Last week I had the privilege of spending time with some members of our student Hacker Club . The goal of this discussion, one of many that we are having with many members and groups in our community, is to identify the digital ideas and innovations that hold the most promise for our institution.
Whenever I spend this sort of quality time with students I'm reminded of both how much I miss teaching, and how important it is for staff to carve out more opportunities to get constant and honest feedback and ideas from our learners.
This conversation was a particular pleasure for me, as the students I now spend the most time with are adult working professionals  (average age mid-forties), as opposed to the 18 to 22 year old crowd.
To set the context, the motto of that Hacker Club is that "we build nice things…" for the community. Some applications that this student group has developed include:
- Course Picker: Integrated info from the registrar timetables, median data, course guide, and other data feeds.
- Dining Service Reminders: Sends an e-mail when favorite food items are in a dining hall.
- Facebook Defriend Notifier: Find out when you've been defriended.
What we wanted to understand from this student group is what they view most as most important when it comes to technology on campus. Where do they see opportunities for technology to improve their learning and living experience? What technologies would they like to see the community invest in? Where is the institution doing well, and what could be improved? How can technology be better integrated into courses? And how do they see trends in technology impacting the future of the institution during their time on campus, and into the future.
The conversation was wide ranging, and the students all had an astounding number of sophisticated and creative ideas. Some of my main takeaways from the discussion were:
1. These students are smart - smarter than us (or me) - which is hopeful for our future (as they will need to pay the taxes to pay for our Social Security and Medicare). Hanging out with students gives one faith in the future. (And if I were starting a company, these are the folks I'd hire first!)
2. A segment of our student population (and certainly this group we spoke to) really wants to be a part of creating their own environments. Technology is the medium in that they create, as well as communicate. It may be that features and polish are less important than providing students with opportunities to build and create tools for their own community.
3. Working with students to develop mobile apps seems like an amazing opportunity, and perhaps the best place to start in engaging student developer groups. The students have the skills to develop these apps (although they are eager for mentoring and assistance and guidance), and are looking for ways to integrate existing campus data streams and campus services into the mobile apps they create.
4. The desire the students expressed for engagement was palpable. Engagement with professors. Engagement with other students. Engagement with the community. Engagement with ideas. They see technology as an essential, although not only, catalyst for creating opportunities for increased levels of engagement.
5. The strong sense I got is that the students are not interested in technology innovation that is done to them. They want to be a part of creating that innovation, in partnership with faculty and staff and as part of courses and clubs.
Do you have a "hacker club" on your campus?
What are some of the things that you learn from these students groups?
How has your institution been able to leverage the passion and talent of your student developers, engineers, computer scientists and hackers to build "nice things" for your community?