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day 3: a meander through software, architecture, learning analytics, and being human

February 10, 2016

lisa hammershaimb

Article Title:
The software design studio: An exploration
by Sarah Kuhn

In the late 1990’s, software design and development was rising to greater prominence. Educational institutions were looking for ways to teach software development in a more holistic, agile manner and–inspired by the discipline of architecture–tried out studio pedagogy as a potential new methodology. The overall feel was that studio pedagogy, with it’s strong focus on real-world application, iterations, and feedback cycle, would benefit software design students because it would help them become more aware of their user needs and more agile in their design process.

Why It is Interesting to Me:
Before reading this article, I never considered the correlation between architectural spaces and designed interfaces. The more I pushed against the metaphor, the more I liked its feel because I do think that architecture and interface design share many of the same end goals (user comfort, ease, intuition, etc.) though one uses physical materials to achieve these ends and the other uses lines of code.

This article laid next to a video I watched last week by Alan Stearns calling on web designers to basically be more mindful of their end user and process and web users themselves to assert their voice and rights as co-creators of the internet made for some interesting learning sparks. Stearns called for a sort of co-habitation within web designed spaces that seems very akin to co-habitation within a physical space.

Early in this article the architect Christopher Alexander was referenced. Though I had no prior knowledge, I found a great short documentary all about his life and architectural philosophy which to me seemed to be basically: make intentional design choices so that every element in a space or building is considered, purposeful, balanced and brings a sense of “wholeness in every moment” to the end user experience as they travel through your space. Alexander is the antithesis of streamlined modern architecture and is hyper aware of space and connection. Though Alexander’s words were about buildings and physical spaces, I think his ethos could just as easily be applied to interface design, LMS design, etc.

Added to the delightful rambling that was assimilating ideas from this article into my brain, this afternoon I attended a lunchtime webinar from Athabasca (called a CIDER session) where George Siemens presented about using learning analytics to improve learning (or improve learning about how learning happens.) George outlined the history of learning analytics, how the process is taking off, and the potential successes and pitfalls that he sees in the future. For me his main takeaway was that as educators we must be proactive in engaging in conversations about learner data because there are many many companies looking to privatize and monetize data that in all actuality belongs to students first and foremost. It’s easy for learning analytics to be used to further dehumanize students as data points become numbers or dot points or warning lights but…learning analytics should first and foremost be to aid in learners learning and thus must remain human-focused first and foremost.

Though they’re in different disciplines and spoke in different places/centuries (though ironically were both mediated by my computer screen…perhaps that really is the great equalizer!) I think Alexander and Siemens have a lot in common when it comes to space design in a broad sense as they both are staunch advocates of the human in the midst of all the materials/construction/structures/outcomes, etc.

Circling back to where I originally began with studio pedagogy and the article I set out to read…I wonder if because studio pedagogy is so client/end user focused it tends to form more human attuned professionals? Are people who are the product of disciplines that have a heavy studio focus better at navigating the fuzzy-gray spaces of life because they have not been schooled in a system of right answers and wrong but instead have been taught to explore where a myriad of “right” exists? I’d love to say yes but…I know from very personal experience studios are just as gamed as any other structures and studio practitioners are just as full of themselves as any other “expert” might be.

That said, it’s interesting to think about and I do think that as we tend to inhabit interfaces and Internet spaces with the same consistency we once only inhabited physical buildings…there may well be something to the idea that even as we’re so keen to teach code we would be well served to teach space design, physical awareness, and an attention to creating spaces that serve all of what it means to be human.

Kuhn, S. (1998). The software design studio: An exploration. Software, IEEE, 15(2), 65-71.

day 2: Digital Spaces for Learning and Assessment in Art and Design

February 9, 2016

lisa hammershaimb

Article Title:
Digital Spaces for Learning and Assessment in Art and Design 
by: Ian Pirie, Stewart Cordiner and Jenny Triggs

Identifying a need for greater communication and transparency in the art + design critique process, in 2010 Edinburgh College of Art (ECA) created an online digital space to aid feedback and help support engagement in the critique process. They still continue to meet face to face in studio spaces but critique is largely conducted in an online interface.

What they did:
ECA created their own custom LMS where students upload their work in progress and completed work. Along with their image files, students complete a series of reflective questions describing their process journey and rating themselves on a series of skills acquired. Instructors also complete critique using a series of reflective questions and comments and rate the students on skills shown. When both parties have completed their responses, they are shared and an online dialogue begins about the work.

