centered design – and a strict timeframe, to go from idea to traction in a very short time (for documentation of the human-centered design milestones please go to the “Attachments” section below).

During these few months we built a team of co-founders with a cumulative experience of more than 75 years with the higher education sector, most of us with graduate studies either at Harvard or MIT. Our team now includes an ex-Provost of a leading university, a Harvard PhD with teaching, administrative, and research experience at MIT and other universities, the CEO of a social media consulting company, and the CEO of a development accelerator with vast experience advising universities.  

During the process we got 80 potential students to try our prototypes, conducted over 35 in-person interviews with potential students, and interviewed 18 college officials and faculty members in the US and Latin America (see the list of interviewees in the "Attachments" section below).

Prototyping

The testing process allowed us to reach very valuable learnings such as: (for full disclosure of quantitative and qualitative results of our student surveys and interviews click here):

  • 52% of the potential users rated Iquali.co´s value proposition with a 9 or 10 in a scale from 1-10; among the dropouts consulted this percentage raised to 100%!
  • 62% of tested users said they would “probably use” Iquali.co ; an additional 12% said they would “definitely use” it
  • 71% of the users did not change their willingness to use our service after confronted with a potential equivalent price of $500 per course ; 14% lowered their willingness and 14% raised it.
  • 47% said the minimum discount they would expect is 20%; 28% said it is 50% or more
  • The two features rated as the most important were “High quality of participating colleges and universities” and "Ratings and reviews by other students”, both with an average grade of importance of 4.8 on a scale from 1-5
  • The name of the site is not as important as we initially thought since our users will probably get to like the name that we choose: when asked to rate potential names from a list, the name used for the prototype during the test always came up rated as the highest.


Prototyping was a very valuable tool for getting validated learning. Early in the process we used a Powerpoint prototype and later we were able to build our mockup website which you can visit by clicking here: Iquali.co.   

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The online survey that we built allowed us to improve our validated learning and with a very short lead time modify the prototypes and survey questionnaires to be able to dig deeper into the most important findings.

Throughout this process we also got to size our market in the US and in Colombia, with the inputs of more than 25 financial models that we have built at the college level, and complementary top-down market calculations.  All of the above led us to build a pretty comprehensive business model canvas (please check it out in the “Attachments” section below).

A NOT AT ALL LIGHTWEIGHT ROADMAP FOR IMPLEMENTATION

On our second Board Meeting (1/19/16) we approved our roadmap for implementation. The confirmation that we received last week from two high-quality universities in Colombia to offer their courses through our website, was the conclusive proof of concept that we hoped for in order to commit thoroughly to Iquali.co. Our roadmap has the following milestones:

  • February 2016: minimum viable product for Colombia + product launch with the courses of our first two universities
  • March-June 2016: validated learning + viral growth in Colombia + intensive US college interviewing + (potentially) round B funding + product refinement + minimum viable product for the US 
  • July 2016: launch in the Boston area (with courses from 2 to 5 colleges)
  • July-December 2016:  validated learning + viral growth with US students + product refinement + intensive US college interviewing + (potentially) round C funding
  • December 2016: launch in California  (2 to 5 colleges)
  • 2017: draw plan to offer our services to more colleges in other US locations and internationally.

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

We will launch our prototype service in Colombia in February 2016 with the two initial universities that have asked us to offer their courses through Iquali.co, in order to learn from that experience and make product and procedure refinements, prior to our launch in the US in the Boston Area in July 2016.

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

It has been an exciting trip so far and we would love to keep getting valuable feedback from the OpenIDEO community. Moving on we could certainly use all the help we can get. Wish us luck!

This idea emerged from

  • An Individual

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

  • No

Evaluation results

34 evaluations so far

1. Does this idea make college more accessible, especially for low income students in the U.S.?

Yes! - 58.8%

To a degree - 32.4%

Not that I can tell - 8.8%

2. Does this idea think beyond current cost structures of college and activate new sectors or partners?

Yes! - 64.7%

It's attempting to - 29.4%

Not that I can tell - 5.9%

3. How excited are you about this idea?

I'm so excited I just can't hide it! - 72.7%

I'm pretty neutral in my excitement level - 15.2%

I don't feel very excited about this idea. - 12.1%

91 comments

Join the conversation:

Comment
Photo of Bravo Oscar
Team

I belong to the California Brooks University alumni team. We think education has now become a more dynamic area of interest after transforming into a huge industry with several branches
https://plus.google.com/111847532749133371359

Photo of Briandy
Team

I work within a University system that has a structure to allow its system students to attend classes across the system. This option, which is within one system, is fraught with bureaucratic and technical issues that all come to mind when I read this proposal. Then you take those known issues and add the "not actually matriculated" layer, and this seems untenable.

- How does advising work? Advising services are critical, especially for the First Gen population.
- How does prerequisite checking work? How does that articulation work and who does that work?
- What about co-requisites? Will those be guaranteed to be available?
- Matriculation comes with full University services access, including student support services, libraries, etc. How does this work into an emptydesk student's profile on a campus? Do they get these services which matriculated students pay full freight for?
- How is the student information system supposed to validate, accept, track, and report grades on these students without significant IT intervention at the host campus?
- Tying the last two bullets together: A campus electronic ID is necessary to do pretty much anything. If emptydesk students are a new role with limited access, this impacts the identity management resources across campus, which in many cases are decentralized.
- Many of the key courses for earning a degree in a timely manner are already impacted due to enrollment caps, classroom and lab capacity issues, etc. Is there any data that suggests the classes with extra capacity are actually the ones that would get a student to degree?
- Enrollments fluctuate well into the start of a term. How will emptydesk students be given enough notice to properly plan for funding and taking these courses such that it will work with employment, childcare, commutes, etc.? Will this require institutions to "set aside" guaranteed seats, which seems to go against the point of this app?
- How are these students counted in terms of institutional reporting?

There area many other issues that come to mind, but I guess my point would be that there are logistics that appear to be missing from how this would actually work as a practical matter. Again, within my own University system we have a lot of unconquered hurdles to providing cross-campus enrollment in courses.  The feasibility of this endeavor at scale seems really questionable without more context into how the practical matters like those above will be addressed school by school.

Photo of Daniel Aldana
Team

Hi Briandy, thanks for your comment. 
We don´t think it´s as impossible as you make it sound. Remember that emptydesks is not so much about adhering to the actual rules of the university system but about disrupting them, at least a bit. We have talked to many college Provosts who understand that the higher education sector needs to change and innovate, and are willing to lead the way. We are already working with two of them who preside over high-quality universities who have agreed to partner with us to offer their courses through emptydesks. So far we are advancing very well with them and their teams and I´m pretty confident we will be able to surmount each obstacle in the way - all those that you mention and some others.  
So please wish us luck, maybe you can agree with us that the system needs to be much more student/client-oriented. Our best wishes to you. 

