Designing a class guide on the fly

When I started this DFW, one of the projects I was really excited about working on was creating class guides for various instructors to use to supplement their course assignment sequences. On January 5th, the first day of the DFW, Angela and I met to go over my learning objectives, to make sure they met both my needs as a student and her needs as my “client.” During our meeting, Angela informed me that she had mentioned class guides to a few of the Art School’s faculty and that she would let me know if there was any interest. The next day, I received an email requesting a class guide to be made for a 300-level design course. I was excited and nervous all at the same time. I wanted to make it perfect, make it useful for students, and make it universal enough that the guide could be easily edited for each new iteration of the course assignment.

Additionally, the requesting instructor asked Angela and I to meet with two of her class sections to help them locate resources, as well as answer any lingering questions they had about their topics. These in-person research help sessions were scheduled to happen just 6 days after the request was made, and the class guide had to be ready by then.

We had our work cut out for us.

The Assignment

Students were asked to design an infographic using large data sets representative of one of four major topics outlined in this government challenge. The topics included Criminal Court Processing, the Cost of Crime, Firearms assaults,  and Stolen Goods/Money Laundering. Luckily for us, the instructor had already gone through and collected a large amount of resources for each category.

I went through each resource and conducted a quick evaluation. I wanted to familiarize myself with the sources and types of information the instructor expected her students to be finding and using. Initially, I wanted to reformat each of the links from long-form URLs to a more concise and browsable format: “link title” followed by “link description”. However, as you’ll see on the guide itself, there were just too many links and not enough time. Instead, I focused on getting the information into the guide, linking to the very useful Find, Manage, and Cite Data research guide, and giving the students resources for evaluating the sources on their own.

The Challenge

As mentioned earlier, finding resources for students wasn’t the hard part, considering the instructor did most of that for us. The most challenging part of this process was explaining to students the complexities of working with government data.

Prior to our in-person sessions, the students had sent us a list of questions that they were hoping we could answer. Many of the questions focused on finding very specific information that simply doesn’t exist in the way(s) that they were hoping. For example, one student wanted data on the number of juveniles in the US with access to guns in the home. Of course, accurate firearms reporting is hard to come by, mainly due to the differences in state requirements for such information.

Given this, we found that our purpose had transitioned from information retrieval and access, i.e. helping students locate very specific data sets, to information literacy, i.e. getting them to think creatively about using available data rather than explicit data to tell the same story.

The Outcome

After meeting with the students and helping them with their ideas (as best we could), I walked away with a lot from the experience. The students we worked with are incredibly talented and intelligent individuals. Getting to hear about each project and thought process behind them was really exciting. Even more exciting than that, was having the students thank us repeatedly for our help and efforts. What an immediate reward!

At the end of one session, a student stopped to ask me if I ever get distracted by wanting to read all of the “stuff” that I help people research. I told her it was a blessing and a curse.

Just recently, the instructor extended an invitation to Angela and I to the class final, where the students will be presenting their visualizations. I can’t wait to see what they’ve put together!

In the end, the class guide is not the most attractive resource I’ve ever created, but it was definitely the most rewarding! Check out the Class Guide for Design 384 here.


Learning Outcomes: 1, 3, & 4

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