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2012 Fall Interactive Innovation Project

In focus group interviews, Medill graduate students in the fall quarter innovation project asked parents of Chicago Public School students what they most wanted to know about their children’s educational experience.

The answers they got were resoundingly similar: Parents wanted to know how to best parse through the loads of information CPS puts out to figure what is best for their child. The group of 14 students kept that feedback in mind when creating their innovation project, a publishing partnership with Catalyst Chicago, an independent magazine and website that covers CPS.

“Audience research was key in making our ideas into a viable product,” said Elise Menaker, a graduate student in the innovation class. “It shaped what products we created and the content we developed.”

The solution created by the students is named Chicago School Zone and is comprised of four products: website, newsletter, email messaging and school choice web application. Currently, Catalyst already produces a website, newsletter and email, all of which the students proposed upgrading in various ways, but the web application is a new product. It offers parents a way to sort information about various schools in a digestible format. The information in the application is already available on the web, but is currently presented in an overwhelming way that makes it difficult for parents to work through.

The components are meant to supplement the content Catalyst already produces, as well as increase readership. The group felt it was best to keep the editorial products parents already were familiar with, but also add in a new, web-based component.

“Our audience still seemed to value print resources, but we also pushed the envelope and created a responsive website that would please parents who access information on their mobile device or on the web,” Menaker said. “We created an innovative web application that assists parents in school choice, a feature many parents said they need and would use.”

Because the class is made up of Medill graduate students with different concentrations, the variety of products meant each of the students had a chance to shine in their respective mediums. Menaker, for example, created a broadcast story on public school football teams sharing equipment, which was then shared by student Julia O’Donoghue on the new Chicago School Zone Twitter handle.

Though the project as a whole presented a good solution for Catalyst Chicago to be able to reach out to more parents of CPS students, Professor Rich Gordon, who taught the innovation class, said the web application component was the standout piece.

“If Catalyst doesn’t build [the web application], someone else should,” Gordon said. “Something like that, someone will support it because it’s definitely needed.”

To watch the full presentation of the innovation project, click here.