Photo of Lucy Chen
Team

 I am glad that Daniel Aldana and the team are doing well in negotiating with traditional school provosts. But also I agree with Briandy  that Emptydesk team may want to think more realistically, or give couple examples of what kind of classes empty desk students can possibly get from those universities.  HOWEVER, I think there is a fundamental assumption here: we need to stick to traditional idea of a degree, which makes up of couple credits. Credits are more of less one of the most bureauractic products to provide a reference point of a student's performance. And credit system has evoked all the prerequisites, co-requisites, etc. Are current design of how a degree is composed THE way to prove a student's competency in the world? I don't believe so. We have witnessed many other disruptive ways that show students' drives in learning, their intellectual exploration, etc. Those qualities are far more important than the simple credits that a school provides. If empty desk successfully form the student culture that they are learners and they seek opportunities for intellectual exploration + some projects that show their core competencies, basically put more design into the 'Emptydesk Degree', students would benefit more here. In that case, universities are more like partners of empty desk. We rely partially on the services that are provided by traditional colleges, so that the 1st gen students still get more recognition for their coursework than Coursera. (Social recognition is very important for 1st gen students). For me as a student myself, I wish to see Emptydesk not only provide opportunities to take classes on campus, I need to see a more tangible final product that motivates me to go empty desk rather than Coursera. Why empty desk degree would matter? be it social recognition, be it student value, be it projects. The inherent design of the values and components of such degree matters, although I do agree and hope for the growing social awareness that education system needs to be FLATer.  

Photo of Eric Geisterfer
Team

Since Briandy works in a university she has an insiders view and she has brought up very valid points. To these I would add:
1) Based on my memory from college, courses that are mandatory for a major are usually filled to capacity. How are you going to accommodate emptydesk students? 

Photo of Scott Kennedy
Team

Hi Eric, 

Thanks for the comment. There are a few things to consider here. Large core courses are often very scalable - it's not a decision of offering them or not, but usually how many TAs are needed to accommodate the final size. If a university would like to increase the number of students enrolled, as long as the main lecture hall can fit additional students, enrolling more can usually be done. Another factor is that a main group that we'd like to serve are students who've had to dropout of school. For this group, they would be most interested in the next level of courses that are more specialized and are less likely to be highly subscribed. 

In the end, we feel that creating this new channel into universities will provide value for the students and the universities themselves. If it does, we're confident the administrative procedures are solvable. 

Scott

Photo of Karen Sorensen
Team

Hi Daniel and team,

Just want to say congratulations on making it to impact! You have done a tremendous amount of work and it shows. Hoping to meet you sometime in the future. Karen

Photo of OpenIDEO
Team

Congrats on your winning idea Daniel and team! We love how you've fleshed out the potential for this idea to help students afford college since the beginning of the Refinement Phase. What an amazing journey it has been. We've also been inspired by how you've engaged with the community in a human-centered way as you iterated on this idea. Looking ahead to the next step, we would love for you to share your story in the upcoming Higher Ed Impact Phase. The Impact Phase is a space where the OpenIDEO community can share updates on how our projects are progressing beyond the challenge. For reference, here's a template for writing an Impact phase story: http://ideo.pn/1U9DrSN Well done Bludesks team!

Photo of Daniel Aldana
Team

Indeed it has been a great journey! The challenge has been instrumental in helping us give shape to our idea and get the validation that we required to fully commit to this exciting startup. With it, we hope to help transform the higher education sector and help it better serve young people in the US and around the globe. Thanks OpenIDEO, UBS and of course thanks to all the community! We will try our hardest to earn the support that each of you gave us with each view, comment and applause.

Photo of John Matthews
Team

How do you get around the fact that most accredited institutions in the US require students to be accepted before they can enroll in a course? I see how it would work for noncredit courses, but getting academic credit would be different.

Photo of Daniel Aldana
Team

Thanks John. I liked very much your Tuition Heroes , best of lucks in these final weeks of the challenge!

With regards to your question, only those universities willing and eager to innovate will become part of our network. They would of course need to lower the restrictions and conditions for emptydesk students. We have talked to many college Provosts who understand that the higher education sector needs to change and innovate, and are willing to lead the way. Plus, many of them have the required process very close at hand, since they already handle admissions in a much more simplified way for their continuing education programs. Hope this helps to answer your doubt. 
Cheers.

Photo of Lucy Chen
Team

Hi Daniel Aldana and John Matthews , 

     I agree with the questions around credits. In the earlier ideo.org meetup in SF, Mansi, Philip and me had the same question. We were questioning if emptydesk is really for people who need a degree instead of most learners on Coursera. However, from what I see, outside of the whole question of accredition or the possibilities for students to get credits, the more important question for the users is why and how do these credits matter? The 'degree' that emptydesk is offering should not be the mere summary of the coursework students have taken. It ought to be a USEFUL one, regarding competitiveness in job market, etc.   Not sure if you have read the Google Doc I posted earlier in a relatively long comment, I have some to say about distinguishing emptydesk from cheaper alternatives to taking classes like coursera.  I personally have doubts that 'on campus' experience is a big enough trigger for the target users. Most of the peer support, communication between students and teachers and socialization do not happen in class. I wish to see WHAT TYPES of classes are more likely to be offered on emptydesk. As I would assume, many many of which will be lectures, as many universities can not satiate their own students' needs for seminars.  For student who want to take class through emptydesk, economic concerns are huge for them. It is realistic for them to see substantial benefits of taking those classes, given commute and other costs. From what I believe, the 'degree' that emptydesk can offer should be designed into a product, not just a piece of paper, but a more pragmatic package to show the competitiveness of students. Emptydesk students are LEARNERS, much more than people who are not formally enrolled in traditional universities. 

Photo of Daniel Aldana
Team

Thanks Lucy, this is great advice that we will definitely take into consideration. Sorry for my late response, these past days have been crazily hectic!

Photo of Lucy Chen
Team

totally. If you need some help in flashing out more about how to  make the degree more beneficial for students, I am up for it. Also, I can help with ideating how to make a tighter student virtual community. Let me know. 

Photo of Daniel Aldana
Team

Thanks Lucy, both of those would be awsome! 

Photo of Daniel Aldana
Team

Thanks Darryl. We also think that Briandy made some great comments. To answer your question: Part of our team is in Colombia and part is in the US. Most of us did out graduate studies in the US and have worked with the US higher education sector. 

MOOCs haven´t been successful at providing increased access to low-income students. You can verify that yourself as there are many available studies that arrive to the same conclusion.
We believe that in great part this was because MOOCs attempted too much too soon: from expensive education to free education, from on-campus to on-line. With emptydesks we want to give another push to that same disruptive intentions, but with an intermediate milestone: from expensive education to discounted education, from on-campus to still on-campus, but now unbundled, open and student-oriented. We believe and hope that this push will contribute to transform the higher education sector. We need to convince a lot of people that change is possible, but we are up for the challenge. All the best. 

Photo of Darryl
Team

Daniel, it appears that you are in Colombia? I think Briandy has made some great comments. The biggest problem that I have with the concept is that it is not really that innovative given the world of the MOOCs that we live in. Students from across the world can take classes from presitgious universites and if the issue is continued education or even completing 1-2 courses for credit, they can do that now at a much cheaper price than what you suggest. Furthermore, maybe not in Colombia, but in the US, community colleges are accessible and low costs options. I think that unless you're in graduate school, the desire to be in a campus classroom setting is less so since technology allows webcasts and collaboration. And if the price point is $500, it is less appealing to MOOCs, community and state colleges. I just don't think there is a large enough universe of people who want to attend a class but don't no how to navigate a college website for information, cost and enrollment. 

Photo of Rebecca Young
Team

I'd like to learn more about the credits students can receive; how are they going to be able to work toward a degree? 

