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Design thinking with Edinburgh students at the Festival of Creative Learning

Last week I supported colleague Ross Ward, part of our Educational Design & Engagement team, in running a session that introduced UX concepts to students, and enabled him to explore new opportunities for technology-enhanced learning.

About the Festival of Creative Learning

The Festival of Creative Learning (formerly Innovative Learning Week) runs every year with a curated week of events taking place in a break in scheduled studies in February. The Festival focuses on creative learning and innovation at The University of Edinburgh providing all Edinburgh students with a wide range of learning opportunities outside the usual academic timetable.

Learn more about the Festival of Creative Learning

Read the Educational Design and Engagement team blog

Supporting colleagues in student engagement and research

This session contributed to a bigger piece of work being led by Ross, who is exploring student perceptions of technologies that support the student experience. The Information Services Innovation Funded-project is running throughout the academic year 2016/17.

In the session, the students explored and discussed how they currently use technology to support their study, and identified what was most important to them.

This initial activity and discussion enabled Ross and colleagues to get insight into what was most important and most challenging to the students, who were thinking about technology provided by the University (in some cases mandatory to use) and about the hardware and software they use independently. The conversation was centred around student tasks, and their attitudes rather than the technology itself.

I made this the focus of the activity as technology changes so quickly, but student tasks and attitudes to what they need to do are far more consistent.

After this initial brainstorming and prioritising activity, we focused on one area that had attracted a lot of votes when the students prioritised what was most important: communication.

We then ran a collaborative sketching activity as a means to research what students want from a specific area of functionality. One group generating ideas for new tools and interfaces that facilitate communication between students on a particular course, and the other group looking at communication between tutors and students.

STaff and students sketch at a table

Staff and students collaborating to produce potential solutions to a design problem

What the students thought

The session was, I think, a great success, with students enjoying and actively engaging in the activities. Meanwhile Ross and his colleagues had lots of opportunity to observe, listen and interact with the groups as they undertook the tasks.

I loved the interactive elements and the group work aspect.


Sketching and sharing ideas was particularly enjoyable and useful.


Since I am going to be a teacher, the UX and UI exercises gave me great insight into considering the needs of students and their attitude towards certain technologies used in class.

Supporting the Virtual Learning Environment team

Ross Ward had this to say about the session:

“The activities in the session generated some interesting discussions and highlight different experiences and approaches that are available to students.

It was a great chance to hear directly from our primary users of our core services and look at how they are used from their perspective. The exercises have been a great starting point to see what is important to students.

One of my big takeaways from running the session is the realisation that students cannot simply be grouped as a general persona. There are often assumptions made about students based on year of study, or their programme of study.

The reality is that exercises such as this need to be extended and continued on a regular basis to try and find priorities and areas to be focused on to improve services.

The event has provided a great platform to look at how we want to gather more information on the different priorities and use cases that are important to students who use a variety of Learning Technologies. We hope that this will be something that can be designed into the service we offer on a regular basis.”

Man stands, talking to seated students

Working with event organiser Ross Ward I was able to help him get new student insight through collaborative design thinking activities

…exercises such as this need to be extended and continued on a regular basis…

Ross Ward, Learning Technology Advisor,
Educational Design & Engagement Team, Learning Teaching and Web Division, Information Services

Engage more productively with your colleagues and students

Design thinking activities are a great way to explore challenges you face in system and service design. They can also provide invaluable opportunities for engagement with important audiences like prospective and current students.

Get in touch if you’re interested in trying methods such as these out to get new insight and design better solutions.

University Website Programme contact details

Read more about how workshops improve understanding of user needs

Workshopping with a research group to uncover their digital objectives

Helping the Cityscope project achieve common vision and prioritise development

Exploring website users’ priorities through top task analysis and user stories 

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