Students develop innovative ideas to help tackle world’s greatest problems during Grand Challenges week

The University’s unique annual Grand Challenges programme moved online for 2020 in response to the Covid-19 pandemic

From new technology to end loneliness to children’s books and food labelling to tackle the climate emergency – University of Exeter students have developed innovative solutions to the world’s greatest problems.

Students worked together in teams to tackle the major challenges of our time, working with academics and external experts.

The University’s unique annual Grand Challenges programme – which moved online for 2020 in response to the Covid-19 pandemic – saw more than 550 students signed up to investigate either the climate emergency, fighting fake news, loneliness and mental health and threats to food security.

They were joined by students from the University of South Florida and University of Mannheim. Teams worked on their projects in small groups for four days, supported by mentors, external speakers and a variety of skills workshops. Their work was showcased during an online event at the end of the week.

Simon Pardoe, Programme Officer for Grand Challenges, said: “It was fantastic that the Grand Challenges programme translated so well to the online format. I was impressed by the way that the students adapted to collaborative online working, especially as we had participants from 16 different time zones.”

Anka Djordevic, Programme Manager for Grand Challenges, said: “We were surprised how quickly and easily students got on with working remotely in a collaborative fashion. We had 65 groups working in parallel developing their original ideas into projects with potential to be implemented in the real world. Students with different skills sets and experiences can learn a lot while working in a truly interdisciplinary manner. No matter what their individual background, culture and language are, they share similar passions and they want to help.”

Groups examining how to tackle fake news, including misconceptions about the Black Lives Matter movement in the media, came up with ideas including changes to the school curriculum and a new reporting function and icon on social media. Teams also developed a podcast to debunk myths, educate people and amplify other voices and a new social media platform where children could challenge misinformation and a new fact-checking app to help the public identify fake news. The winning idea was a Black Lives Matter action day at the University of Exeter to educate people on the struggles faced by black students. This would include black public speakers and lessons on the black experience. Resources on the Black Lives Matters movement and racism would also be available at all times as a resource for students to become better allies.

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