Design researchers in the BIF Student Experience Lab team use a combination of observational and ethnographic research, self-reporting, and interviewing to characterize the experience of current, former and prospective students at various ages and from diverse racial and socio-economic backgrounds. To capture a first-person perspective of the student experience, the team puts a strong emphasis on capturing student interviews on video.

In this first phase of work the team looked specifically at the experience of college students. The decision to look at the college experience was made in alignment with the strategic mission of the Lumina Foundation for Education, which provided foundational funding to launch the lab.

Working Directly with Students

Primary research is supported by secondary research. For this phase of work, the team had contact with education experts and advocates from all sides of the debate. Similarly, the team's secondary researcher conducted a literature search to identify academic and scholarly research that provides important historical context to understanding the current student experience. The real strength of the work hinges on time the team spends working directly with students, engaged in interviews, informal meet-ups and visits to student’s homes and classrooms.

Between June and September 2009, the team conducted more than 65 deep interviews with students from all walks of life. We have met with high school students considering college, students already in the system, adult learners navigating the school/work divide, and students who have failed or dropped out for personal and financial reasons. We have talked with students at elite colleges, community colleges, on-line institutions and trade schools.

Research conducted in geographic proximity to the core team and with students living in the Northeast was supplemented by research conducted by satellite researchers working in Chicago and San Francisco.

Experience Map

The team used a multi-faceted data analysis process to aggregate primary and secondary research insights into an "Experience Map." BIF's approach to Experience Mapping helps the team packages its findings in a highly visual and interactive form that uses video, audio, photography and first-person narrative to tell the story of the student experience and allow experts and non-experts to understand the human, environmental and systems-level factors that have the most significant impact on student experience and success.

This approach enables stakeholders to see the experience through the lens of the student, better appreciate the dynamics of the educational system and more readily identify opportunities for innovation and intervention.

Project Advisory Committee

The Student Experience Lab team garners input and support from a Project Advisory Committee, a group of national experts that are well positioned to provide feedback on critical components of BIF's work in the Student Experience Lab. This group was especially helpful during the Experience Mapping phase of work, connecting the team with the right experts and providing us unfettered access to student populations well suited to contribute to our research.

The BIF team will use the Student Experience Map as a basis for creating a corresponding "Opportunity Map" (due January 2010) that helps BIF and its partners identify specific elements of the experience where investment in innovation is likely to yield the greatest return.