With 48 Hours, Duke Students ‘Rethink’ Education And Find New Ideas

Jan 8, 2014

First-place winners of Duke University's 'Rethink Education: The Innovation Challenge' Winter Forum pose for a picture. The team proposed an online database that can be shared between schools in North Carolina and India to improve STEM education.
Credit Reema Khrais / WUNC

A high tech pen-pal system shuttling messages,  knowledge and know-how between schools in Durham and those in India. A program that would have students repair bicycles as a part of their studies. How about older students teaching younger students through video tutorials? Or paying high achieving students to tutor?

These were some of the bright ideas cooked up by Duke undergrads for the “Rethink Education: The Innovation Challenge” winter forum at Duke’s Fuqua School of Business

In a three-day challenge, more than 100 Duke undergraduate students competed to come up with innovative solutions to some of the toughest global education problems.

And the thinkers weren't just from the school of education. Young people majoring in pre-med,  business and other specialties spent 48 hours wrestling with the question of how they could help improve science, technology, engineering and math instruction in both India and the U.S.

The challenge not only inspired students to think in untraditional ways, they were also exposed to a  new ideas from education experts, along with former N.C. Governors Bev Perdue and Jim Hunt.

“The goal is to get them thinking and embedded and immersed in the idea of education and the need for innovation,” said Kenneth Dodge, director for Duke’s Center for Child and Family Policy. “Education is a field that needs innovation right now.”

The Proposals

12 teams of undergraduate students worked closely together. They presented a wide range of ideas. One  educational project encourages students to repair bicycles. Another involves older students teaching younger students through easily shareable video tutorials. 

The winning team proposed a pen-pal-inspired online platform between a Durham Public school and schools in India that would help strengthen teacher instruction and student performance in science, technology, engineering and math education.

The idea is a winning one for a couple of reasons. There has been a need for better STEM student performance in North Carolina. It also addresses the need for stronger professional development of teachers in India. So the group suggested that teachers and students in both countries exchange ideas and tactics. 

“I think it’s a completely feasible solution, just like Teach For America was Wendy Kopp’s senior thesis, this could easily be someone’s senior thesis. " - group member Eeshan Bhatt.

The second place winners also presented a project with a heavy focus on India. They looked closely at combating the poor retention rate among students there. The proposal suggested that middle school students receive training and financial compensation for tutoring younger students. 

Bhatt and other participants said they hope to further develop and implement their ideas. First, second and third place winners were awarded $1500, $1000 and $500 to go toward educational organizations of their choice.

The Winter Forum was sponsored by Duke’s Center for Child and Family Policy, the Office of Undergraduate Education and Duke’s Program in Education.