Why it is interesting to me:
A fully face-to-face, traditional design program identifies what I think is a key positive to online art + design learning: the ability to move critique from the often nerve-wracking dog and pony show within a studio to a space where people can reflect and receive comments and feedback and engage in a dialogue on a more personal basis.

When analyzed, data showed that students identified value in feedback that was mutually constructed and dialogical which the online interface easily supported. Instructors too found value in seeing projects progress through various stages and reading the students’ backstory in creating them. That said like any time feedback is given…it varies based on writing ability and overall engagement with the process. Some students were frustrated with lack of communication from the instructor and vice versa.

Overall, it’s an interesting look at how the internet is bleeding into a fully face-to-face art and design program and I’m curious how the program has progressed these past six years.

Pirie, I., Cordiner, S., & Triggs, J. (2011). Digital Spaces for Learning and Assessment in Art and Design. future learning spaces, p. 43-67. Retrieved from:

day 1: on mixing tools, mixing paint, and coming to terms w/the algorithm

February 8, 2016

lisa hammershaimb

Three days ago news broke of a potential change in Twitter, moving from a sequential to an algorithmically curated timeline.

Coincidentally, I heard this news after just listening to a HybridPod episode where Bonnie Stewart and Chris Friend discussed Bonnie’s dissertation research into networks/academic Twitter. In the interview, Bonnie mentioned that whilst engaged in research she witnessed firsthand a watershed moment within academic twitter regarding hashtag activism where prominent voices began to use their influence to weigh in on public issues that often impacted negatively those with less influence.

Watching the speculative algorithm ripples begin to take over my timeline I wonder if we are again at a watershed moments where things are (or soon will be) shifting in big ways?

Though I am not an expert in algorithms, it seems that the proposed changes will be a bit like Facebook, where the information presented is curated for each user. Voices that aren’t as algorithmically engaging will slide away while those most popular will be further amplified. In theory, it sounds like an efficient move but, because I see Twitter more as bookstore browse than Amazon direct buy…the change feels threatening.

In addition, as someone who has a relatively tiny pool of followers and tends to Tweet almost exclusively about somewhat mass-market obscure things, I know I am not very algorithmically sexy. I have a feeling that my voice is one that will begin to slide to the margins and there’s a good chance mine will most likely be the Tweets that go missing.

Though it’s convenient to give into dystopian techno determinism, get bitter, and never share again because clearly I’m not going to be trending anytime soon…I think there’s a better mindset to adopt…and it’s called being a creative human who remembers that these things are tools created by companies. Just tools. Only tools.

Though algorithms may change the volume on this particular tool, the only way I’ll be truly silenced is if I stop sharing and being open…if I stop reaching out through a variety of computer mediated/face to face interactions and if I stop being intentional about authentically engaging with others.

In the same way, the voices all around me will never be silenced (no matter how quiet) if I am intentional about listening and being present to others and letting them know they matter. Though I’ve been guilty of fan-girling people like Jesse Stommel and Bonnie Stewart and George Siemens and Catherine Cronin because I love their ideas, I think what I love even more is that they actively use their highly visible positions not to garner fans but to amplify voices of those who are less known and remind people on the margins they are seen. They remind us how rich and diverse the world is, and this reminding is good work that we can all do.

As I tell my design students…the tools we use as artists are powerful and our skills matter. That said, as humans we may not be smarter than our tools but we are infinitely more creative. Our ability to combine and create something new far surpasses anything a pre-made tool could cobble together.

In painting we never use pre-made black…we mix your own and the work comes alive with personal touch. I think that holds true here too. Though I am not downplaying issues of structure, voice, agency, and power as mediated through tools…I think we must remember that our most valuable asset is that we are creative and if we take steps to be authentic, we have the ability to connect with those around us no matter the circumstances. Tools used are a means of distribution, but we should not confuse a tool with a connection and even more we should not become so reliant on a single tool that we lose the ability to mix our own paint, imprint our own personal touch, and learn from others as they do the same.

day 4: research focusing

February 4, 2016

lisa hammershaimb

This was originally an email, and then en route to morphing it into another email to send to someone who’d ask the magic question “so…what’s the research about?” I thought…why all this email business? Why not be slightly more open? It feels a little hypocritical to cheer for open sharing + collaboration as presented by Alan Stearns in “Becoming Responsible for CSS” (such a great video…and though I don’t understand the jargon, the ethos is excellent) and then not be open with my own process. 

