Since 2018, the Back-to-School Challenge has been the flagship event at the beginning of the year for the 700 first-year students in GEM's Grande Ecole Program. Between September 13 and 23, 2021, these students took on the role of "early influencers" ready to spot, promote, and follow new trends that are emerging in the digital world. Focus.
By adopting the central theme of "Using Digital Technology Mindfully", this Back-to-School Challenge aimed to explore the links between technology and society by examining digital technology, its uses, and its impacts. Indeed, the digital revolution is driving many debates around the four major current issues: the environment, ethics, confidentiality, and data security.
"The French phrase "numérique raisonné" (using digital technology mindfully), is not widely used. It implies taking a step back from digital technology and thinking about the ways in which information and communication technologies are used as well as their impacts. In more concrete terms, it's about finding a balance when making choices (both in your personal life and in as part of a community, within an organization, etc.) with the goal of being innovative and making progress in society", explains Lionel Strub who is in charge of the Back-to-School Challenge module and a professor at GEM.
Beyond that, "The Back-to-School Challenge creates an educational break for the 700 students through an immersive, thought-provoking, and engaging experience, and provides a way to get to know the School and its status as a société à mission . Together, they dive straight into GEM's unique academic and research environment."
Six topics and 19 controversial questions
The theme of using digital technology mindfully was broken down into six topics: health and well-being; smart building; mobility; hybrid working; urban spaces, and the customer experience. "These topics were developed through 19 controversial questions which we established alongside our partner IRT Nanoelec. In teams, the students delved further into these questions and then went on to tackle them. Here's an example: for the topic of mobility, one of the controversial questions was: "Delivery drones: the promise of an optimized service or the invisible takeover of the IoT?"
The students were invited to take on the work and role of an "early influencer" encouraging them to think about their future responsibilities as managers. Their work aimed to design initiatives to help raise awareness, incite action, or inspire others regarding the uses of digital technology. (see box). Their work will be presented at the closing ceremony on September 23 - the challenge's grand finale. This work includes: an infographic and podcast created for the initiative, a website mapping out some of the controversial questions, as well as a their profiles as early influencers. GEM partners will then take on the proposed initiatives as part of their own real projects.
Raising awareness and helping to create digital cultures which are both appealing and responsible was what the 2021 Back-to-School Challenge aimed to achieve. "One of the goals is that from the very first days of the new academic year, students are already learning to work in a collective environment by working in teams on collaborative learning projects" concludes Lionel Strub.
What is an "Early Influencer"?
"The idea of an "early influencer" is based on the social dynamics that impact how innovations are adopted. It refers to somebody with a skill set that allows them to identify, analyze, and embody developments in society or in technology that are likely to become mainstream. People with this skill set are highly sought after by companies for their ability to detect so-called "weak" signals in an area of business," explains Delphine Gatti-Urweiller, Head of Innovation Programs at GEM Labs. "The approach based on a series of controversial questions also allows students to develop skills and abilities by reflecting critically on social issues and putting these into perspective. Throughout their practical university career, students will learn about the complexities of contemporary issues and tackle them by developing initiatives."