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POPin Blog

How to Allow Students to Crowdsolve University Initiatives

Over and over again we hear the experts say that collaboration is the present and future of innovation. It should come as no shock that that many cutting-edge companies are using open office spaces (in which everyone sits at their own desk in an open room) that encourage dialogue between multiple departments of the business, and that many startups use co-working spaces such as Spacious as their headquarters (in which they will work in the same room as other companies) that offer the opportunity for advice and connection with other companies both in and outside of their industries. While universities are typically forerunners in new professional initiatives and trends, this is one area where they are surprisingly falling behind. Large universities such as UPenn are amassing upwards of 25,000 students. A small student government – whose members are also balancing classwork, sports, and internships – will understandably experience difficulties in representing the voices of thousands of students, and will perhaps also be biased to the opinions they hear from their own friend groups. However, UPenn and NYU have started crowdsolving university initiatives, meaning that they incorporate the ideas and input of their students to address university-wide problems and initiatives. By creating a platform of open dialogue between the administration, faculty, and students, these universities have revolutionized their problem-solving approach from taking empty guesses to exploring possibilities with the feedback from those who will be affected most – students – with the ultimate goal of allowing the student body to create the university that best serves their goals. Here are five ways that we encourage universities to strategize similarly.
    1. Remind students that their voices matter. Attending a big university can be a similar experience to living in a big city (in the case of NYU, both are one in the same) in that it is easy to feel dwarfed by the sheer numbers of people surrounding you. Even students at smaller universities can begin to feel like “one in the crowd” when it comes to influencing administrative decisions. Remind students that their ideas, concerns, and feedback are critically important to creating and maintaining the success of their school.
    2. Encourage critical thinking. It can be understandably difficult for students and faculty alike to look at their beloved institution with a critical eye, but the only way for an institution to improve is to address the concerns and potential problems that occur in its reach. Students should feel comfortable speaking up when they encounter an area for improvement in their university experience, and be encouraged to brainstorm and collaborate to find a solution.
    3. Engage student-professor dialogue. Course evaluations are a great way for professors to get feedback on their teaching styles, but their timing at the end of the semester means that the students who are giving them feedback won’t actually get to see the successive results. Encourage regular student-professor dialogue on how both parties can improve. One of our favorite ideas comes from a professor in Connecticut, who gives her students informal course evaluations throughout the semester, so that she can customize each class to be the best learning environment for that semester’s students.
    4. Use an easily accessible leadership tool. Both UPenn and NYU have had tremendous success using POPin, an alignment platform that mediates a dialogue throughout an organization. POPin allows universities to gather authentic feedback from a vast student population and make sense of it, and allows each student to project his or her voice without being overpowered by others’ and without overwhelming the administration.
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