Photo of Daniel Aldana
Team

Hi Rebecca. Yours is one of the most important questions with regards to emptydesks´ value proposition. Our biggest and upmost interest is to help students get a degree and advance towards a successful professional career. In order to accomplish this the universities that become part of our network will i. need to agree to provide academic credit to the students that take their courses, and ii. be open to validate the credits given by other universities of the network. Those universities not willing to innovate on their academic certification processes to allow for this credit validation will therefore not become part of our network. We have already talked to many college Provosts who understand that the higher education sector needs to change, and are willing to lead the way. Plus, the fact that all the universities in our network will be high-quality (e.g. regionally accredited institutions) will facilitate this credit validation among them. Hope this helps to answer your question. Cheers

Photo of Jim Rosenberg
Team

Hi Daniel Aldana and team,

I haven't had a chance to look at your progress on this idea over the last several weeks. The idea is great (as it was at the start) and the progress is just mind blowing. Congratulations!

Jim

Photo of Daniel Aldana
Team

Thanks Jim, that's very generous of you. I'm a fan of your contributions, maybe you don't know this but the OpenIdeo team constantly referred to your work as an example of the best practice, so there you go... Best of lucks with your idea, I was sad not to see @college as lenders in the final selection...

Photo of Kaye Han
Team

Thanks for your kind words, Jim. As Daniel has mentioned, you've been doing some amazing work yourself. Very excited to see the future of both these ideas. :) 

Photo of Jim Rosenberg
Team

Wow, thanks so much for sharing that feedback. I didn't know -- it's both very rewarding and kind of humbling to hear that. I really liked the Colleges As Lenders idea too. I think there is something there that could align incentives and make a big difference. Maybe next challenge :-) Best of luck with next steps!

Photo of Jim Rosenberg
Team

Thanks Rob, I really appreciate the support and the kind words!

Photo of Kaye Han
Team

Just an update from the team so everybody knows what's being worked on!

We've completed an experience map of EmptyDesks, will post it here soon. We have identified 3 big assumptions that we need to answer in order to push this idea further. These questions are:

1. Do students care enough to recommend classes to other students. 
2. How many students are able to pay for the discounted (20%) class in full. 
3. Do students value other student reviews enough to make them want to enroll in a class. 

Photo of Lucy Chen
Team

Hi Rob, 

A question. Why does the team think peer referral would be the most important way to attract fiture users of emptydesk?

Lucy 

Photo of Kaye Han
Team

Hi Lucy, thanks for your question. I would not say it is the 'most important' way to attract future users but it certainly plays well with organic growth and the fact that students currently do ask each other what classes to take. Referrals from friends are high converting and relatively low cost, this is a great way to grow the user base. This of course needs to be tested. If you have any alternative ideas, would love to hear your thoughts. 

Photo of Alexandra Alden
Team

Daniel, this is great!!! You've done so much in such a short period of time! Really excited to see what the future holds for EmptyDesks.com. The only suggestion I would make is to include a market sizing, how big is it (size and $) and how much could you take? 

Photo of Daniel Aldana
Team

Thanks Alex! We have sized our market and estimated a potential share both in the US and in Colombia, but as my grandma used to say "if I tell you everything then everything you would know" ;) Cheers!!

Photo of Lucy Chen
Team

Hi Daniel Aldana and the team, 

        I see a great vision in building such a 1 a marketplace, as expedia.com, to provide more learning opportunities for low income students; 2 a potentially international learner and peer support community, which can be disruptive to current peer structure restrained to physical locations

However, I would love to see empty desk more human, as education i truly one of the most important issues for every single student, or learner. In addition to a model sufficient to reallocating resources, I wish there can be more emphasis on its function as an alternative education model, for STUDENTS.



I have formed my following thoughts mostly from a student perspective. I am currently a founding class member of the alternative college, Minerva School. (minerva.kg.edu) I hold enthusiastic belief that education is about learning and whatever new changes proposed to education system should be very student-centered.

Couple Thoughts are as following. Due to the word limit in a comment, I have typed out more details in the Google doc. here: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1H4k4sHAtFpMYbvOxbB-hMYHFgQSI5L5IJqPPClhv6lc/edit 



Apologies for the very last minute ideas, I have been very interested in this idea since we discussed it in SF IDEO.org meetup in Dec. I am very willing to chat more and help prototyping with:

a. provide student perspective in design decision



b. prototyping values of the community, the shared identity of the student body
community is not only about an online page, where people who take the same class can find each other which is very important for first generation students,

Many comments, like from Bettina Fliegel and Karen Sorensen  mentioned about in person network
This is a group of learner who do not need to pay shit tons of money to be included in a bureaucratical institution to LEARN. people who have high motivation in learning, but are constrained by economic and other situations



c. final product/ degree/package student receives as graduate from the program
the Productilization of the degree, a certificate
how to distinguish empty desk from alternatives to take good lecture classes like MOOC?
I think there is great value in the ‘degree’ or the ‘freedom’ in formulating the person’s own education, that should be promoted as an educational product to prove the students’ competencies in the job market.


In addition, here are some more thoughts of empty desk in its future development


1 Global partnership

people can complete courses in all types of universities, while traveling to different places
It is very important to have schools to become a huge network,
it tackles another problem that exchange programs/ study abroad programs are mostly very restrictive within elite universities and liberal arts colleges



2 reimagine the length of high ed schooling, no time limit, but maintain a certain level of academic rigor that makes it a college degree
two classes per semester
 

Photo of Philip Arca
Team

Mansi, thanks so much for the summary!  Mansi and Lucy -- enjoyed working with you.
Daniel, what also came up for us is that this concept would seem readily doable and marketable for an audience that is not necessarily degree seeking and also might be a great way to pilot the concept and work out the credits/transcript/matriculation challenges.  
Sooo, can you target that early career, mid career, or senior life long learner that wants to take a cool class or two at different institutions in their region and wants to shop and only deal with one entity.  Just a thought. 

Photo of Daniel Aldana
Team

Absolutely Philip, that´s a great advice. Thanks!

Photo of Lucy Chen
Team

Hey Philip, enjoyed working with you too. Sorry for the very late comment. Was gone for winter break. On a second thought, I actually think the persona 'Teresa' the team came up would actually work for emptydesk too, so to differentiate Emptydesk from MOOCs, where there are more learners who already have degrees and dont care about obtaining a piece of paper from coursera. However, many cases like Teresa will still need a degree, which means that there is a value for emptydesk to create a some sort of 'certificate for the degree' as a way to recognize the accomplishments. I am brainstorming such a product and will update in a few hours, if you are interested. Daniel Aldana 

Photo of Daniel Aldana
Team

Definitely very interested. Thanks Lucy!

Photo of Bettina Fliegel
Team

Hi Daniel and team.  Congrats on making it to Refinement!

Will there be a way for a student to apply an award/scholarship to a course offered on EmptyDesks?  Let's say one gets an educational scholarship from a local business will there be a mechanism for that to transfer directly to your platform?  

I think the point that OI brings up regarding research showing that 1st Gen students are much more likely to succeed in graduating from college if they have a strong peer network, and an amenable campus setting, is very important.  Might EmptyDesks have an option for users to "Meet Up" locally before they register, as part of a pre- registration/application process?  Thinking about travel companies that offer different Options for different travelers, for the same trip destination and tour, such as Family trips, Solo travelers, Classic trips might EmptyDesks create parallel tracts with different supports, or facilitate networks?  (Backroads Travel is a company that comes to mind as one that has Options like this.)
 Might peer groups form from these "Meet Ups" which can then become support networks within local communities?  Even if peers are not taking the same class, but choose to attend the same university during the same semester, they can meet up on campus for coffee, go to the library together etc. etc.   Might this foster connection and support going forward?   Just thinking how the platform might facilitate connections offline.                      

