It’s been more than a month since the students and faculty in the Innovation Incubator project presented their projects to an audience of reporters and editors at the Online News Association in Toronto.

Before that event, we surveyed the students about their expectations, their impressions, and their conclusions about the process. It was, without a doubt, a lot more difficult and time-consuming than they’d expected — in fact, probably more than any of us had expected.

I was probably as surprised as they were. I came into this project with a set of operating assumptions about what this carefully selected group of journalism students would know and do, about how they would interact with digital technology, and about their levels of technological skill and expertise. Most of those assumptions turned out to be either incorrect or out of scale (more on that in the months to come; we’re still developing the research and therefore the conclusions).

Turns out the students experienced the same kind of disconnect. There was a stark difference between their expectations about the process and the reality of what it meant to come up with an original idea, collaborate with a team to revise and refine it, develop it into a working prototype (of sorts), and present it to a public audience.

Turns out it was one heck of a lot more trying, exhausting, time consuming and frustrating than they had expected it to be.

And that realization was reflected clearly in the results of the survey they completed prior to their trip to Toronto. In that survey, the majority of students said the experience was not what they’d expected, and their qualitative comments suggested that many of them were counting the days (OK, hours) until it was over.

But that was two months ago — before their success at the ONA, before their collective pride at a job well done, and before they had a chance to step back and consider — in retrospect — what they accomplished and what it means. In our most recent survey, the same students say they are better collaborators, more innovative, and better able to understand how to use new technologies to build community than they had been before they participated in the project.

And more than 60 percent of them say they want to continue working on the project as we take the ideas from concept to execution, as we partner with three news organizations to deliver their innovations to new kinds of news communities.

That’s above and beyond the commitment they made when they signed onto this project.

It’s confirmation that all their hard work and tenacity is paying off — not only in results but in the degree to which they have come to recognize the contributions they can and have made to community news.

And that may be the first thing about this project that’s not a bit surprising.