Experiential learning embraces experts and engagement
By Diane Luckow
This fall, students taking the IAT 333 Interaction Design Methods course will be learning from some of the world’s best, including Scott Davidoff, the human interfaces design manager for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
The course, in the School of Interactive Arts and Technology, teaches students how to use design methods to build user-friendly digital applications, systems and services—and it epitomizes the latest in experiential learning.
Weekly video conferences feature international experts working in human-computer interaction design for large multinational companies and the public sector, as well as for small design firms and consultancies. This semester’s experts include David Royer of LinkedIN, Naheel Jawaid of Google NYC, and NASA’s Davidoff, whose team creates innovative user interfaces for working naturally and intuitively with technologies that support NASA’s space exploration missions.
These experts will discuss how they use and adapt design-oriented theories and methods within their professional practice, and how their understanding of these methods has evolved over time.
“Talking about these issues with international experts in design really changes the game for students,” says professor William Odom.
“It’s a bridge between education, the university setting and professional practice. It changes the dynamics in the classroom when students understand why they need to learn key theory and methods, and their practical value in a professional setting.”
Students begin their semester’s course work by forming small teams and then selecting and acquiring a local client with whom they can work on a human-computer interaction design project.
“I don’t pre-arrange the local clients,” says Odom. “This course pushes the students to move beyond the campus and find an organization they would like to work with. They learn how to broker agreements, set expectations and, in a sense, take ownership over their own education. This process gives students more buy-in because they’re passionate about working with their client.”
A studio-based learning approach ensures students learn to objectively receive and deliver weekly critiques of their project work.
“They learn to criticize their project findings, their design methods and their technical design skills,” says Odom, who notes there is a 40-student waiting list to get into the course.
“Everything they do has to have an intention and an argument for why they are doing it. This course is experiential learning from the first to last day, and that branches into other key takeaways, such as co-op internships, other courses, and great jobs.”
IAT student Venus Lau, who took the course last semester, is moving on this fall to a plum, eight-month internship with multinational software firm SAP.
“Experiential learning is my preference,” says Lau. “The videoconferencing with the experts was really insightful. But what I appreciated most was that William tried to foster the idea of a design studio, with lots of student participation. He always encouraged students to break out of their comfort zones by urging them to provide critical, constructive feedback to other teams, and to listen to the other students’ critiques. This teaching approach was really effective for our own learning, and helped us get a sense of a real work environment.”