By Richard S. Grossman, Internet Marketing Program Chair
Minnesota School of Business Students Brace Themselves for Applied Learning Project with Global Leader in Ankle Protection
Visionary educator Sir Kenneth Robinson stated, “Collaboration is the stuff of growth.” A select group of talented Minnesota School of Business-Richfield students discovered the truth of those words firsthand during the 2015 winter quarter.
Five students from three different programs: interactive media and graphic design (IMGD), information technology (IT) and game and application development (GAD) teamed up to create a complete redesign of the official website for Minnesota-based Swede-O, Inc., the global leader in ankle protection. Swede-O products are highly recommended by orthopedic surgeons, podiatrists, family practice physicians, certified athletic trainers and many other healthcare professionals worldwide.
First, let me provide some context for how this all came to be. About two weeks prior to the start of winter quarter, Lisa Williams, the marketing lead at Swede-O contacted me to inquire about the possibility of getting students involved in a project to redesign the company’s website. I just happened to be scheduled to teach the Design Studio class for the upcoming term. That class happens to include an applied learning project — and, as you might surmise, the perfect scenario immediately started playing out in my mind.
I had only one real concern: My design students were more than up to the challenge of executing the front-end components, but given the site requirements included a full e-commerce build, I wanted to have a couple of coders on the team to implement the back-end components.
So I reached out to a trusted colleague, Chad Anderson, who teaches the web development courses, for his recommendations of possible students to handle the back-end coding for the project. That conversation led to both Dylan Mathiesen (GAD) and Rebecca Olson (IT) joining front-end designers Wes Eisert, Tyler Ingalls and Jon Swensen, all IMGD students, to form the project team.
As the scope of this project was immense and the team did not have the luxury of working on it full time, it took all eleven weeks of the quarter to produce a representative website that integrated the e-commerce component with the other requisite content. Even then, there is still more content to be added for the client to realize its vision for the new site. To that end, the team provided a “user-friendly” content creation and management tool via the WordPress platform to facilitate future updates and site management.
Building an e-commerce website such as this requires a significant amount of additional security and functionality on the back-end. The team’s two programmers were up to the task. It certainly helped having Rebecca on board. She does this for her “day job” and therefore, was able to bring a much-needed skill set and experience to the project. She was excited about developing her first WordPress site and being able to add those newly acquired skills to her resume.
Dylan was also a WordPress newbie at the outset, but gained valuable skills along the way.
“I had a great time working with the rest of the team,“ Dylan said. “It was great that we were able to collaborate and create a cool website for Swede-O. I learned more about html/php/css and can apply it to other projects.”
I think Tyler spoke for the entire design team when he said, “Working with the Swede-O crew was a great all around experience. This project seemed like more of a ‘job’ than a school project and made it easier to understand what it will be like going into this career field.”
From the client’s perspective, it was a very positive experience as well.
“Working with the class on redesigning the layout and functionality of our website overall was a pleasant experience. At our initial meeting, the class had prepared questions for us regarding what we were looking for within a website and were very knowledgeable. It was clear they had reviewed our current site and wanted to set a well-defined direction for the project. Graphics and other information were provided to the class after our initial meeting,” Lisa Williams said. “There were steps along the way when the students requested to purchase images and or required programs. This was discussed in the initial meeting as well and the requested items fell within the guidelines of our initial meeting. The communication between our company and the class was very timely and efficient.”
As the class instructor, I wanted this to be as much of a real-world experience as possible. I set up the project objectives and expectations (including project deliverables) at the outset, and also made it clear that I was not going to micromanage things. I provided the necessary tools, templates and instructions to allow the team to formulate their own workflow and communication processes and then stepped back into more of a mentor role. I believe the team learned a valuable lesson about the critical nature of time management and communication — just like in the real world. In the end, the team rallied together and pulled a couple of all-nighters in order to make their deadline.
“The students were very knowledgeable, professional and a pleasure to work with,” Lisa added. “The instructor, Richard, was also very informative but made sure that the students were doing the work and learning from the experience.”