Photo of Kaye Han
Team

Bettina, you're amazing. Your constant feedback and thoughts are really helping to take this idea to the next level. To reply your points:

Having a meetup and community of some sort for EmptyDesks will be powerful. Very powerful. I believe this is a great solution to helping 1st gen students have a network that keeps them motivated to stay the course. 

Scholarships and awards would certainly be an easy integration into the system, absolutely. If anything, this would be a great channel for certain scholarships that target those in financial need, I believe the Gates Foundation has something like this. 

Overall our focus right now is to not expand the idea to incorporate too many features, but to distill it down to the core. So we're going to list our some core assumptions from our experience map, go and test those assumptions, and post it on here. We're really looking forward to your feedback when the times comes. :)

Photo of Lucy Chen
Team

Hi Team!

I echo with Bettina Fliegel  about providing stronger peer support through emptydesk. However, I would challenge the idea that community is solely about proving an environment for people to meet, be it virtually or in person. One thing I see lacking in emptydesk. com is a shared identity of its student users. I firmly believe that a common spirit is crucial in building a student community, espcially given that the student body that emptydesk serves is mostly low income, maybe first generation students, who are in greater need of affirmative peer support and external recognition.  I am still writing up a longer idea on value-building for emptydesk community. I would love to share if you guys are interested. 

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Joel, I loved those articles and have already recommended them to all our team. I totally share Stephen C. Crawford´s vision of required innovative disruption for the higher education sector. We hope that, if well executed, emptydesks will become a big step in that direction. Some terms from the articles that I think will become fundamental in the higher education sector and that I recommend all interested stakeholders to take carefully note of are:  bargaining power shift towards the student, information asymmetry, open architecture, data integration, unbundled open solutions.
Thanks for sharing!

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Higher Ed: FYI, here are two interesting posts from a stimulating website that may provide some food for thought: "Harnessing the Power of Information Technology: Open Business Models in Higher Education." http://er.educause.edu/articles/2012/3/harnessing-the-power-of-information-technology-open-business-models-in-higher-education and "The Future of the University: Speculative Design for the Future." http://er.educause.edu/articles/2015/11/the-future-of-the-university-speculative-design-for-innovation-in-higher-education
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Thanks a lot Joel. We will study those carefully. I found some common grounds between our idea and your Unlimited Learning . Don't you?

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Hi Daniel-- I found this and thought of you. It actually has the tuition by states http://trends.collegeboard.org/college-pricing/figures-tables/tuition-fees-sector-state-over-time
Karen

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Team

Thanks Karen! We will look into it.
A good source for US statistics, we believe, is the IPED data center https://nces.ed.gov/ipeds/datacenter/login.aspx . Have you tried it?

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Yes, I have used their data before but for a market analysis I created for the k-12 sector. I looked at the people, institutions, funding, and technology and developed a database from the information. I like using College Board data for Higher Education at this time since they combine different source, saving me time.

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Hi Daniel-- Congrats on making it to refinement. I have some questions about the concept of EmptyDesk.
I am I correct that EmptyDesk is a type of brokerage house for face to face educational courses? In your prototype development, I did not see an assessment of the student to determine the course they need to take to finish their degree or meet their goals. If so, then isn't it dependent on the location of the student? Isn't this a barrier for student to participate? What happens if the student gets all of there credits from the same University? Do they receive a degree from that institution, or does the credits transfer to something like a EmptyDesk University where they would receive a degree and graduate from? If the student receives a degree from the University then how would they justify to the students that paid full tuition the extra expense? Would this result in a legal liability for the University? Can the student receive financial aid to cover the cost of attending EmptyDesk? Thanks Karen

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Team

Hi Karen, congratulations to you too, your 1Gen2Fund idea sounds very interesting.

Let me try to answer your questions: Students registered at "emptydesks . com" would need to be different and have lesser "rights" or services than regular students. They would be registered with a different status, they could only take a few credits at each university with a top limit (say 1/3-1/2 of the total career), but most importantly they would directly not earn a diploma from any given university, but would only get a certificate for the credits taken. In that sense regular students would not demand the same treatment and the universities would not risk damaging their pricing strategy (or getting sued, as you mention). In a way these students would be similar to the airline passengers who buy the most economic tickets but have no right to choose a seat or change their flight date, while regular students would be more like business class passengers.

For our prioritized type of client who is a dropout, what we believe will happen is that emptydesks works as a safety net not allowing her to drop out completely of higher education, and provides her with the flexibility to keep enrolled for the next several semesters, each with few credits at a time in a college different to her original one. Once she has regained academic confidence and probably financial capacity to enroll again, we believe that her original college will take her back for the final credits and give her the degree, because she has demonstrated academic proficiency at good quality universities, has received the required credits for it, plus, the university gets to scratch her off its high attrition rates, and gets some extra income.

I didn´t understand very well your “dependent on the location of the student” question.
Let me know what you think, would love to keep this conversation open and get more of your feedback. 

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Hi Daniel,

Thanks for replying to my questions. The location relates to the supply and demand, just like with airline ticket aggregators platforms,  the more supply the lower the cost, less supply leads to greater demand and greater cost and location plays a factor. An example, it is much easier to find low cost tickets to Las Vegas (many frequent flights) than Omaha NE, where there is less flights. With EmptyDesk, supply is based on the location of the empty sit. In markets like Boston and Bay Area, their are empty sits since they have an abundance of institutions, but in a market like Denver (3.4 million people) with only 4 4-year institutions, there is less supply and less open sits.  Technically in low supply markets , the cost would increase and be offered at a premium, since there is a scarcity of open desks.  This always applies to disciplines that have higher demand--like engineering, technology, bio-science, there is a scarcity of desks. In disciplines like psychology, philosophy, etc... there is lower demand so there would be open sits. 

The average cost of 4 year public school tuition in the US for 2015-16 is $9,410 per year, lets say that this is a semester school or $4700 per semester. Generally this charge is based on 12-15 credits, which would be about $313-$391 per credit, most class are at least three credits, would be about $1000 per class, at a 20% discount that is $800. Generally, high ed institutions charge more for less than 12 credits, but this gives us a number to work with. The question I have would your user have $800 in disposable income to pay for the expense?  The average salary for a retail store manager in LA is about $60,000- 22% leaving about $46,000 take home to pay for transportation, telecommunications, utilities, rent, food, clothing and entertainment. Average cost of rent in LA is about $2300.00, lets say she pays 1/2 of the rent leaving $32,000 to pay for other expenses. I know that transportation cost--car payment, gas, insurance, and maintenance would run your user about $500 per month or $6000 per year, taking this down to $26,000 per year.  The budget is really tight.

From my experience working in higher education, it is really hard to transfer credits, so I think that each University would need to agree to accept the others credits from the get go, in order to make it valuable to the student.

I cannot help but think about competency skills training when I think of the idea of EmptyDesks and what LinkedIn is trying to accomplish with their purchase of Lynda.com for 1.5 billion. They are taking Lynda's content and building a competency platform for particular skills. Right now they are in the process matching skills and job requirements. The idea is that when you complete the skill, you have a certificate from LinkedIn that you possess the skills needed to be successful in that career. Its delivered online not face-to-face, which historically is more expensive. 

