February 21, 2019

With the Vision for Success guiding efforts to improve student success, the California Community Colleges requires increased capacity to design student-centered programs and tools. Commitment two of the Vision – “always design and decide with the student in mind” – calls for all services, programs, and policies to be more user-friendly so that students can focus on what’s most important: learning and reaching their goals.

Building upon the Student Journey to Success Project that was launched in 2018, a new grant from the College Futures Foundation will create a Student Centered Design Lab. Housed within the Foundation for California Community Colleges and under the guidance of the Chancellor’s Office, the Student Centered Design Lab will offer services to streamline and better guide the student experience across system-level tools.

As colleges are increasingly using technology tools to interact with students – from college guidance to applications and registration to instruction – siloed system development processes and uneven tool design have created unintentional institutional barriers to student success. Learnings and insights from one project aren’t always translated to another, and student-facing technology design has been hampered by usability assumptions and limited access to student centered design resources. These challenges are especially acute because of the system’s diverse demographics, including high ratios of low-income students, first-generation students, students of color, English language learners, students with disabilities, and adult learners.

Through centralizing student-centered design best-practices and establishing an ongoing design knowledge-base, the system will have direct access to student perspectives, knowledge, and expertise to directly apply the student lens to the Vision for Success implementation and aligned reforms. In addition to the Student Journey to Success Project, the Student Centered Design Lab’s launch will be informed by the Online Community College also, for which IDEO and other expert consultants are employing a human-centered design-thinking approach.

Working closely with the Chancellor’s Office, college experts, and technology leaders, the Student Centered Design Lab will establish a set of design principles reflecting the values perceived as most important for ensuring student success. These principles will be adaptable to different applications (e.g. college websites, onboarding, enrollment campaigns, etc.) and through all phases of work (e.g. planning, launch, and ongoing maintenance). Based on these principles, and under the guidance of the Chancellor’s Office, the Student Centered Design Lab will also explore creation of a recognized certification for student user design, developing a method to validate evidence-based design principles and recognize projects that incorporate the student experience in their design. Design principles and their applications will be evaluated at both the system and local level for continuous improvements.

In addition to establishing design principles, and under the guidance of the Chancellor’s Office and its research priorities and strategies, the Student Centered Design Lab will conduct primary research to gather student input. Student research will use an adaptable approach, ensuring responsiveness to changes in education policy, financial aid reform, and the economy. To optimize accessibility and ensure diverse representation, the Student Centered Design Lab will employ multiple options for reaching students, including focus groups, virtual technology and other tech-enabled supports.

The search for a Student Centered Design Lab Project Director will be soon underway, and a professional with related experience, key skill sets, and a passion for helping students succeed will lead the autonomous entity, holding a high bar for research, rigor, and design standards supported and validated by the system. It is anticipated the project will be sustained over time as services become included as designated expenditures in system projects. More information, including ways to get involved, will be shared in future newsletters.

For more information about the Student Centered Design Lab, contact Bryan Miller, Vice President of Communications and Technology at the Foundation for California Community Colleges, or Dr. Omid Pourzanjani, Visiting Senior Executive, Digital Futures Lab at the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office.

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