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30 lessons from student-led higher education innovation

May 8, 2018

Student-led higher education innovation is complicated. With hackED (originally Re-Code Collaborate), Re-Code’s first major student-facing initiative, we decided to work directly with students to try and build a movement. hackED was an effort to: a) create a network of student leaders across the country; and b) develop local chapters that would meet regularly to make change on their campuses. How did it go? These are the 30 lessons from student-led higher education innovation :

1. Strong stories are better than loud ones. Instead of putting so much effort into reaching as many campuses as possible, we should have found ways to tell a stronger story.
2. Social change is social. We should have socialized our early leaders, connecting them more deeply to the kinds of problems we aimed
to solve.
3. Exit interviews. Exit interviews might have helped us catch some crucial mistake in our process, preventing further exits.
4. Don’t start anew when you could continue. Why start anew when you could continue someone else’s work? Instead of recruiting students with little connection to us or our oncampus partners, we should have connected with RECODE champions and our networks.
5. Aim small. We should have started by scaling deep: establishing small communities and a culture of hackED on a few campuses.
6. Be ready. Prepare all content and resources – including those materials needed later in the term – in advance of the start of the term.
7. Organizational learning has to be intentional. Collect continuous ideas for improvement in a centralized form and plan deliberate debriefs after each phase of programming is completed. Use those debriefs (and a calendar) to build deliberate feedback loops across program delivery cycles.
8. No gambling with quantitative goals. We shouldn’t have gambled with quantitative goals, setting lofty, arbitrary targets. Qualitative
goals would have been more accurate and more powerful.
9. Grow deep, not wide. We rushed to spread out. Instead, we should have measured hackED’s growth at this early stage in learning and in engagement.
10. Don’t mistake vision for purpose. In hindsight, we knew neither what problems we were solving nor who we were really solving them for. Don’t follow cause alone: outline the theory of change behind the work.
11. Celebrate results. Each time we heard about successes from our members, we should have shared the results across the network.
12. Find existing champions. We assumed we needed our “own” leaders to make our programming happen at campuses across the country. Instead, we should have engaged existing campus groups to partner with us on their campus.
13. Facilitate mentorship success by starting with real-world connections. Begin mentorships by finding opportunities to connect mentor and
mentee in-person. In lieu, find a way to create a cultural connection online.
14. Money matters. Consider using honoraria or paid employment as an incentive to keep students engaged.
15. Set expectations, performance metrics, and feedback loops. Expectations are set by what is done more than by what is said. Create a culture of acknowledgement, consequences, and actions.
16. Make room for social connection. Make involvement a fun and personally engaging experience. When spending time together, focus not only on what needs to be done, but also on learning about each other, why you’re involved, and what’s going on in your lives.
17. Build in disengagement detection processes. Team leads should personally check in with each member on a highly regular basis, especially when teams are distributed and volunteer.
18. Give permission and create space for burnout. Acknowledge that burnout/fadeout happens, and do so publicly within the team. Make sure team members know that they can admit difficulty to one another and that taking a step back is encouraged.
19. Recruit more aggressively than you think necessary. In a volunteer, distributed team, the more the merrier. We tried to keep the team small, but having more team members might have made a substantial difference in disengagement.
20. Use a robust and real-time availability/scheduling system Collect real-time availability – e.g., through a shared calendar service that actively displays the overlapping schedules of a team – and book meetings two weeks out.
21. Create a culture of asynchronous engagement. Asynchronous, remote work needs to have team touchpoints. Create a culture of mutual engagement and reinforcement.
22. Divide and conquer – then reunite. If a simultaneous meeting isn’t possible, split the team into groups that can meet and find some
way to share updates between these groups.
23. Balance is key in management. A balance must be struck between macromanagement and micromanagement such that volunteers have enough instruction that they can practice their creative skills but enough clarity that they don’t struggle with decision-making. 24. Oneon-ones and personal check-ins should be important and frequent. Find ways to track each team members’ burdens and check in frequently.
25. Keep per person task lists clear on responsibilities, deadlines, and dependencies. A clear picture of what everyone is doing – and how it links together – will help drive both one-on-one and full team meetings.
26. Start partnerships from the foundations. Work with external partners to design shared projects together, instead of bringing them in after plans have already been made.
27. Make it real. Find concrete opportunities for real critique and feedback throughout project design and development phases. This means getting hands dirty: building out components so that they can be prototyped and played with.
28. Develop feedback loops. Actively search for partners’ impressions of the project. Find creative ways of unearthing suspicions or apprehensions, and examine those concerns fully as early as possible.
29. Launch late. Build up to the launch of a community. Keep the launch details clear – the where, when, and how – while fostering suspense and pressure to participate.
30. Launch loud. If you’re looking for more participation and membership, share the news of your community with a loud, vibrant marketing campaign.

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by Ryan Murphy