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Back-to-School Challenge 2021: GEM Students Launch into Space

Défi de la Rentrée 2021 : plongée dans l’espace pour les étudiantes et étudiants de GEM
Published on
13 September 2021

Smartfiction, dystopia, and experimentation with societal challenges linked to technology, all in a classroom setting: this is what the 700 first-year students in GEM's Grande Ecole Program experienced for 10 days from September 13. For the start of the 2021 academic year, GEM is offering a new educational breakthrough with its 2021 Back to School Challenge. Conceived by GEM's innovation and education teams, this totally new 10-day immersive course has been developed with the support of the IRT Nanoelec.


This is the 2021 Back-to-School event. From September 13 to 23, 2021, the Back to School Challenge, GEM's iconic introductory and immersive course, was dedicated to the theme of Using Digital Technology Mindfully. The objectives was to "meet new people" in a quirky, unique, and experiential way, and to develop the digital culture and the "positive early influencer" aspect of students to reflect on the uses and societal impact of using digital technology, without bias.

The 700 first-year students of the Grande Ecole Program at Grenoble Ecole de Management (GEM) have answered the earthlings' call for help: in a futuristic world, our civilization has allowed itself to be overrun by excessive digital use."

Immersed in a dystopian smartfiction universe, the students had the mission of finding alternatives to regain free will. The students will have 10 days to enter the ecosystem of their new School, to get to grips with the major social issues which GEM is involved in (ethics and integrity of students and employees, equality between men and women; access to education for all, economic peace, and the fight against global warming) and to begin developing psychosocial skills (cooperation, critical thinking, ability to communicate, etc.).

In teams, they have been reflecting on "using digital technology mindfully" which is broken down into 6 themes: health and well-being; smart building; mobility and transport; hybrid work; urban spaces; customer experience. To do this, they will work on 19 controversial points that question the use of the IoTs in everyday life (delivery drones, smart pacemakers, connected meters, collaborative robots, etc.). The themes of the 19 controversial points have been worked on in conjunction with the Nanoelec IRT and the GEM partners.

The method: immersion, smartfiction, and design thinking

Among the innovations of this new Challenge, 100% made in GEM, a hallmark of the Grenoble back-to-school session for more than 4 years: the students have been:

  • Living an immersive audio and visual experience within a smartfiction in a futuristic and dystopian world in comic book format specially created for the occasion.
  • Working for 10 days according to the 4-step design thinking method illustrated by the infographic below. This method has been tried and tested at GEM and has been scripted in the TIM Lab on the GEM Labs campus.
  • Evaluated on their various productions, including a series of 19 podcasts created with the support of Bertrand Lenôtre, a pioneer of French-language podcasts and host of the program "Les éclaireurs du numérique
  • - Ending their Challenge by participating in the Using Digital Technology Mindfully Championship hosted through Micro-ondes (via a live radio show), Escapades and GEM en débat, 3 GEM students associations, and by sharing their productions with industrial partners and the School's Alumni.

An innovation in line with GEM's raison d'être

"Our ambition is to get students to explore and study societal challenges related to technology, taking into account the point of view of multiple stakeholders. We also want to encourage the students to become a class of responsible and committed individuals. We want a challenge that makes an impression, that gives meaning and that sets up the rest of the year in an innovative educational setting. The event must make them want to have a lasting and positive impact on the world in which they live in order to have a desirable future" explains Lionel Strub, Head of the 2021 Back-to-School Challenge at GEM. "

This vision is entirely in line with the raison d'être of GEM, the first major French business school to become a Société à Mission 1, which is to provide answers, through education and research, to the major challenges of the environmental, societal and economic transition and to contribute to a more resilient, more just, more peaceful and more responsible world.
Finally, it should be noted that this new educational innovation is part of GEM's ambitious "TIM LIVE Academy" project, unveiled in March 2021, and whose hallmark is:
experimentation in situ and immersive experiences.

1. Equivalent to a US Benefit corporation: type of for-profit corporate entity, authorized by thirty U.S. states and the District of Columbia, that includes positive impact on society, workers, the community, and the environment—in addition to profit—as its legally defined goals. Benefit corporations differ from traditional C corporations in purpose, accountability, and transparency, but not in taxation.

Key figures for the 2021 Back-to-School Challenge at GEM:

  • 10 days
  • 750 students
  • 19 teachers
  • 1 societal challenge
  • 19 controversial societal questions
  • 19 initiatives supporting using digital technology mindfully

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