It feels like I just returned from the annual ASEE meeting. I presented a paper about a topic near and dear to my heart: the new undergraduate major in Human-Centered Design and Development (HCDD) I spearheaded at Purdue.
The paper tells the design story (birth story) of the new program. I took a user-centered approach to curriculum design, since that’s what I know best. I think one of the most valuable tools that came out of it was the vision persona. And, of course, the program itself. 🙂
I get this question a lot from undergraduate students interested in pursuing careers in user experience (UX):
If I want to pursue a career in UX, what kinds of courses should I take to prepare?
In addition to courses about user centered design (i.e. CGT 256 and possibly other new courses coming up in CGT at Purdue), it would help tremendously if you learn a bit of any combination from the disciplines below:
programming – especially front end (e.g. CGT 141, 353, 356)
human behavior – any courses that help you understand cognitive psychology: how people learn, how they process information, what gets their attention (visual attention), what motivates them, how they make decisions, how they communicate, how to communicate effectively with them, how to research human behavior – aka research methods in social science, especially qualitative, such as interviewing and observation (at Purdue, for example, PSY 121, PSY 200, PSY 240, PSY 285, COM 318, COM 307)
business and marketing – it is important to understand how a digital product, say a company’s website, is related to the company’s business goals. For that, a bit of knowledge in business and marketing or entrepreneurship is very useful.
Most teachers, including those like me who absolutely LOVE teaching, consider grading a chore. It is repetitive, and it takes a lot of time. Here are some tips I learned from Linda Nilson at Clemson University that can help make grading more effective:
1. Begin by sorting
Look over all the assignments quickly and sort them into categories such as: excellent, very good, OK, not so good, poor. Now that the harder decision is made, you can further save time if you:
2. Use a grading rubric
The more detailed your grading rubric, the less comments you have to write on assignments. All you have to do is highlight the category that applies. Just Google and learn how to create good grading rubrics. Even after providing feedback on a grading rubric, you feel you want to say more. In this case, consider doing the following:
3. Provide collective feedback
Write a note to the entire class and provide overall feedback without identifying any individuals. You can structure it like this:
Overall, excellent assignments showed these features, and had these kinds of mistakes:…… (make lists).
Overall, assignments that did not meet expectations did these things well but had these kinds of mistakes: … (make lists).
4. Outsource the grading onto students
One brilliant tip I remember from Linda is a win-win situation. If an assignment has lots and lots of minor errors (e.g. typos), return the graded assignment to student but do not point out every minor error. Tell the student that if s/he identifies X number of errors, s/he can get X number of lost points back. This is a very good learning experience for the student, and saves the teacher time.
There are many other tips out there, but these are the ones I know that have helped me a lot. If you are interested in learning more from Linda, check out her book:
This last one is from me:
5. Trust your first instinct
Beginning teachers spend a LOT of time double-guessing their decisions. You think this assignment is a B+, then spend 45 minutes arguing with yourself, only to arrive at the same decision that it is a B+. Trust your first instinct. Be confident. You’re usually right. If you’re not, be on the student’s side and try to see how they can do better and earn a higher grade. Usually tip #1 above helps reduce agonizing time.
What other tips do you have that can make grading more effective?
I am fully behind the theory of active learning, but I struggle with putting it in practice. It takes a lot of creativity to engineer situations that stimulate active learning, and I am not entirely trained – I don’t know the toolbox. But I try.
I’m pretty proud of what we did in my HCI graduate course tonight, and I don’t want to forget it, so here we go:
Discussion on GUI history ended with question about where future interface paradigms are headed. We experimented with tangible computing. I gave each group some items (toys, boxes, trinkets) to use as starting points for designing a communication system that uses those items for interaction.
The students had read 4 articles on various types and aspects of HCI design (UCD, participatory/value sensitive, critical, and a comparison article). We started by ranking the reading is terms of: ease of understanding and favorites. This gave me a feel for what reading(s) were harder to understand. I asked question to tease out the essence of each article and then each team got post-its of 2 different colors. On one color they had to list activities the authors undertook as part of the design process, and on the other, concepts that were new to them. One item per post-it.
I then asked 2 groups to combine their activities on one board and their concepts on another, and then organize them into categories and name each category. We heard brief presentations of the categories on each board, and I interjected points meant to link everything together.
Ended class with some questions meant to integrate the material and 2 minutes of reflection for students to note down their take-aways.
This summer, a group of graduate students and I met about every week to discuss 1-2 articles from recent conference proceedings. It has been an amazing experience that taught me 3 main things:
This is what learning is supposed to be like We met because we wanted to, not because we had to (which is actually true of graduate school). We talked about all sorts of other things, we drank tea, ate, giggled. The meetings were, I think, free of stress, pressure, and grade anxiety. Yet, we learned a lot. This makes me think of how universities first started – a group of people gathered around an older, “wiser” person, walking around and discussing. Because they wanted to. A model where students sought the teacher and instruction was personal.
Creating a family away from home is a very good idea Many of the students in the group, as well as I, are internationals. We are far away from our families. Let’s face it, we get lonely. I know I do. It is possible, and even a very good idea, to create a makeshift family by gathering nice people you care about around a table (food or tea help!). We held a couple of meetings at my house. We ate. We laughed at the cats’ antics. We felt a sense of warmth and belonging, and possibly of the kind of safety that only being in the midst of family gives you.
Female fellowship is precious Over the summer, all the participants to the reading group were female. I loved the energy and the relaxed atmosphere (and the giggles!) of an all-female group. As I get older, I appreciate more and more the special qualities of female fellowship and friendship. I don’t quite have the vocabulary to express why this is so precious to me, but I feel it very clearly.
I would really like to thank each and every one of the bright and lovely women in this summer’s reading group – and would love to hear what you got out of this experience!
One of the hardest things for me in graduate school was to pick the topic for my Ph.D. dissertation. I felt that:
it had to be “the work of my life” and
it would define me and my expertise for a long time to come. So, I wanted to be comfortable with that identity.
I was wrong about #1. 🙂 But 9 years later, I still feel that my dissertation topic has influenced my identity and opened new doors (hello, CGT!)
I would like to share with you the advice I give my students about how to pick a topic for their M.S. thesis or Ph.D. dissertation:
Pick something you LOVE. Something you are passionate about. Otherwise, it will be hell to invest in it the attention and time commitment it requires.
Use your thesis as a stepping stone in your career. Think about how it can help you get where you want to be. Use it to bring together, build upon, demonstrate, and extend your current skill set. Your thesis should be a culmination of what you know and can do. It should make use of and bring together your existing skills. But it should also stretch and extend them, and therefore prepare you for the next step up. For example, if you already have demonstrated experience (internships, jobs, assistantships) in one skill, don’t use the thesis to demonstrate the same skill. Use it to build on it and to take you a level higher.
For example, one of my very theoretically-trained student is choosing to do a very applied thesis, to demonstrate that she can build and design, not only research and write about certain skills. Another student with demonstrated building and programming skills is doing a much more research-oriented thesis that can show not only his mastery with research, but can also position him as a manager who sees the big picture and can manage a process from beginning to end – as opposed to executing specific parts.
Of course, your thesis should be feasible in the amount of time you have, etc. But that’s a process of focusing and narrowing down your chosen topic. Your advisor and committee should be able to help you with that.
What difficulties did/do you encounter about choosing a thesis or dissertation topic? What advice do you have for others?