Notes on Assignments and Activities in Class
Everything here is provisional and I reserve the right to change it.
This will be especially the case after the first couple of classes,
when I've got a better idea of who you all are and what your learning needs
I will definitely be clarifying and explaining what it is that I want
you to do, so don't worry if you don't quite understand the wording here.
Quite a lot of the work in class and the assignments that continue out
of class require you to work in groups. I shall asign you to a group in
order to ensure that groups have appropriate mixtures of skills. One of
the things that you will be learning in this course is how interdisciplinary
design teams can work together. At its most basic that means that those
with programming skills and those with other skills (such as observing
users, understanding the needs of non-techies, ability to write good prose,
graphic design skills, content expertese, etc.) need to learn how to talk
to each other so that they can actually understand what the other is trying
so say. This is not easy - many professional design teams have difficulty
with it. So for this course you must be willing to try to work as a team,
and to work to overcome the difficulties that that entails.
The assessment will be by coursework and class participation (actually
the two will overlap). You will be designing web pages and prototypes of
user interfaces, as well as analysing interfaces and observing how people
use them in reality. There will be the opportunity for those of you who
already know a programming language to build a demo interface.
As well as the items of coursework, you will be expected to be active
class participants. There will be numerous group activities that we do
in class that involve analysing and designing interfaces. These are an
essential part of the course. You can only really learn these ideas by
doing them and discussing the results. Reading about them and being told
about them is just the first part. Consequently, missing classes is a bad
idea. It will be hard to catch up, particularly as we continue design activities
from week to week.
Classes will in part be lab style, with me setting exercises to do
(mostly in groups) and then wandering round helping people who get stuck,
followed by general discussion of what has been done and the problems and
insights that have been uncovered.
I'm happy if you are able to integrate your coursework with things
that interest you or relate to previous or current work experience or contexts.
Overview of my teaching philosophy:
Training: acquiring the skills to be able to perform a job
Education: acquiring the ability to train yourself
I firmly believe that the only way to learn about something is by doing
things. Thus there will be a lot of activities in this course that I expect
you to do.
I see my role as a coach, a guide or a facilitator. I do not want
to be or to be seen to be the guru, the fount of all knowledge and wisdom
of the validator of all that is true.
I see the key educational aim of the course as to be to enable you
to get sufficient grasp of the ideas underlying usability design so that
as and when the need arises you can find out what you need to know for
your own particular professional purposes on your own.
Therefore I am not aiming to give a nice little predigested survey
of HCI. That is what I might do if I was selling this course to business
executives who were prepared to pay something like $2500 each to take the
course. In that sort of world you are always aiming to sell them the next,
more advanced course and to give them an easy ride so they get the illusion
of learning, recommend it to their friends as a fun course to take, but
keep coming back to you to pay to take another course. That is what I call
learning dependency. It's a nice little earner for the course provider,
but it is not education and it is not empowering.
So by contrast, in this course we are exploring how we can become a
learning community, building on the strengths and diverse experience of
User interface design is a weird sub-part of computing engineering.
It is one of the few areas in his supposedly hard engineering discipline
where the telling of stories and anecdotes is considered important and
meaningful. I will be encouraging you to tell little stories about things
you have observed others doing or that you have done yourself.
You are also expected to contribute to the ongoing discussions in class.
This may be to ask questions, to attempt to answer someone else's questions,
to clarify a point, to offer additional information or to back up someone
else's claim by additional evidence from your own experience, or to contrast
someone else's claim by differing evidence from your own experience. You
may also contribute by finding interesting articles in textbooks or jounals,
or real-world examples noted in newspapers or magazines or content or examples
on the web or by bringing examples of software to show to us in class.
This is a very valuable form of contribution and I strongly encourage it.
It is particularly appropriate for people who like to prepare in advance
what they are going to share in class.
There are various coursework activities:
1) The use and design of web pages as examples
of user interfaces
2) Analysing and designing a better interface
for an information system
3) Learning Summary
The assignments refer to using a bulletin board. The details of which
one are not finalised yet. I'll explain in class.
I know that may look daunting, but some of it will be started and continued
in class time, and I'm happy to help you. You are also welcome to draw
on the resources of your colleagues, so long as you acknowledge their help.
I'll explain it all in more detail in class.
Note, I realise that for many of you this style of analysis and synthesis
will be rather strange and confusing, not to say intimidating. Please remember
that all your submissions are considered as work in progress. You are at
liberty to go back and improve on things as you understand more as the
semester progresses. Furthermore, you don't have to do everything perfectly
to get an 'A'. But you do have to attempt everything and show improvement
over time. Doing a few bits really well and failing to submit others, hoping
that has gained you enough marks out of the total (for a B or even a C)
is not an option because I'm not marking it that way. The marking is holistic.
More explanation in class. I just wanted to warn you before you registered.
In particular, it is not possible to get a A grade unless all the course
activities have been attempted
If you have an idea for an alternative piece or pieces of coursework that
you would rather do, I'm willing to consider and discuss this possibility
with you. In the past I have done this with people who managed to integrate
some activity they had to do for their job with the requirements for the
course. I may say no, but you are welcome to ask.
I don't intend to give marks for every individual sub-part of coursework.
As I said, I regard them as work in progress. I will give you feedback,
particularly if something falls way below my expectations. Mostly
I shall give comments on what you have done so far and how it might be
best improved for the least effort on your part. These can be in the lab
sessions in class or in office hours. Verbal comments make it much easier
to make sure that we don't misinterpret each other.
The problem is sometimes that students spend more time worrying about
what they should do and what is expected rather than bashing in and having
a go and seeing what they learn from floundering around. Thus I see this
intermediate feedback as a way of reassuring you that your are indeed on
the right track and are progressing well towards gaining an 'A' grade.
You don't have to try and be a mind reader to guess what is required. The
holistic marking progress is designed to ensure that plunging in and having
a go and getting in a mess is OK, and can still yield an 'A' overall. Briefly
this is all about encouraging academic risk-taking rather than playing
safe by doing something rather boring. If I'm encouraging risk-taking,
then I have to provide a safety-net, and this is part of it. More on this
I also expect you to give constructive feedback on each others design
work. This is part of the coursework requirements. I'll let you know when
I expect it. In particular, you should be providing each other with suggestions
for easy ways in which a piece of coursework might be improved.
The overall mark you get will be by my looking through your work as
a whole, as guided by, and taking into careful consideration, your learning
summary. It is the summary that allows you to point out to me why you deserve
an excellent mark. I'm assuming that is what you want and you are willing
to try things out and put in the effort to work towards achieving it.
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