Thoughts? K

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Hi Karen, you are absolutely right, low income students face a very tight financial situation. That´s why this challenge and others similar to it are so important. They also face a dilemma that we think is false and will try to help solve: they either i) stay in school and aggravate their and their family´s financial situation for some years, or ii) they drop out and work and get some financial relief, but fail to access high-quality flexible education (maybe they can access online education, but that that does not solve the equation for many of them). We believe that on-campus education can do much more to help these students. Of course financial help is going to be very important. The whole higher education ecosystem has to step up to provide many more and more profound financial mechanisms to help the least favored. Ideas like yours are very important in that regard and I think that they should be complementary with emptydesks such that our students find easy access to financing their courses. We will also invest in providing rigorous proof that our students can perform well academically and earn a degree, so that they can access funding. We loved your number crunching, but we believe the average tuition that you are using is a bit high for this population. All in all, we are estimating that they would need to pay around $500 per course, which is still high, but it is not that high, especially if we can find mechanisms for them to pay in 6-month installments which are already in place in many colleges and universities around the world.
Finally regarding the credit transfers, of course it is not going to be easy and not all universities but specially not all university officials that we speak to are going to be willing to change. But as we said in another comment: It´s not so much about adhering to the higher education actual rules and institutions, it is about disrupting them. And we have already talked with plenty of universities and colleges that feel that innovation can no longer be postponed, and want to take the first step.

Best of lucks with 1Gen2Fund, would love that you keep us posted with its progress beyond the challenge!

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Team

Hi Daniel,

Thank you for the best wishes on 1Gen2Fund. The information that I used for the numbers was the college board statistics http://trends.collegeboard.org/college-pricing/figures-tables/average-published-undergraduate-charges-sector-2015-16  This is an average. Do you have a link that show lower tuition prices? If so, I would love to see it.

I agree the current state of online learning is not in the best learning environment for low-income, first generation students. It just does not provide the socialization they need to be successful in Higher Education. I think this hypothesis is confirmed with the MOOC trend, where the majority of users already have college degrees. The cost is low, but has not been a factor in increasing low-income students participation in the MOOC's.

I don't know if you are aware of the Milken-Penn GSE business plan competition, but here is the link http://www.educationcompetition.org/  They have a track for products at the Idea stage. I think EmptyDesk would follow under several categories of interest. I was a finalist one year and last year a judge.  The application is pretty straight forward.

The best of luck to you and EmptyDesk and hope we meet in person in NYC. K

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Hi Daniel and team, and Karen!
Daniel - How did your team come up with $500/class?  (To add onto Karen's numbers the cost to take a class for one semester at a private college can be between $3800 and $5000, for a 3 credit class.)
Have you prototyped the platform in the US?  When you prototype are you sharing examples of possible university sites, class types, and cost per credit or class?  I wonder if asking young people what they might be able to afford for one class/ semester might be one way to start the conversation?   What numbers are they imagining for costs as you present the idea?  
Might universities be incentivized in some way to provide the seats for a nominal fee for those in need if they receive some sort of tax benefit from the government?  Just trying to think about ways to get students back on track and also for universities to gain some revenue.

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Team

Daniel, your idea is visionary and I its a totally has potential to disrupt how education experiences are purchased on a global level. I see EmptyDesk as a type of Geo-location based Higher Education marketplace that could really disrupt the cost, the accessibility, and quality of education.  In order to have disruption all stakeholders must feel some pain for change in systems, behaviors and habits. I feel that in that US colleges do not feel the pain that EmptyDesks could solve in its current structure,  and would be highly resistant to adopt.   For them to take only $500 a class that would normally cost 50% more, it is not worth the possible legal, labor, and management costs  within the institution. However, there is another stakeholder that might make this worthwhile, and that is the raise of the adjunct professor in the US market.

Right now over half of all professors in Higher Ed are adjunct and do not receive the same benefits or pay as tenured, most work only part-time and have to supplement their incomes by working a multitude of different colleges, some of them are part of the educated poor, especially in expensive housing markets. Here is some links to read more about the higher ed labor market. http://www.forbes.com/sites/noodleeducation/2015/05/28/more-than-half-of-college-faculty-are-adjuncts-should-you-care/
https://www.noodle.com/articles/the-rise-of-part-time-faculty-and-its-effect-on-higher-ed131
Lots of adjunct professor have a existing financial pain. Colleges and Universities generally like to keep high preforming adjuncts since they know the quality of their work, so I believe that this could be a pain point for Colleges as well, that don't want to pay the instructors more.

 It would be interesting to see if Adjunct professors would be willing to receive $450 more a qtr/semester to have one additional student. The additional $50 would be EmptyDesk's fee.  And, how big of a problem adjunct professor retention is for Colleges and Universities. The adjuncts are starting to unionize which could indicate some problems for Colleges and Universities, so there might be some pain there to avoid. 

Thoughts? K

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Team

Thanks Karen.
We do believe that if we execute it well this idea has a BIG disruption potential. Hopefully it gets to be to on-campus education, what MOOCs are (or intend to be) to online/general education. 
Your ideas around adjunct professors are quite intriguing... food for thought.
We have thought of exciting ways to build a strong commnity with teachers but that will come a bit further down the road.
Thanks again for all that great feedback!

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Team

Thanks Bettina, those are great ideas, we´ll look into them.
The courses targeted to low-income, first generation students will probably (at least at first) come from colleges with annual tuitions in the range of the $7,000-8,000 dollars.  There are plenty of high-quality regionally accredited colleges in that range, and many have real problems to get the demand they intend to and therefore use very poorly their installed teacher and infrastrucre capacity. Karen Sorensen placed caution on  the fact that a $500 course might not be enough to interest colleges, but the financial models that we have built indicate that a college who uses emptydesks well could earn 2-5 additional percentage points of its EBITDA margin. The college CFOs that we have talked to would give a tooth for something like that ;). 
Best of lucks with ProjectEd, and hope to meet you futher down the road!

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Team

Hi Daniel! Thanks for participating in Feedback Hours with Impact Engine! Here's your feedback:

What excites you about the idea?

Provides a second chance for drop-outs
Provides a low-risk trial-run for people considering a college education
Increases diverse thoughts/presence in the classroom
Provides additional income for universities, reducing financial strain


What do they need to work on?
Continue to interview customer segments to gain better understanding of pains/gains being addressed. Seek to understand values of prestige universities vs avg universities, vs community colleges.



What action items did you give them?
Continue exploring business models.
Create MVP and test at Universities

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Team

Thanks Alex, we´ll be working around these lines during the next weeks. Cheers!

Photo of Shane Zhao
Team

Loving all the progress Daniel! We're excited to see all the new updates on the milestones of Path to Pitching.

Here's a helpful tip. In addition to the executive summary you've created, it’d be great to also insert some of the key content from your attached docs into the main body of your idea post. (The attached docs may not be visible to community members who are reading through your idea for the first time.) For an example, check out Jim's idea post: https://challenges.openideo.com/challenge/higher-ed/refinement/long-term-education-insurance

To echo Alex's comment about the MVP, it'd be help to clearly format your idea into different phases of implementation. I.e. Phase 1 MVP — Discounted course offerings, Phase 2 — Additional Features. Consider how the MVP can address the focus on cost and the targeted group of highschool and later stage college students (refered to in our previous OpenIDEO feedback comment).

Happy New Year and we're looking forward to seeing the next updates!

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Team

Also, it'd be great to provide a live hyperlink to your online survey at the top of your idea post:)

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Team

Done!

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Hi Daniel, for the prototype it'd be helpful to do more with less. Consider what the barebones version of the MVP can be to reach the goal of reducing the Cost for 1st gen college students. How can you validate your value proposition with the most important elements first? The additional features can be rolled out in a Phase 2 version of your product.  

