User Experience Design (UX) and Digital Literacy

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Photo credit Dave Stone on Flickr: CC licence

Posted by: Howard Errey, Educational Developer, College of Design and Social Context, RMIT University.

Dr. Jeremy Yuille is a senior lecturer in several subjects/courses at RMIT University in the School of Media and Communications around User Experience Design, Interaction Design, and Digital Design as well as professional practice and studio contexts. This post is a transcription of an interview with him for the Beyond Blackboard Course Shells: “What on earth are they using?” project.

Do you use Blackboard?
I use it as little as possible. In the last course I used it to manage assessment. So it was the place where students had to submit their work. It was the “official” place where the final word on what was going on in the course was put. It worked better than it has in the past.

I’m pretty sure that at least a quarter of the students did not look at anything there, but then I am also pretty sure about the same number did not turn up to the class either! (I’m not sure about the correlation between those 2 things.) It was really just used for the grade centre. I did it to see how it would work. I will probably continue with it as it makes that end of semester work flow go more easily. It also meant there was no physical artifacts to have to deal with and no chance of losing anything.

What other tools do you you use?
In the course of teaching, I have used lots of different tools. Before blogs we had Moveable Type and Typepad. We installed our own instances on the servers here and were managing them. These days, I tend to use something more lightweight. I have been using a Facebook page.  It wasn’t as successful as I thought it would be. I used a “page” instead of a “group” – they are different. I’ve used Twitter and then quickly found out that most of the students at that point didn’t use it. I have used a Google Site and that was disappointing, mainly because I work with design students and it immediately lost credibility no matter what content was in there.

The thing I’ve found that works best is a WordPress site. It is very easy. We don’t have to worry about login or access. I just use the free WordPress.com rather than hosting WordPress.org. Other colleagues use it as well.

I have tried getting students on to their own blogs. It didn’t work. I have heard good stories of others doing this. Young people are tending to communicate visually. It might be better to get them doing their own Pinterest or something like that. I would like to get them to write more and better. For us, WordPress is like a link bucket and we use it for reflecting/collaborative/sense-making, and write it in a way that students can comment into it.

I have used Google Docs for sharing documentation with our Singapore students. Their brief  was written in Docs and they could use the commenting and collaboration features to ask me questions about that.

I’m about to use Google Docs this week to teach students how they can do remote interviews for instance. It’s much better than email because you are working with someone on what their interview will look like, particularly if it is to be published. It puts more work onto the interviewee. So the success depends on what the payoff is for the interviewee. Writing input can vary wildly.

I have tried getting students to collaborate on Google Docs. Our students are interesting. We think they are digital natives but they are not – or not in the way that we think about it. In the past I have assumed students knew why this was interesting or why the way you can collaborate on, say, Google Docs is so good. But it’s not until I contrive the situation where you get someone to open it and you edit something in front of them and they all freak out and suddenly they get it. I have done this with staff too. Or you do it on the phone with someone and you are talking to them about it and it’s not until you contrive those “aha” moments that they get it. I am hoping to get students a little bit more in it this year. Google Docs is a bit more stable now. For the last couple of years I have trying to get my colleagues to use Google Docs, while managing the program and that was a challenge.

Hungry?

Photo credit Max Crowe on Flickr: CC licence

In what particular ways are students not as savvy online as we might think?

We have found that they are not as critical as we have led to believe. This means they tend to be consumers on information but their appetite is not broad. They don’t tend to look widely. It’s a bit like they come here on a diet of junk food.

When it comes to content creation I am still quite surprised by my students because communication design or graphic design happens with digital technology. But these are offline solo processes. So that doesn’t map really well on to them having a lot of experience working with people online. Just the idea of being networked isn’t a large part of their online identity.  There is a student I am noticing at the moment who does seem to have a large networked identity and I think that is because they have been working outside in the fashion industry. That student is aware of what the value of a networked identity. Whereas a lot of our students have not had a lot of experience outside of school and they have no sense of what a networked identity is. And that then flows into a lot of digital literacies, for example, how do you work with someone, why is it valuable to even work with someone online? With studios it is challenging to get them to interact face-to-face let alone online. One of the things we still find hardest to teach are these kind of soft skills. We need to think about these as digital soft skills with the first question being: How do you form relationships with people?

