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#1 Lab blog – How might we…?

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This blog was written by Sarah Dyer as part of our Education Innovation Lab Project calls. It has been written to give you a clearer idea about the Innovation Lab and what you can expect if you apply. The deadline to apply is 31st March. To help you better understand the Innovation Lab, we have started by asking a series of questions below that:

“Sounds interesting – tell me more?”

The Education Incubator was set up in 2017 to enhance student learning through academic-led innovation across the University of Exeter. Since then we have supported innovations large and small, building a community of educators who learn from, and inspire, each other. And we in the Incubator have been learning too. We understand better how to improve already good ideas and about the barriers there are in shepherding an idea to fruition. We are now taking this learning and piloting a new 10-week programme to flip the way we work. We are calling the programme our ‘Education Innovation Lab’ and it will involve a diverse group of people – academics, professional service colleagues, and students – all working on their own problem/challenge but supported as a cohort through a programme of online workshops.

“So what exactly is new?”

Thinking and Acting as a Designer (Image: McWilliam, 2018)

Understanding each problem as it looks to others, and experimenting with ways to solve it, will be central to our approach in the Lab. This contrasts with ways of working that assume we can understand a problem from our own perspective and jump to one high-stakes solution. A problem, of course, can take many forms. Educators are constantly evaluating (formally and informally) how their education practice is working; constantly tweaking and often fundamentally revising what they do. Some ‘problems’ are questions of how to make something more meaningful or effective for students, some how to make a practice more widespread or embedded, and some involve admitting that something just doesn’t work well and rethinking what we do. The ‘Education Innovation Lab’ will ask participants to learn more about the problem they are addressing, framing them in their institutional and individual contexts, as part of a structured process informed by design thinking. 

“So how will it work?”

Our first Lab cohort will be working on related issues. Academics and professional service colleagues will be working to increase or embed either Research-Based and Community-Engaged student learning at the University. These Research-Based and Community-Engaged projects will involve students learning through working with others in either authentic research or community contexts. Alongside these projects, students will be working on Provost-funded Student-Led Anti-Racism projects to build an anti-racist university. 

Traditionally, universities have tended to frame students ‘serving’ communities in unreflective ways. We believe that our student participants will be important sounding boards as staff reframe these understandings. Our student participants will benefit too from educators’ perspectives and knowledge about both education practice and the institution. We are able to pay students to participate in the Lab as project leads (up to three students per project) and educator participants are able to pay students to work on their projects. This one of the mechanisms of inclusivity we are building into the Lab.

“So how big should the team be?”

We hope that each project will be led by a small team (of around three people). The programme will be online and we are asking each team to put aside four hours a week for 10 weeks for a combination of synchronous and asynchronous participation. Some projects may choose for all the team to attend workshops and some might share attendance between the group members. 

Our call is currently open for projects and we are asking applicants to identify the problem they want to work on, and to tell us about its impact and the assumption they have about the problem. That’s it. 

We are designing the Lab curriculum to ensure that workshops will involve activities and work that contribute directly to exploring each problem from different perspectives and within its context, and then creating robust solutions. 

We can’t wait to start working with projects.

“So where do I sign up?”

The call for participants is open until 12 noon on the 31st March and we would love to hear from you if you want to be involved.

There are more details about the Student-Led Anti-Racism project call here.

There are more details about the Research-Based and Community-Engaged project call here.

If you have any questions, please do get in touch with us at

CaST Decolonising Incubator SLAR Projects Students

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