The winning team of students from the 2020 Student Forum has created a student support services prototype as part of its one-month internship with the Student Learning Hub. Held in October 2020, the Forum, a hackathon-style event that was part of a broader initiative (students as partners), asked students to use design thinking principles to come up with innovative solutions. 

What we learned from students in the forum 

  • It’s hard to find their way: students struggle navigating through the support at UTS, but are very satisfied once they find what they’re looking for. 
  • Students want to be involved in decision making, and want to see clearly that their feedback makes a difference to how we operate. 
  • Inclusivity is on their minds: students want to make sure everyone can take advantage of opportunities. 
  • Authentic relationships matter: students want us to give them opportunities to develop authentic relationships with each other and with us. They also want support in developing the interpersonal and intrapersonal skills to develop and maintain those relationships on their own. 

Teams pitched a range of creative ideas to address the question: “how might we build belonging within our student community, particularly in an online world?” Measured on the selection criteria of an innovative approach, an ability to be implemented, and what outcomes are expected, pitches ranged from a suite of grand challenges to help students to get to know each other, to an online platform to match students based on their interests and alerts them to upcoming relevant uni events. 

The winning team, comprising Elham Hafiz, Bethlehem Mekonen, William Feng, Maryam Chowdhury and Shreycey Dhungana, sought to reframe existing support services to make them more accessible and personalised, (including counter spaces, online spaces and mentoring programs) and create human connection in an online experience.  

The intern project team used design thinking methodologies to unpack the core issues of belonging using extensive data collection and discovery. They analysed data from QILT, the Spring 2020 Student Satisfaction Survey and the 2020 InSync Library Survey, as well as feedback from their fellow students in the Student Forum, and their own experiences as students of UTS. 

How the students defined ‘belonging’ 

  • An ongoing process of establishing and maintaining relationships 
  • A feeling of safety and comfort as well as growth and change 
  • Accepting and being accepted for who we were in the past, who we are now and who we wish to become 
  • Being respected for ourselves and showing respect to others 

The discovery process was not just about finding issues, however, and there were plenty of positives that were reinforced about how we work with students. 

  • We acknowledge students’ changing needs and adapt services to meet them 
  • We’re prepared for what students need to know, and it’s easy to access self-help 
  • Staff are organised and professional, fostering trust from students 
  • Students get constructive advice and feedback when they ask for it 
  • When a student takes the time to ask a question, we take the time to answer it 

Building upon and streamlining these positives formed the foundation for the team’s proposal, which was that the best way to build belonging for students at UTS is to demonstrate our ongoing commitment to respect and embed that into the fabric of service delivery. 

How do we embrace these findings and build a sense of belonging at UTS? 

The team brainstormed several potential solutions and created user personas to project how students might interact with each of these solutions and how their needs would be met.  

After delivering two user experience workshops with students, using the design thinking tools and skills they developed through the hackathon and internship program, the test cases and feedback indicated that a self-service offering for student support would be the most impactful of their proposed solutions. 

The team’s prototype, called UTS Service Connect (not to be confused with ServiceConnect), is a one-stop shop for students to access a comprehensive knowledge base of support services, connect to the full range of student-facing systems, and be given personalised assistance when required. 

What does the portal do? 

  • Brings all systems and support for students into a single online portal 
  • Uses student-centred language to describe user objectives 
  • Built-in universal booking system 
  • Peer-to-peer live chat call-back for students who want guidance through the self-help system 
  • Customisable home page, tailored to individual’s needs 

How does it build belonging? 

  • Makes services quicker and easier to find, elevating student needs over organisational structure 
  • Standardises student experiences across UTS and reduces the time it takes to learn how each system behaves 
  • Seamless transition between self-help and professional assistance 
  • Added flexibility makes it more accessible for those with complex needs, increasing the feeling of students feeling supported 
  • Students can personalise their online experience, customising their dashboard to put their most-used systems or resources front and centre 
  • Students can find all their commitments in one place, reducing complexity 


Hackathon Winners 2020  

Special Thanks  

  • Alycia Bailey – Manager, Student Learning Hub  
  • Sascha Jenkins – Director, User experience and planning  
  • Brett Smout – Director, Student Services Unit  
  • Michael Gonzalez – University Librarian  
  • Professor Shirley Alexander – Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Education and Students) 

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