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Sustainably digitalizing higher education requires a human-centred approach. To address actual problems in teaching as well as learning and increase acceptance, the Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) solution(s) must be co-designed with affected researchers, teachers, students and administrative staff. We present research-in-progress about a sandpit-informed innovation process with a f2f-marketplace of TEL research and problemmapping as well team formation alongside a competitive call phase, which is followed by a cooperative phase of funded interdisciplinary pilot teams codesigning and implementing TEL innovations. Pilot teams are supported by a University Innovation Canvas to document and reflect on their TEL innovation from multiple viewpoints.
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15th International Conference on Wirtschaftsinformatik,
March 08-11, 2020, Potsdam, Germany
Designing a Sandpit- and Co-Design-informed Innovation
Process for Scaling TEL Research in Higher Education
Sebastian Dennerlein1, Viktoria Pammer-Schindler1, Markus Ebner2, Günter
Getzinger3 & Martin Ebner2
1Graz University of Technology, Institute of Interactive Systems and Data Science, Austria
2Graz University of Technology, Educational Technologiey, Austria
3Graz University of Technology, Science and Technology Studies, Austria
Abstract. Sustainably digitalizing higher education requires a human-centred
approach. To address actual problems in teaching as well as learning and
increase acceptance, the Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) solution(s)
must be co-designed with affected researchers, teachers, students and
administrative staff. We present research-in-progress about a sandpit-informed
innovation process with a f2f-marketplace of TEL research and problem-
mapping as well team formation alongside a competitive call phase, which is
followed by a cooperative phase of funded interdisciplinary pilot teams co-
designing and implementing TEL innovations. Pilot teams are supported by a
University Innovation Canvas to document and reflect on their TEL innovation
from multiple viewpoints.
Keywords: higher education, sandpit, co-design, innovation, TEL
1 Introduction
Innovation in higher education often means scaling research outside of university in
the open-market by founding start-ups [1], for example. However, research in the
realm of Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) also needs to be scaled internally to
digitalize teaching and learning in our universities and meaningfully innovate higher
Despite the long research tradition in TEL (e.g. 2019-14th EC-TEL conference), the
teaching and learning practice in higher education remains focussed on leveraging
digitalization for scaling and enhancing frontal speech (e.g. recording courses for
distance education). Many TEL insights are not transformed into sustainable practices
as 3rd-party funding often only results in impact on selected application contexts.
When it comes to leveraging existing TEL-research for improving teaching and
learning practices, sustainably and systematically, there is a gap: How to understand,
support and monitor sustainable evolution of university-internal TEL innovation? In
this paper, we describe 1) a sandpit and co-design-informed innovation process for
TEL innovation in higher-education and 2) the University Innovation Canvas as
instrument for documentation, reflection and guidance within this process.
2 A Sandpit- and Co-Design-Informed Innovation Model
Our goal was to establish a university-internal innovation process at Graz University
of Technology (TU Graz). Following Design-Based Research [2], a first version of
the process, events and methodologies has been co-designed with experts from TEL,
design-science and diverse university representatives ranging from rectorate to
specific organizational units. The innovation process is planned to be implemented
three times, whereby iterations are informed by stakeholder-interviews as well as
analyses of the process documentation with the university innovation canvas, for
example (see below).
We propose a human-centred approach to university-internal scaling of TEL that
respects all relevant stakeholders by fostering collaboration and community building
as core value. The innovation process consists of a competitive and a cooperative
phase. While the competitive phase aims at finding pilot projects with respect to the
goals of the universitys digitalization strategy and guiding an expert committee to an
informed decision about the distribution of funding, the cooperative phase aims at a
(mutually) supportive innovation process of the winning TEL pilots (see Figure 1).
The results of the cooperative phase inspire the competitive phase of the next
Figure 1. Cooperative and Competitive Phase of Innovation Process
2.1 Eliciting & Selecting Innovations in a Sandpit-Informed Competitive
The competitive phase (see Figure 1) follows the idea of a research sandpit [3],
where an interdisciplinary group of academics and practitioners comes together for a
short time to create new projects around a given theme. The process includes the
chance to get to know each other and creatively form groups and ideas to narrow
down most promising approaches. This research sandpit is implemented in a face-2-
face event following the idea of an actual marketplace anyone within TU Graz can
present ideas or ongoing projects that have to do with learning and technology to
lecturers and students (first call for presentations at this marketplace). The second
call is for interdisciplinary project teams who compete for (a limited amount of)
funding. Requirements for these projects included that the TEL solutions must be
implemented in another faculty than the one of the researcher(s) for higher impact, for
For evaluation of submissions, we considered the university digitalization strategy
[4], portfolio management [5] and product management [6, 7] and developed ten
criteria that sum up to three main evaluation categories: TEL concept, expected
benefit & financial rationality. Each criterium of a category was informed by a set
of indicators assessed on a 5-point rating scale: e.g. in the expected benefit
category, the benefit of the pilot submission was based on the expected effects,
addressed number of students and involved number of faculties. Results were
illustrated in an easy-understandable and comparable graphic, the University
Innovation Dartboard (see Figure 2) including segments for the categories with slices
for respective criteria. Each slice represents a 5-point scale so that a filled dartboard
means high performance. This structured evaluation informed an expert committees
decision on the distribution of funding.
