Innovation Thinking and Practice at the University of Leeds

I’ve just completed the first of a three year appointment as a Royal Academy of Engineering sponsored Visiting Professorship in Innovation at the University of Leeds. To date this has been a great experience. I’ve been involved in so many different activities. Probably the most important part of this role though is helping undergraduate students develop employ-ability skills. To help with this, I’ve been working with the team in Leeds to develop a new final year undergraduate module which we’ve called “Innovation Thinking and Practice“.

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The new module has a number of key design points –

  • Focus on innovation – plus wider employ-ability skills, such as commercial awareness, collaboration and communication skills
  • Grouping of students into diverse project teams – from different faculties and courses – such as Computing and Business Schools
  • Allocation of real industry innovation challenges to the teams – from which they must develop an idea, a prototype, a business case and “client” presentation
  • Weekly workshop-based sessions – which are partly lecture but mainly facilitated practical team working workshops

Over the summer I was busy, spending weekends developing the content. Since then September has been dominated by planning meetings with the great team at Leeds. Working alongside and learning from my brilliant new colleague Lena Jaspersen, I’ve had excellent interactions with the academic teams in Computing and Business Schools. We couldn’t have had better support from the Learning Enhancement and Innovation team who’ve guided us through setting up, populating and using the university’s VLE system and many new innovative tools and approaches.

As well as content planning and development, I know from experience the importance of getting the learning space and logistics right. And our timing couldn’t have been better. The Business School has just created a brand new collaborative learning room. It’s great to be part of one the very first modules to use it. Instead of a traditional lecture room, this space has a central lecture point surrounded by collaborative table-based work-spaces for project teams. We tried the facilities today and they couldn’t be much better suited to our needs.

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The space is ideal as our weekly sessions with the students will consist roughly of one third lecture and two thirds practical workshop, where the student teams will apply design thinking, develop paper and potentially app-based prototypes, create business cases and value propositions development and present to their sponsors and potential investors. The work-spaces are ideal for all this and more. The students will also have access to use IBM’s Bluemix application development platform to create their innovative new apps should they wish.

The module starts on Friday September 29th and for the next 10 weeks the students will be addressing their innovation challenge, developing their deliverables, learning and hopefully having fun. We’re inviting a set of guests to the final session on the 1st December, when all the teams will present their solution to each other. The winning team will be selected by their peers, with some hopefully surprising but very nice prizes for them.

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Having been involved from both ends in education at IBM, I’m hugely looking forward to seeing the student teams in action in the coming weeks. I think the focus on learning practical (as well as academic) skills with input from industry and a show not tell approach will set them in great stead to both find a great job and make a fast start in their chosen careers.

Watch out for another blog about how we get on in December.

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