Using the Mississippi River Watershed Module in Managing a User-Centered Design Team (graduate course)

Jon Ericson, Bentley University

Course Description

About the Course

Managing a User-Centered Design Team (graduate course)

Level: Graduate level course in the M.S. in Human Factors in Information Design program
Size: 17 students
Format: Hybrid synchronous

Course specific exercise »

Addresses methods and tools that information designers can use to integrate user-centered design approaches and human-factors principles to enhance the usability of information products. Through readings, short papers and team projects, students examine common project-management problems that can adversely affect usability, define the implications of those problems for the user interface, and apply selected project-management techniques for anticipating and managing usability issues. Lectures, discussions and assignments focus on various user-centered design methodologies and human-factors techniques, and examine implementing these approaches in the project environment. Course materials and activities focus on processes such as creating user-centered project environments that support a human-factors approach to user-interface design, setting and evaluating project performance standards. Students examine and define metrics (ROI) for evaluating the effectiveness of the usability effort.

Some of them (students) had a pretty personal connection to some of the issues because they had lived in regions that had been similarly affected before.

Explore the Mississippi River Watershed Module »

Relationship of the Mississippi Watershed Module to Your Course

The course is 14 weeks long, and the module was implemented over the course of 2 weeks. Prior to implementing the module, students were introduced to the basics of design thinking. The module material was referenced in a subsequent exercise that used stakeholder mapping in connection with a class project that was sponsored by an external organization.

Integrating the Module into Your Course

For the common exercise, the students completed individual maps for homework and then they worked on team maps together in class and then the week after that we ran the town hall during class. And for the course specific exercise that followed immediately after completing the town hall, so I more or less said now we'll do essentially the same process of creating stakeholder maps, but this time for a sponsored project which was a project that was brought to class by a local organization.

What Worked Well

Using Mural to create the stakeholder maps works well in general, but only because were already familiar with it. So I would suggest making sure that if you do use an electronic whiteboarding tool, for example, to have them make the maps that they already be familiar with the tool before they actually start doing the exercise.

Challenges and How They Were Addressed

Some students just decided to use a template to make the map and they nominated a leader who would record the team's ideas. And I would have preferred to see the teams not use a template so that what they came up with could more accurately reflect what their actual mental model is instead of trying to fit it into the template. And then I also generally try to make sure that people have a chance to brainstorm individually and then synthesize all of those ideas just so that the activity doesn't end up being dominated by one or two team members.

Student Response to the Module and Activities

They seemed to enjoy it overall. And they invested a lot of effort in preparing for the town hall. I do think that they grasped it. I think in this case, they were probably familiar with some of the concepts and perhaps even the tool although they may not have necessarily worked with it just because it is a kind of design thinking method and then the kind of framing around complex systems is also something that we talk a lot about in our field. So I think they came into it with some familiarity. Some of them had a pretty personal connection to some of the issues because they had lived in regions that had been similarly affected before.