So…in the spirit of open, here’s my thinking this past week along with the updated big question and one subquestion (there will be more…but, for now just one). Thoughts welcome!

Basically the more I’ve been connecting with people the more it seems that–though there aren’t many art + design programs delivered fully online–there are lots of instructors integrating online elements in their courses to encourage community, conduct assessment, and build cross-disciplinary collaboration. 

Because the art + design discipline as a whole is historically very place-centric, I think it would be beneficial to document what is being done to extend the studio from a bounded group to a somewhat more porous digitally networked space. I think my dissertation could help encourage that dialogue as I give voice to educators who are currently doing innovative things that are blurring the lines and creating coalescent spaces

I’ve not been able to find any “official” research documenting what’s happening or how these learning networks are emerging and even more it seems instructors doing these things often feel that they’re all alone as they often are the only ones in their departments/institutions who are exploring these ideas. 

I also think that (probably post-dissertation/further research…because it might extend my scope too far) it would be excellent to build an open repository tool of networked curriculum resources so that art + design educators would have a peer reviewed pool of resources from which to draw and even more…an interactive community. It’s great to do your own thing but I think like design itself…without connection it’s easy to keep reinventing the wheel and forget you’re part of a much larger story. 

Big Question:
How are graphic design undergraduate instructors using the means of the internet and computer-mediated communication to augment, expand, and extend studio learning spaces?

Sub Question:
How do instructors view the integration of internet resources into traditional studio courses as being a link to the larger professional world of design?

day 1: intentions + lists + photos to assuage guilt

February 1, 2016

lisa hammershaimb

And here we are back to Monday. Apparently if I were going all quantified self, between this Monday and last there’s been shockingly little data recorded via blog. Last Monday I waxed poetic about landing planes and pounding down posts and then disappeared completely into an abyss.

This past week illustrates why defining yourself and your learning by only one output is tricky business. Though I don’t have the pixels to back me up, in reality last week was a flurry of productivity as I met my supervisor face-to-face for the first time + had some very profitable time with him, wrote an obscene number of potential research questions via analog methods (and may have fallen a tiny bit in love with them all), had a tough-love chat with a fellow design educator who is deeply enmeshed in these ideas, rethought everything, and am now back to circling with another landing strip in sight.

Last week I learned a bunch but it was definitely of a highly rambling, meandering, not-easily-quantified-nature. I have do doubt it will manifest itself sooner than later and yet for right now I very honestly have nothing to distill into words.

This week, once more, my intention is to land my research questions and continue to be uncomfortably transparent with my process and highly intentional about inviting others (who legitimately have experience/investment) into my process. Basically, if I want my dissertation to be an open dialogue there’s no better time to begin building that practice than to be less hoard-y and more open even in its conception…which is deeply scary because I’ve only just begun to feel modestly legit in an academic sphere.

Will this week land my questions for real, for real? Probably not but…I think it can be for real, for now. Maybe.

A few things I do know is that my dissertation will:
1. Focus primarily on instructors
2. Focus primarily on graphic design
3. Focus on experience exploration/baseline discovery
4. Be a connection point/dialogue builder amongst all design educators as opposed to an exotic gaze into a far off world (i.e. present online integration within the context of studio learning continuum not isolate online as a world onto itself)

And now for images of the past week to assuage my own latent guilt at being silent in one venue even as I’ve been quite active in others. And bonus: at some point when all this is over I’ll be able to smile as I remember the hyper reality that marks these days of living in the dissertation tension that is both the now and the not-yet of being a doctoral student.

CZsbwNvW0AAJ616Photo 1: Meeting the supervisor for the first time. Turns out he’s pretty cool. 

Photo 2: Artfully composed post-it notes after meeting the supervisor for the first time…because he told me in pretty definitive terms that research questions weren’t likely to come via sky writing.


Photo 3: Slightly less artfully composed questions + ideas after two days of occasional writing + iteration.


Photo 4: Even less artfully composed questions and ideas after two days of writing + iteration following a meeting where one question amongst many was “So…help me understand. Why are you choosing to ask questions that seem to fetishize online art + design learning? Do you want your dissertation to further separate online + face to face studios?” Oops. 

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