Innovative ideas take flight at the Hatchery, EdTech nest reconstructs tutoring model

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When Jordan Goodness’ parents suggested she get an internship at a large company this summer, the Lehigh computer science sophomore wasn’t quite sure what she wanted to do, but she knew it wasn’t that.

“You hear about internships turning into getting coffee and I wanted more for my summer,” she said. Her instinct told her that she’d get  a lot more from Lehigh’s new Hatchery Student Idea Accelerator, which kicked off on May 22. “I had no experience in entrepreneurship and no idea what to expect,” she said. “But I’m so glad I signed up. The program was amazing!”Photo of whiteboard with photos of edtech nest students

A new collaboration between Lehigh’s Baker Institute for Entrepreneurship, Creativity & Innovation and the Center for Innovation in Teaching and Learning, the Hatchery teaches participants how to apply design thinking and lean startup methods to develop solutions and test potential business ideas.

Students capped off the inaugural program with final presentations to over 200 members of the campus community and guest entrepreneurs on August 9 during Demo Day. The event was held in the EWFM Library 6th floor creative space, which also served as the program’s home base during its 12-week run.

The full-time entrepreneurship immersion program placed students in one of five “nests,” led by faculty, staff, and community experts, that centered around specific topics: entrepreneurship, health care, educational technology, homelessness, and community engagement.

“We wanted students who were passionate about learning the foundational skills of entrepreneurship while working on problems that matter,” said Lisa Getzler, executive director of the Baker Institute. “It's a chance for students from many disciplines to work collaboratively, creating world positive entrepreneurial solutions with market focused rationale in a problem area of their choosing.”

Thirty-eight undergraduate and graduate students representing 19 majors across three colleges presented projects that included Preff, an app that helps users make informed restaurant choices; an outdoor swing that encourages physical activity among middle school girls, crowdsourced safe running trails, and an emergency kit for diabetics that reduces treatment time for low blood sugar by half.

Re-envisioning higher ed tutoring

Greg Skutches, director of Writing Across the Curriculum, and Jason Slipp, LTS senior instructional technologist, co-facilitated the EdTech nest, where Goodness, five other Lehigh students, and one from the University of Illinois, explored technical innovations that leverage peer-to-peer learning to improve the higher education experience.

Inspired by last year’s TRAC student peer learning study in Lehigh professor Suzanne Fernandez’s organic chemistry course, the EdTech nest asked how they might empower undergraduate students to connect, construct, and share skills and knowledge. “The students wanted to find a way that makes learning more meaningful, gratifying, and enduring,” Skutches said.

That idea spawned Catala, a peer learning platform for students to connect and learn from each other through in-person meetings and shared content. Biochemistry student Brooke Lichak ‘19 explained that typical tutoring systems assign tutors to students and schedule when and where they meet.

“Students don’t function like that. It’s more like right before an exam or after you get that first bad grade when you realize you gotta get your stuff together,” she said. “We knew that scheduling had to be easy, personal, and customizable. Catala serves that need.”

The entrepreneurial process

photo of edtech nest students and co-facilitator working around a table in the libraryDuring the two week boot camp phase, facilitated by Baker Innovation Programs Manager and Hatchery Community Manager, Shannon Varcoe, students learned to simplify and distill their ideas to the essential elements.

Walk through the library on any given day, and you were likely to find hundreds of ideas scribbled on multi-colored Post-it notes and whiteboards, and photos, diagrams, and flowcharts papering the entire creative space, where nothing was off-limits. “We literally threw ideas at the wall,” said Lehigh sophomore and finance major, Conor O’Grady.

In the second phase, students broke out into their nests and began forming their ideas into a workable model. For the EdTech team, this meant developing a workflow to connect peer learners and creating a wireframe -- a set of images that displays the functional elements and structure of a website.

In the last stage, students turned their attention to designing the platform, working out kinks, and practicing their final pitch presentations to alums, industry professionals, students, faculty, and staff. 

Students found working in the innovation ecosystem unlike anything they experienced before. “We learned to feel comfortable working on problems with no clear solutions,” Lichak said. O’Grady said students tapped into each other’s unique skill set while building and testing their product.  “We’ve done so many iterations with the wireframe, building on things, and getting our hands dirty,” he said. “Working as a team I just absorbed so much knowledge. That was one of the best parts of the Hatchery for me.”

The EdTech students intend to stay with the project through the academic year, developing their prototype, gathering more data, and integrating it into the TRAC program, according to Slipp. The team, along with dozens of other student teams, will also take part in CREATIVATE!, one of the Baker Institute’s annual entrepreneurship events, on October 23, 2018.

Watch the Catala demo video and visit Lehigh University News to learn more about this and other Hatchery projects.