Capstone safely put to bed, and related paper now published ("Wootius Hootius!"), it’s time to pause for a little reflection of the past semester. A large part of my academic time was spent helping Eli and Josh run HCI Design II. This is probably a good place to start, with a short list of things I’d like to see changed with the next iteration:
- More feedback on individual efforts by students — The two opposing forces in this (and other) Informatics course are Content and Critique. There isn’t enough time to do both to the desired degree, so it will take a little creative structuring to improve their efficiency and effectiveness. Six small groups of 4 given 40 minutes to discuss amongst themselves (with instructors rotating between groups) and another 15-20 minutes for a larger class discussion would be a plus. Maybe every other week. The submission of assignments also should be scaled back in favor of more iteration over fewer works. Reading and commenting on everything, as is, was waaaaaay too time intensive.
- More freedom for in-class discussion — (read: less tightly scheduled agendas) Eli kept looking at me every time the talk turned to over-scheduling our three hours each week, but it isn’t like I was advocating for that. Nor did I think cutting people off after just a couple of meaningless minutes speaking to the class was a good idea. We frequently discussed what to emphasize, getting everyone a chance to speak or having good conversation. In a class of twenty-plus, you can’t do both and you tend to lose something important no matter what you choose. I’d like to see the content trimmed to about 80% of what it is (depth, not variety). The structure of the class should protect critique time from being shortchanged but allow unstructured conversation.
- Advance planning and screening for community service learning partners — We got a late start in recruiting local non-profits to work with student design teams. As a result a couple of them might not make the cut if some criteria were added to the process. For starters, they have to attend both the initial who-we-are presentation (to get students to want to work with them) and the team presentations at the end of the semester. Non-negotiable. Second, they have to treat the 40 hours of student time in their office as something other than an opportunity to get some tech help. It is supposed to be some kind of ethnography or contextual inquiry, not web monkeying. Possibly, that whole “We want a web site to solve our problems” mantra many community partners have would be solved by recruiting from Chuck Pope‘s web design class in CS. Some organizational obstacles are good real-world learning opportunities, but there should be a low bar set to make sure the partners are willing and able to help the students help them.
- Ph.D. graduate assistants — I appreciate Eli’s faith in Josh and I and the gesture of rewarding our contributions with an elevated status of “co-instructor” … but for some, having second-year masters students teaching first-year masters students was a problem. How can we teach something we don’t fully know, goes the complaint. Well, pausing just for a moment to point out that Josh did the only non-professor lectures and was very qualified to do so, let’s consider that a valid concern. Or at least a real perception problem that the class must address. I think it all goes away by assigning a couple quality Ph.D. designers to help Eli next year (not me; I have other assignments). The underlying assumption becomes, “Well, they aren’t professors but they do have their masters degrees, so they must know something.”
- Greater emphasis by the program on this being THE core course for the semester — It was a shame HCI Design II got bumped around a couple times when Informatics schedules conflicted. If this is THE course for first-year students in the second semester, then I would think a key strategy would be to set the best syllabus for HCI/d 2 and coordinate with other Informatics courses to match their content and assignment load with it. A lot of things were affected by the forced decision to move the final student presentations back 10 days. It seems to me that could have been avoided through better communication and planning.
From reading the student reflection journal summaries and watching a few of them go after their own capstone ideas, I think next year’s crop of graduates are headed for some amazing projects. If any of these students didn’t get much out of HCI/d 2 in the short-term, I think they will find their experience with Eli to be very influential.
(NOTE: The website is down at the moment, due to a web server failure, but eventually it will be available for review and reuse.)