19 September 2022

A big win for Swinburne students’ experience

What our Good Design Award means for students from low-socioeconomic, remote/rural, and Indigenous backgrounds.

Here at TGD, we’ve been immensely proud to work hand-in-hand with Dr Nadine Zacharias of Swinburne University of Technology.

Nadine entrusted us with her vision and 12 years’ worth of passion as Swinburne’s Associate Professor of Higher Education.

Together, we developed a comprehensive human-centred design strategy to improve educational outcomes at Swinburne University, and across Australia.

And here’s the good news! After over a decade of work, Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Program AKA HEPPP just won a Good Design Award!!

Nadine Z

Dr Nadine Zacharias, Swinburne University of Technology

Here to help the HEPPP

HEPPP made it onto our goal list way back in 2010.

Its aim? To support the success of university students from backgrounds of low socioeconomic status (SES).

However, findings from initial studies were patchy at best. The data became further complicated when the policy focus widened to include students from Indigenous, regional, and remote backgrounds.

Evaluating the influence of HEPPP-funded activities on students' participation or completion rates presented a real challenge.

Defining The Problem

This project presented so many variables beyond our control.

In Nadine’s words, “Students from underrepresented areas often have more complex - more fragile - lives than those from middle-class backgrounds.”

That makes the evaluation of equity programs difficult.

“We needed an evaluation framework that gave us guidance for how we could approach these challenges,” Nadine reflected.

“We wanted to see how these programs help us achieve outcomes around retention, grades and progression towards completion of studies.”

“The outcomes fact was the missing link."

Enhancing Student Engagement and Success in Higher Education 4

HEPPP Report, 2021

Making The Plan

For truly human-centred design, we need to understand the student’s perspective.

‘We wanted to hear from the students,” Nadine told us. “...to put the students at the centre.”

We wanted to unearth the complexities that they face.

“Many students are trying to fit higher education into their busy lives, so we wanted to know: ‘What are your needs, and how can the university best support you?’.”

We combined these student insights with the literature, as well as knowledge from key experts.

Assembling The Team

It was a sizable project team, and it was a really multidisciplinary team. We were very clear around the skillsets that we needed and we found the right people to execute quite a comprehensive and complex project brief! — Dr Nadine Zacharias

Let's talk about the team. Along with Dr Nadine Zacharias, one of the critical project drivers from Swinburne was Melissa Lowe. The Manager of Student Equity at Swinburne, Melissa was our go-to subject matter expert.

Our other key players included:

  • Dr Jeffrey Waters - With a PhD on the mature student experience at Swinburne, Jeffery wrote the literature review and assisted with qualitative analysis.
  • Dr Nicole Brownfield - Nicole helped to produce the Program Logic Models, a core outcome of this project.
  • Dr Sadie Heckenberg - Sadie joined the team as our expert in engagement with Indigenous students.
  • Dr Svetlana Burova - As a statistician, Sveta did much of the groundwork for this project and was critical in providing quantitative data.

The Growth Drivers in the mix

So, how did TGD get involved with this project?
Nadine and TGD’s former Chief Design Officer, Dr Laura Laura Kotsanski, had been looking for a collaboration opportunity for a while.

“We actually co-wrote an application for a national project which was not successful,” Nadine reflects. “Luckily Swinburne University decided to do it anyway because the Head Governance group could see value in the work.”

“We made the case that TGD should absolutely be our partner because Laura had been so involved in the drafting of the application."

The TGD project team included:

  • Laura Kotsanski as project lead
  • Sara Pateraki as senior designer
  • Chloe Sterland as design support.

What the TGD team brought to the table was a method for designing and implementing the project as an engagement process. The journey maps and student archetypes are our core contributions.

"That was really something that we could not have done on our own,” reflected Nadine. “I still marvel at Chloe's design skills, to produce something concise, snappy and easily accessible, yet meaningful."

Looking forward to The Future

So we’ve won a Good Design Award. What’s the next step for the project?

Answer: Get it out in the world.

While it hasn't yet been socialised widely, the project team recently presented at a conference and received a great reception.
And within the university, staff are already benefiting from a shared vocabulary and understanding of what project evaluation means.
After 12 years of work on this project, Dr Nadine Zacharias is all too familiar with the question of how to eat an elephant.

"We’re taking things one step at a time. One bite at a time,” she shared. “We are now very much into data collection instruments and processes."

PXL 20220916 082104533 MP

Laura Kostanski, Nadine Zacharias and Sara Pateraki

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Read more about how TGD are transforming ideas into impacts at tgd.global

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