Program Evaluation String x ASEAN Social Innovations Program (2022)

Reflecting on various product choices, hypotheses, and the program development process to date

Coordination call with our partners from MINT College and Colegio de Letran de San Juan in the Philippines

This is the second and likely last year that Melvin and I are running ASEAN Social Innovations (ASIP) Program with String for Singaporean students from Raffles Institution and Filipino students from Colegio Letran de San Juan de Letran (previously also MINT College).

ASIP started as a remote-first digital skills exposure program with a focus on developing cross-cultural competencies. The program involved lessons on the basics of User Interface Design, User Experience Research, No/low-code Web Development and principles of digital marketing. On top of that, participants also learnt more about the Philippines and Singapore in general.

What has changed since 2021:

  • The digital skills curriculum was more than halved. Instead of using a full courseware that we independently developed with the help of industry professionals (back in 2020), this year’s program opted for 2 hour, mostly self-contained exercises integrated on our web platform. This was in response to feedback from the first batch of participants who claimed that the program was too demanding
  • Students no longer worked with an enterprise concurrently while learning the module. In the previous cohort in 2021, Professor Brawn Cafe (a social enterprise food and beverage business housed in Raffles Institution) was looking for web ordering and digital marketing solutions. This tied in nicely with the learning outcomes of the program so students had to immediately apply what they learned in an authentic setting. Again the concern that this requirement was demanding so it was not pursued this year
  • Turned digital marketing workshop into a face-to-face session with a focus on student projects. Beyond the generic principles of 4Ps, digital marketing is hard to appreciate without applying it in context. This generally worked and a follow-up is pending.
  • Less ‘arrowing’ on Slack (the primary messaging platform for the program) for cultural exchange. Our first batch involved a very deliberate series of sharing.
How having some structure online that mirrors ‘cold calling’ softens the ground for online friendships

The revised program was based on the following hypotheses:

  1. [Invalidated] Halving the curriculum will lead to less stress and higher completion rates. A little disappointing but I am inclined to believe that having a rigorous baseline knowledge requirement is better than compromising — students will live up to expectations.
  2. [Validated] At least 3 students per cohort are keen on professional work experiences with startups and SMEs that they currently cannot find on their own. During 1:1 chats, some students explicitly shared that internships were the draw for them to join the program to begin with. This is encouraging.
  3. [Validated] Teachers and students from partner schools are willing and able to commit to 10–15mins culture sharing at the start of each session. Partner teachers and students from Letran were very supportive on this in both years. Students from MINT were also engaged in our first year of the program.
  4. [Validated] Teachers from partner schools can co-run the curriculum remotely. Our Filipino teacher counterparts were incredibly supportive and helpful in leading smaller group discussions with more favorable student-teacher ratios. This makes the program more scalable instead of having teaching load concentrated on a few trainers.
  5. [?] At least 1 student project per cohort persists beyond the program. Only time will tell for this one!

Lessons for the road ahead

  1. When in doubt between being ambitious or realistic for the curriculum, always go for the more ambitious option. Students will learn to live up to it rather than going for the lower common denominator. This shortchanged the learning experience of advanced students in the first batch and I suspect it did so again for the second. An advanced curriculum is differentiated instruction (students self-select into the difficulty levels they can manage)
  2. Authentic learning opportunities make a significant difference in motivating learners. Integrating them in program design was the premise of an Edutech initiative I built earlier and in retrospect, there is still some magic in that.
  3. Designing cultural exchange, especially online, requires a lot of deliberate effort and design. ‘Arrowing’ may not necessarily be a bad thing just to warm the ground.

Ultimately, something I learnt in my own times plugged into foreign environments, e.g. being the only Singaporean in Manila during my time in the Asian Development Bank or in Amnesty International (Tokyo), the onus is always on you to take initiative to meet and learn from new people.

Whether it is learning new skills — technical or soft — hope you will continually step out of your comfort zone and be stretched.

Keep learning and growing. Take care!

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Kahhow

Kahhow

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Educator interested in data science, dance and full stack development