Design Thinking and Reducing Graduate Burnout

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Quinnipiac University’s Interactive Media Master’s program offers many opportunities for students, but leaves room for more.

Reimagining curriculum design by interviewing students at Quinnipiac University.

I’m in my final semester at Quinnipiac University’s Master of Interactive Media program, and to develop design thinking skills, we examined possible problems students encounter in the program.

I recently had a wonderful opportunity to collaborate with Stephanie, a peer Interactive Media Master student at Quinnipiac University. She and I started the program together, and while we rarely overlapped in our coursework, we are now placed in the same final semester together.

We spent an hour performing an hour-long design thinking sprint, a condensed exploration of problems, and generating solutions. We specifically looked at Quinnipiac University’s Interactive Media program and looked for issues or problems that we might be encountering.

The Design Thinking Sprint

The sprint session included five phases:

  • Define the problem
  • Ideate solutions
  • Decide best solution
  • Prototype solution
  • Test and reflect

During our discussion, Stephanie indicated she experienced heavy burnout from the program, caused by the program’s heavy research and theory-based curriculum, and a lack of creative projects in coursework.

She also stressed the feeling of isolation, as she did not have many opportunities to complete coursework and interact with other students throughout the course. She indicated that this discussion was the first time she’d had an opportunity to collaborate with another student in the course. This is her ninth course in the 10-course cycle.

How might QU better engage students with opportunities to collaborate and create more creative content that reduces student burnout?

How Might We Statement

Generating Solutions

Design Process thinking allows people to generate solutions for complex problems
After interviewing Stephanie and learning about the issues at Quinnipiac University, I sketched solutions generated by the design sprint session.

After learning about Stephanie’s concerns with the program, I started to ideate solutions that could help Stephanie overcome burnout, and realized the issues causing the burnout address much larger systematic issues at QU.

Proposed solutions include:

  • Updating curriculum to embed creative projects in all coursework
    • For example, in the Content Strategy Course, students can create sample social media posts that align with the strategy after developing a content strategy.
    • Students in Social Media Analytics produce creative social media content, analyze the analytics, and then produce a second set of content to see if content engagement improved.
    • Students create a proposed version of the redesigned website and perform research to see how improvements impacted design in the Understanding Your Audience course.
  • Including more diverse pathways for students to build skills
    • Developing a photojournalism course, instead of one week during the Visual Storytelling course
    • Developing advanced filmmaking courses that build skills from the intro Video and Audio Design course.
    • Develop a second motion and design class, providing students to use what they created in the Motion and Design foundation course.
    • Reimagine Portfolio Capstone, including a capstone project, providing students an opportunity to develop something meaningful instead of rehashing older work.
    • Introduce application and web design courses that allow students to build material for portfolios, and not just researched based design.
  • Providing more opportunities for students to collaborating together including the following examples:
    • Break up complex and lengthy assignments across students. For example, students can collaborate to create one strategy in the content strategy course.
    • Students in Understanding your Audience can collaborate and develop Heuristic Evaluations together.
    • Students can utilize technology to create content together in Motion and Design. One student can animate a logo, while another student makes the logo appear in a video. 
    • Develop peer-to-peer check in sessions.

Prototype Solutions

Design Thinking Proposed Prototype Solution
A screenshot of the prototyped solution generated by this session.

Qunnipiac University can reduce graduate student burnout by increasing opportunities for students to collaborate with peers and increase outlets for creative projects in all courses.

Proposed Solution generated from Design Thikning session

Present and Reflect

After presenting the protyped solution, we discussed its impact on someone like Stephanie. She indicated the solution would help her reduce her burnout, increase her engagement, and allow her to create content that demonstrates her portfolio.

Overall, the process moved quickly, and the prototype could improve the experience for future graduate students. However, this project oversimplifies change and requires all stakeholders of the ICM program to embrace reimaging the program, something unlikely to happen fully.

You can view the final report below.

About the Author
About the Author

Drew Furtado is an Emmy Award winning filmmaker, and leader of a nationally recognized high school media arts communication department .

He develops guides and strategies for nonprofit and educational organizations to improve and grow their social media presence, website development, and communication practices that best engages audiences.

New Bedford, Massachusetts

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