I like how you've built off of the Expedia site to create a quick mockup for rapid prototyping - that's very clever:) As your incorporate feedback, it'll help to create some original mockups with sample images and text of what your target audience will see. Would the UX of a platform for discounted courses work the same way as one for air travel? How would 1st gen college students experience the site differently that someone who's booking airfare? What's the most important information to highlight? 

In addition to the online survey, it'd be great to highlight feedback from the in-person testing sessions. People often react differently when they test a prototype in person vs. answering a survey. What worked well? What can be improved? The Mural Prototyping Template is a helpful way to focus on testing one assumption at a time. 

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Team

Thanks Shane. We´ll be working on it these last two weeks

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Daniel, the idea is coming along great! Could you share a link to where the online prototype is? The community would love to see it and you could ask them to give feedback via a form or here on the platform. 

Photo of Daniel Aldana
Team

Thanks Alex,
our prototype is attached in the section called “Attachments”. Hope the communityt gets to try it and answer the short online survey at the end! Hope this helps, please let me know. 

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Welcome to the refinement phase Daniel and team! We love how you drew inspiration from Expedia.com to explore new opportunities for tackling the challenges of affordable higher education. We’re also excited to see all the progress you’ve made since the beginning of the ideas phase.

In the upcoming weeks we’re looking forward to learning more about the current experiments you’re working on. A helpful first step would be to update your idea post with an executive summary of the human-centered milestone PDFs you’ve attached at the bottom. The executive summary would allow the OpenIDEO community to quickly grasp what you’ve accomplished since the beginning of the challenge. In the Refinement phase we’re particularly interested in how this idea might meet the needs of 1st generation college students. Studies have shown that 1st gen students are more likely to graduate with the support of a strong peer-network and amenable campus setting. How might you address this issue when students of emptydesks will likely not have a singular campus experience as classes are dispersed across multiple locations? Some thoughts from our experts are that perhaps emptydesks might be a great option for high school juniors and seniors who can take discounted college courses to save tuition on credits later on. This idea can also be suitable for juniors and seniors in college after they’ve acclimated to their campus environment during the first two years of enrollment - reducing the risk of early dropout from 1st gen students.

Here are some key questions and milestones we encourage from all ideas in the Refinement:
1. How might this idea address the unique needs of low-income families and first generation college students?
2. Clearly summarize the value proposition of your idea in 1-2 sentences
3. Identify assumptions that need to be answered in order to validate your value proposition.
4. Collect feedback from potential partners and users to answer the assumptions you’ve identified.
5. Communicate your idea in a visual way with user experience maps http://ideo.pn/UX_Map Or you can use the Mural template provided to you

Lastly, here's a useful tip: When you update the content of your post, it'd be helpful to indicate this in your idea title by adding an extension. For example, you can add the extension " - Update: Experience Maps 12/22" to you idea title. This will be a good way to keep people informed about how your idea is progressing. We’re excited to see this idea progress in the next weeks!

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Team

Thanks! We have updated our idea post. Look forward to your feedback

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Hey Daniel. Great Idea! Our team (Lucy Chen & Philip Arca ) attended the OpenIDEO San Francisco Meetup and we prototyped your idea. While you have prototyped the actual platform design we decided to test the platform and the idea as a whole from the user's perspective. https://drive.google.com/open?id=0B1fm_gisMzHnSTkwMVl3TERXTnM I realize that it may not be the easiest to read but I will try and write it down for you. Here are the questions that came up for us:
- If a person takes all their credits from one school and get their degree from EmptyDesk.com how does their degree stack up against a degree from that university for a full time student there?
- How will the students be guided through the courses they need to get through a particular degree? Will there be preset course tracks?
- What is the value of an "EmptyDesk.com" degree vs a traditional degree when the student goes to look for a job?
- Is there some form of mentorship available for these students who are on empty desk? 

These were questions that came up when we applied the Human Centered Design view and we hope that they will help add to your idea and refine it to a complete product. 

We look forward to seeing how you shape this idea. Feel free to ask us if you have any questions. 

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Team

Mansi,
Lucy Chen 
Philip Arca 
Thanks a lot for those great contributions!
Let me propose the following answers to your questions:
i. We think that in order to differentiate "emptydesk students" and avoid risking the status of a regular student (in the same way that airlines differentiate passengers who buy the most economic tickets but have no right to choose a seat or change their flight date from business-class passengers), universities will ask us to limit the total number of credits that a given emptydesk student can take with each given school; in that sense we don’t see one person taking all the credits in one school.
 ii. We will devote a great part of our effort to provide academic advice and offer career path guidance and alternatives to studenst, so that they can profit the most from the courses they register and build on them to follow a path that better suits their career and life purposes. We will do so with the aid of technology plus our own academic advisors who will have in-depth understanding of the universities and colleges program requirements, but at the same time will have a very modern vision of a higher education sector that needs to become much more client oriented, flexible, innovative and value adding.
iii. We will work very intensely to gain recognition not only with the academic sector by only allowing high-quality (regionally) accredited institutions in our network, but also by promoting our proposition with businesses and employers. We will hope that the same way that businesses already give high value to non-academic degree certificates issued by institutions such as Microsoft and Oracle, they would recognize our certificates for the seriousness of our work, the reviews from our customers, and the quality of each of the universities in our network. 
What do you think?

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Team

Hey Daniel,


On point number 'i' I think limiting the number of credits that a student can take from one school will be extremely beneficial. You would have to be very careful in setting the limits and while doing that I would urge you to look at it from the user's perspective. We posited that the students who would be most likely to use EmptyDesks for a full degree would be those who have no financial backing or the means to receive any. So they can't pay a full time tuition and may have little to no family support so as in the case of the user we 'sketched' they may have constraints on when and where they can take their classes so if you put too many boundaries they might not see the value of your platform and decide not to go to school at all.

I agree points ii & iii with you that a strong guidance will benefit students a lot and so will recognized certification courses. You could also look into gaining industry recognition for the "Emptydesks" degree since that will help not just the students but also the platform to gain acceptance.

I would recommend finding potential users and running a simple A/B Test with them. It might give you the answers you need or the direction you need to look in.
 

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Thanks again Mansi, learning a lot from your advice. Cheers

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Congrats on making it to the Refinement Phase Daniel! In the next few days we'll be sending you additional feedback to help you take this idea forward - so be on the lookout for that. We're looking forward to how this idea will grow!

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Hi Daniel.
Great idea.  I came across a community college in Connecticut that is sharing their empty desks as part of a partnership program with local high schools. They offer high performing junior and senior high school students the opportunity to take classes if there are "empty desks" at no cost to them.  I like this model as it potentially decreases the cost of a 4 year degree if the credits transfer to whatever school a student attends going forward.  http://www.nwcc.commnet.edu/future-students/high-school-partnership

One question I have about your idea is how will students manage logistically.   On a practical level how will one navigate a potential schedule of classes at different campuses, as most college classes are several times a week?   I think this might also be a limitation for the example above.   How does a student go from the high school to the college  - back and forth in time for all scheduled classes?  Perhaps since it is a partnership with high schools there are mechanisms in place?   What are your thoughts?

One other thought - If universities have empty seats what if they offered them for a fee to non degree students, to those who have a degree but want to take a class for continued learning, creating a source of revenue that can be applied to offset costs for students that you propose serving with your Idea?  This will bring diversity into the classroom as well.   If the fee is reasonable and the public participates might this facilitate a funding source for your program?   Just thinking how to use the seats and offset costs for the program.

Excited to see how this develops!