What were your your intentions in using Facebook?
Basically, lowering friction; reducing barriers. Previous informal research in class showed me 99% had it in common. If I put things there it is easier to get them to see it. Then, once you’re on there, you have all sorts of other features. So I created an equivalent of live Tweeting during lectures. I created a back channel and have a series of guest lecturers and would have a live feed on the page. The students who engaged with the page and attended the lectures tended to benefit, although that didn’t show up on the student survey scores. But I suspect that the students who attended didn’t do the survey – what can you say? This is the first time the course had been taught and we had a only a few survey responses and those were mostly negative.

Technically the students could have input into the Facebook channel, but I am not sure they are aware enough of that practice. We could run a whole course just on back channels. We could foreground it a bit more or put it on the screens like at conferences. I suppose they get it because they see it on things like Qanda; but I am yet to be convinced that they have actually taken part in something like that. That would be different. At present they are just spectators. They are quite sophisticated spectators but are not overly critical. When it comes to making something or contributing, those skills are not as developed.

How do we help students find the practical experience?
I don’t think it’s happening explicitly in our systems. It is starting in first year where they have taken on the task of expressing literacies in transition. So much of this is about being able to communicate with the written word. I am a little bit gobsmacked that the middle aged lecturers who are teaching courses about digital design are far more sophisticated users than the student — who we have been lead to believe are good at doing stuff online. There is a mistake there and we haven’t quite cracked that. We need to know: what is their understanding of this medium?… or how can we get them thinking about engaging with the network? Some of the things they are doing in primary schools now are going to lead into networked literacy. So that is 15 years before they get to university, and hopefully between now and then we will begin to understand and observe some change.

With design there is a large part that is embodied. But it’s not just soft skills but also how you look at situations and perceive different ways of framing things. There is a large amount of embodied knowledge in these platforms. When you first open a Google Doc and start synchronous editing – no one forgets that. Those moments when the penny drops. Those kind of threshold learning experiences. They are embodied and yet because we think of it as virtual we think, they will just get it. We think that students will jump into these sort of environments, yet their literacy with them is so low. If you have had experience of seeing an edit war in Wikipedia then you have a different perspective on that Wikipedia page and all that’s behind it. This week I will show students an edit log of an interview I did with someone, so they can see how it all happens. One of the challenges here is how to pull someone into the experience of using something without them actually using it. How do you simulate their use in order for them to experience what it means to use it and see the payoff?

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Photo credit Vanessa Bertozzi on Flickr CC licence

You can tell someone, “Oh it’s great you can collaborate with someone.” But collaborate is a big word that means so many different things. However, the first time you do collaborate and you see that the work is better because you collaborated, then you understand what collaboration means.

For me it’s that the digital platforms are fine (there are challenges with clunkiness and access). It depends what they have experienced physically. I am interested in the role of video. Some of the platforms that have been developed recently like Adobe Voice. I will be exploring more time-based rich media.

How could learning design learn from UX?
With Marius Foley and Blair Wilde we are working in how you take the studio online. The Internet pipes are now all connected. You can now go online, press a button, and start a blog or whatever. It’s still a bit clunky but much better than it used to be.

This raises questions. How are you then able to stand back and put an experiential skin across all that? How do we create an experience that is as rich as sitting in a studio or us having a conversation now? They are interesting challenges not just in education but commercially as well. I do think UX can help here by framing embodied experiences so that people learn by experience. Experience is interpreted through your embodied interactions with the world. It gets more abstract through a piece of glass when online. Experience seems to change when you talk with someone or listen to someone talking. There are different cues for connecting with humans than connecting with information. I am interested in this and don’t have all the answers.

We are proposing a masters for experienced designers. It will teach design skills that are not so much about usability but about how to be better leaders in organisations. It will be entirely online and we don’t yet know how we will do that. It’s a really interesting opportunity. If we can do it well, I think they will borrow a lot more from cinema and sound design than they will from computer and user interface design. We know how to bolt stuff together, so then how do we make it affective?

 Share your thoughts and questions on “User Experience Design (UX) and Digital Literacy” in the comments section!

 

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Are you teaching at RMIT University in 2014? Do you have an active online presence with your teaching – either within the Blackboard learning management system or beyond? You may have received a postcard in September for the staff educational technologies survey.

Please tell us your views on using digital technologies for teaching and learning at RMIT. It takes 10 minutes and we’re keen to hear your experiences. Click Here (RMIT login required)

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