Figure 2. University Innovation Dartboard (left side) and Canvas (right side)
2.2 Co-Design-informed Innovation Phase with University Innovation Canvas
The winning pilots develop their TEL solution and implement it afterwards in a
university course during the cooperative phase (see Figure 1). It incorporates the idea
of collaboratively designing innovation together with the affected stakeholders to
increase trust in the TEL solutions, address actual learning and teaching problems and
promote broad adoption. The pilots are required to collaboratively create design three
times with project stakeholders and with an expert team that provides outside support.
We have developed the University Innovation Canvas (UIC) in order to support
documentation of pilots, as well as to trigger reflection on the project. The UIC is
inspired by the business model [8] and the lean canvas [9]. It triggers reflection about
factors that are important for a sustainable TEL innovation, such as thinking about
which existing problems are solved, and by which characteristics of the solution;
how (if) to leverage co-creation, and what is necessary beyond the technology
development phase to make the innovation successful. From a communicative
viewpoint, the UIC serves as an evolving boundary object for collaboration in the
interdisciplinary innovation-teams and cooperation with other pilots and outside
experts. From a learning viewpoint, the UIC serves as trigger to enter into reflection,
as guidance for the (collaborative) reflection process, and as means to document
reflection outcomes [10].
We understand such an innovation activity to represent an activity system [1113].
The UIC represents the tool that helps innovators to collaboratively create their
object-oriented activity, namely the transformation of research into sustainable TEL
solutions in higher education. This socio-cultural understanding of innovation makes
the UIC a prototype that is iterated like the emerging TEL solution. Like a living
document, the UIC allows to evaluate the innovation process over time and provide
targeted feedback and support from outside of the pilot team in form of specific
reflection questions. To fit the innovation process within higher education, we
designed the UIC as iterative artefact, excluded revenue streams and included a field
for co-design to bridge the value proposition with targeted stakeholders; a field for
value measures to assess the value proposition; a field for sustainability plans to
maintain the value and a field for learnings as a kind of innovation diary (see Figure
Alongside the cooperative phase, barcamps [14] are offered for cooperation and
communication between and beyond the innovation teams. Without pre-defined but
participants-driven process, the pilots can leverage these ad hoc-conferences in terms
of their co-design needs and for cooperation with other teams. As a side effect, such
barcamps are facilitatory for the emergence of a potential communities of practice
3 First Results and Outlook
At TU Graz, we are in the middle of implementing the first iteration of the
innovation process. The competitive phase is conducted, and the winning TEL pilots
are engaging in the cooperative phase. Without stating a funding maximum,
submission requested about 20k€ for co-designing and implementing the TEL
solutions. Out of 19 individual submissions for the f2f-marketplace (1. Call), we
received 12 follow-up submissions from interdisciplinary teams (2. Call), covering all
faculties. The expert committee decided to fund 6 out of 12 projects. These include
virtual laboratories for studying 3D physical problems, digital tutors for training
Python with in-time feedback & reflection support for understanding and monitoring
learning goals alongside studies. On average requested funding is reasonable and
100k€ funding allows us to drive six one-year TEL pilots with high probability of
impact on several faculties, also giving impulses for tool adoption and participation in
the innovation process. The implementation of such a process is not cost-free,
respecting costs for administration, expert support and hidden in-kind on top.
However, it is much more expensive to first educate EdTech companies for research-
informed TEL solutions [15] and then pay them for their services. Finally, initial
feedback from the interdisciplinary pilots signals appreciation for the cooperative
phase. The teams welcomed the chance to reach a shared understanding with the UIC,
leverage it as guidance to keep the focus on important innovation factors and
understand co-design as a fertile but demanding process in terms of the invested time.
They further stressed that the formal structure promotes an efficient innovation
process and helps a reflected approach to sustainable innovation.
We found first indication that our human-centred university-internal approach to
scaling TEL research is well received by the users for their inclusion in the design as
well as the innovators for guidance and support. Events and methods will be iterated
for the upcoming implementation and assessment in future iterations. Research
questions surround the processes and dynamics of intra-university open innovation as
well as the effectiveness of the UIC to truly support and guide TEL innovation
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