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Team

Hi Bettina,

Thanks a lot for pointing us to Northwestern Connecticut Community College´s Highschool Partnership which I think is great. Many colleges and universities have those kind of programs as it serves the dual purpose of being a recruiting strategy and opening the campus to a more diverse population. It would be great if more universities and colleges follow that strategy and provide some scholarships for high-school students, at least where they have empty desks. I would hope that our website could be the platform where they could offer them, and by doing so, be much more client-oriented with their courses. 

As to your thoughts about non-degree students: ABSOLUTELY. We believe that our website will have three main types of students:
1) John, a 26 year-old who dropped out of a Bachelor in Systems Engineering after completing 6 semesters. During the next three years, and while he keeps his regular job as a programmer, he will use emptydesks. com to register for most of the remaining credits; at the end, he will register back to his original college to finish his thesis and get his diploma. His college will be more than happy to take him back and scratch him off its high attrition statistics.
2) Mary, she works, at a young age she is already the mother of two, and never thought of going to college. But now that she hears about this more flexible, non-expensive and high-quality education platform offered by emptydesks. com, she registers for credits over the next 12 years, in the three cities where she lives throughout that period. After that time, she surprises her boss with a degree certificate in Accounting from emptydesks. com. Her boss, who has heard about the website and knows that only high-quality universities participate in it, talks the owner of the small enterprise where they work into giving her a promotion.
3) Betty, she is an outstanding professional and has graduate studies from one of the best universities in the world. As she is approaching her retirement she finds herself with some free time and rediscovers her passion for sustainibility. She goes into emptydesks. com and finds a course called “Environmental Problematics” in a local university near her, which is rated 5 over 5 by 98% of the students that took it, has great reviews, and a couple of seats available. She takes the course, loves the experience and makes a couple of young friends who are her daughther´s age.

How does that sound?

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Team

Hi Bettina,
I attached a document called Personas and user experience draft, inspired by our conversation. Thanks!

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Hi!  That is great Daniel.
I had written another comment but deleted by accident yesterday.  The crux of it was a Tip to post this information from your comment above, which are in the doc, in the Text of Your Post.   The User Scenarios really help bring the idea to life.  
I think that your focus on youth that have started college and dropped out is great.  It seems to me that someone who has already had some college experience would navigate and approach finding coursework that they need differently than a Freshman for example.  They might need less guidance, and if they need guidance it would be more targeted and they might have resources to find it more easily.   Might this be something to test with potential users?  
As many first generation students drop out emptydesks could be a vehicle for them to achieve the goal of getting a bachelors.   Do you envision any needs that may be specific for this group, in terms of using the site?  

Regarding highlighting the User Scenarios here:
You can enter them into the text of the post and indicate with a subject line:  
UPDATE : User Scenarios, 12/14 (as an example date)

You can also indicate that the post itself is Updated by writing : "Update,  12/14"   in the Title, next to EmptyDesks.    (see what EduHarmony has done in their title line)

Linking documents into the Post also makes access easy.   The Prototype that you have in the documents that you ask folk to look at - You can hyperlink it into your Post in the text.  
Maybe link it near the top of the texts and Invite folk to look at it there?  

Just some tips so folk moving around the Challenge Site can find things easily.

Bettina

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Daniel,

I like how emptydesks creates a "virtual offline university" from the extra seats at any number of schools. A few thoughts for continued refinement:

I second (or third) the comments others have made about the importance of the certificate or degree that would be earned by students (e.g. would there be a bachelors degree? would there be open courseware badges? something else?). Perhaps emptydesks.com could leverage the accreditation that the universities already have to reduce the cost and complexity of getting its own accreditation to grant certificates or degrees. Or perhaps you could find an accredited university partner that would act as the "host" for the initiative and grant degrees under its "authority." Pure speculation there... I think this is one of the thorny challenges to solve.

Also seconding (or third'ing) the importance of helping students find a path through all the offerings. One of the challenges in open courseware, I think, is that it's hard to see what collection of courses add up to some level of mastery. At a university, students have published requirements for majors, prerequisites, a structured course catalog, and advising. Perhaps emptydesk.com could provide these "templates" too. Available courses could be tagged to show how they fill the course requirements for different certificates or degrees. A student could browse the full list of courses, or she could browse the template for "bachelors in electrical engineering" and from that template see 1) requirements she has already completed, and 2) all the courses available at this time for each of the remaining requirements the student needs to complete.
Students using this service might need to first apply and be accepted to each university in the system -- or a target set of them -- before they could take classes.

Another big challenge is that most universities (excluding open enrollment schools) are protective of their classroom expeirences. They would need to feel confident that students taking unused seats in the classroom add to the experience for their core students and are on par with those students academically. Emptydesks would need to support university partners in maintaining control of the classroom. The system perhaps could allow participants to complete an application through emptydesks, manage the university by university approval process, and then return a list of approved schools for each student.

I'm also very curious how the inventory of seats varies by courses across universities. Are there some critical classes (e.g. in engineering) that are always full or very nearly so, such that inventory won't be sufficient? Perhaps emptydesks.com could partner with additional organizations to provide courses where the "overstock" inventory is not sufficient. For example, by using online courses and adding mentoring, tutoring, and group interaction supported by emptydesks.com.

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A: Thanks Jim, great comments and right on many of the key issues of the idea. Let me try to answer with my proposal on how to tackle them initially (I say initially because emptydesks. com will need to evolve throughout its phases of launch, growth, etc.). My proposals are consistent with two principles that I would want to honor: 1) Simplicity – at least starting - is best. 2) It´s not so much about adhering to the higher education actual rules and institutions, it is about disrupting them. I believe that the higher education sector needs to become much more impactful by being more flexible, accessible, and customer oriented, versus the old institutions, old teaching habits, and the research orientation that it has today. Having said that this is what I propose around the points that you make:
i. Certification of degrees: I propose that emptydesks. com initially builds it´s own private certification committee that does not comply or adhere to the government-recognized accreditation system. Much like businesses accept and value the certificates issued for example by Microsoft or Oracle, we would work so that employers recognize the value of our certificates. There are also several countries where this kind of private certification is allowed and valued as highly as the publicly-ran or publicly-controlled certification system. In the future we could look at alternatives like the ones you propose where a specific university would provide the degrees. In any case, we would require the participating universities to provide certificates on the individual courses taken, so that those could be “banked” by a student who decides to register (or register back) as a formal student in a university after taking several credits in our platform.

ii. Paths to degrees: very important. Your ideas are just on the track of what we are thinking. We would have online tools and call-center advisory for students to plan their careers and even technical specializations or minors.

iii. Selectivity: we would like our platform to have plenty (if not the majority) of open courses. I believe that we have so little understanding of the true drivers of academic and professional performance that we have designed a very complicated and cumbersome selection and pre-requisites system, only to discover that some aspects that we don´t explicitly require such as resilience, social background (very unfortunately), or the teacher herself have more incidence than all the selection conditions that we impose on the students. Having said that, we will also give the universities the alternative of creating certain – not too complicated - selection conditions for some courses. Some courses might have prerequisites of other courses, accept students with only a GPA, GPA percentile or official test percentile above certain level, and some courses might even have a simple 10-question competency test designed by the university in collaborative work with us.

iv. Course capacity: there will definitely be a shortage of capacity for many courses, some which will be key for students to complete a degree, such as for example the initial 101s that are usually full up to the last desk. But, I believe that the most numerous type of user for our platform will be that student who did 3-4 semesters and then dropped-out. In that sense they will be demanding later courses, which due to the 40-50% average attrition of the higher education sector, usually have much more excess capacity. Nonetheless, we would work with universities to open up more courses where we measure that there is an excessive demand (of course in those courses that prove through our platform that have the best quality), and I believe that many will be happy to open it up. I have been interviewing Provosts, Vice-Provosts, and other university officials (I will attach the conclusions soon), and you would be surprised how much some of them understand the situation, understand the disruption that needs to come, and will be willing to lead the way.

I know that we have some difficult challenges to overcome with the idea, but the huge transformative potential that I see in it, I believe, makes it very worth giving it a shot. What do you think?

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Hi Daniel,
If you have not already checked out COURSEHORSE, you might want to talk to those folks. They are a good good clearinghouse for classes/workshops in New York City. (See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=75IgnNXd7zo  and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OLIsFyrfznQ and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4MuskSY3zks).

I've used CourseHorse already to attend two classes at a local college and another workshop near the U.N. Easy to use their system and I found what I was looking for quickly.

I wondered if your mission/idea could be incorporated into what they are already doing so that you don't have to re-invent the wheel. The two founders look to me like they'd be open to collaborating with you. 

While they don't use all the components of your exellent idea, they seem to understand the tech/user aspects and they now have a good handle on the marketing. Good luck ! I'd love to see this happen.

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Thanks Barbara, great tip!

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Hi Daniel,
First, is this really a problem? I see two major issues. One, what is the end goal... to just take classes or earn a degree or both? Second, different colleges have different course requirements so how will students be able to earn credits that can be transferred between institutions. What about accreditation which is different for each state and takes a lot of energy time to get for the particular degree program?

There are plenty of great  high quality online courses that are offered free by top schools and international universities all over the world. How will you compete with Udacity, Novo Ed, Edx to name a few?  They offer certificates, credit and a reduction in fees.

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Thanks Dawn,
Emptydesks. com will not compete with MOOCs. It will join them in helping transform a sector that still has a long way to go in providing quality education for a large portion of the bottom of the pyramid population. In the future I can see a higher education ecosystem that provides flexible and hybrid degrees and continuing education with high quality virtual and in-campus experiences. 

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Hi Daniel! Alex here from Path to Pitching, great idea! Glad to see you’re interesting in making your idea real and pitching it to our network of accelerators! To get your idea pitch ready you'll want at least one co-founder, and you'll need to get out there and validate your hypotheses and customers. Have you done interviews yet?After doing that prototyping the idea is essential to really knowing what works and what doesn't. Please publish your feedback as you go through the process!

The main area I would look at testing is how to get the buy in from universities, is there red tape that would prevent them from doing this?

We've created these Human Centered Milestones to guide you in the Path to Pitching: http://bit.ly/1N6hgbQ 

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I like this idea. An added benefit is that some classes, essential for some degrees, that don't meet the minimum enrollment and are canceled, might be interesting for some students to take at a discount, especially if they could substitute that class for a required general education class, so that it would still meet their degree requirements. State rules would need to be amended to make this possible, but it might be a win-win, especially for the students who traditionally end up taking more semesters of courses because the one course required for their degree was not offered when they needed to take it due to low enrollment.

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This is a very interesting idea, I am wondering how supply and demand would work here. How can you ensure consistency of education, students that might not be in class eventually show for exams and assignments

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Maria thanks for your question. The way "emptydesks. com" answers to the challenge of providing a consistent quality education is I believe one of its key success factors. I believe there could be alternative and complementary actions, that I would like to open up for discussion. A few preliminary thoughts on those to ignite the discussion:

• Action 1- selecting the universities: all participating universities would be selected based on their quality and no low-quality institutions would make part of the network

• Action 2 –selecting the students

   o Alternative 1: universities would study each student application to determine whether the student´s background and education is suitable for the courses she wants to take

   o Alternative 2: "emptydesks. com" selects the students based on either:
 A) competency tests
 B) study record

   o Alternative 3: no selection; "emptydesks. com" and the universities trust the student´s choice

• Action 3 –selecting both the students and universities: "emptydesks. com" includes community grading features such that students select only the best graded courses and universities select the most committed and/or competent students

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Great idea, win win situation opening oportunities for disadvantaged students and improve efficiency in universities.

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Congrats on this being today's Featured Contribution!

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Daniel

Yep, this makes sense to me, leverage the excess capacity! And I don't think all learning can be OnLine based so having access to various campuses, would be extremely cool.

I live in the Bay Area, and if back in my college days I could have patched together an undergraduate degree by taking classes at Cal, Stanford, USF, Santa Clara, Laney -- with some platform managing my educational portfolio to ensure that I am building towards a degree, that would have been awesome. It would have been an "all you can eat buffet" experience, especially if you could have included classes at international institutions. And what a potentially diverse network of friends and contacts.

So, from my perspective, a key issue is building the Student Portfolio Manager platform that ensures the student is actually building towards a certification, a degree that is recognized, has market value. Seems like you could tweak existing Registrar type systems and just open them up to a broader mix of classes from different institutions.

All very interesting!

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Thanks Philip.
I couldn´t agree more. Building the "certification pathway" is essential to this idea.
I also agree that studying in multiple universities could actually sometimes even be better than single campus experiences, if of course, well managed . While doing my graduate studies I had the chance of taking courses both at MIT and Harvard, and being able to gain different perspectives from each institution was one of the things that I valued more of my education.
I like very much your FlippEd idea. As "emptydesks. com" it seeks to produce a big disruption in the Higher Education sector, and I believe they both could be complementary.
Look forward to maintaining open this conversation.

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Great exchange of insights Philip and Daniel. On the topic of building a Student Portfolio Manager, Daniel you'll be interested in checking out Philip's idea for a marketplace where universities can bid to fulfill the students' financial and academic needshttps://challenges.openideo.com/challenge/higher-ed/ideas/student-inc-flipped Perhaps there might be an opportunity to collaborate?

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I love the efficiency that this promotes. If capacity is there, why not use it? The question that comes to mind is whether colleges would be willing to support such a use of their space. Although they could benefit from the additional funding, I just wonder if some colleges would perceive a threat to the "ecosystem" as it stands. If some students are allowed to take courses at a reduced cost, would others demand the same treatment? An airplane ticket is used for a single flight, but a course lasts multiple months. I'm interested in thinking of ways that one could overcome these challenges. Perhaps it would require a more drastic change in the way college is paid for over all? At any rate, a very interesting idea that deserves further attention.

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Thanks Elric. You are exactly right. What we are proposing is a BIG disruption to the Higher Education sector. In a way it is to in-campus education what MOOCs were (or intend to be) to online higher education.
But let me tone that down a bit. Students registered at "emptydesks . com" would be far different and have lesser "rights" or services than regular students. They would be registered as so, they could only take a few credits at each university, but most importantly they would not earn a diploma from any given university, but would only get a certificate for the credits taken. In that sense regular students would not demand the same treatment. In a way these students would we similar to the airline passengers who buy the most economic tickets but have no right to choose a seat or change their flight date, while regular students would be first class passengers.
Most probably high-end universities would not start these disruption. But I believe that good, but not so well renowned universities and colleges with excess capacity could be willing to give it a go.

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You can add some additional services:

1. A prerequisit paths for acheiving a "mini specialisation" learning levels.
2. A platform for managing and registering the advancement of the student, that is visible for him or her and for the participating institution.
3. A path or "clearing house" for the student to approach any of the course offering institution and "bank" its credits. By that I mean he or she can enrolled in a relevant program, after having obtained good academic results.

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Thanks Jerónimo. Great contributions.