Years ago, I read a book that reported research on why some people are remarkable at their jobs, and was based on over one thousand interviews. “Now, Discover your Strengths” concluded that the most successful people focused on their strengths, doing the kind - and style - of work where their innate abilities are best utilized. The book was complemented by an exhaustive exam that helped one find out his major strengths. As a result of this test, you are provided a list of your top five strengths, and “learner” was there on my list. I just have the innate passion for learning.
I have had the privilege to nurture this love for learning in the hands of some great teachers. And I have felt how they rapidly identified in me someone who attends school for the fun of learning new things. I recall one day during grade school, our biology teacher called me out when closing the year, to tell my classmates how they should learn to be more like me; how I had never contested a grade. I blushed and felt a bit puzzled, as it was all just natural to me; I was there to learn, and mistakes are an important part of learning.
After going through a very hands-on college education, I specialized in an area for which there were no schools at the time, Web Design. My core education in this field came from people I did not meet face to face; I was part of a founding group for an online community of web designers and developers, it was a fascinating experience of peer-to-peer mentoring. It was also thanks to these people that information architecture was brought to my attention in its earliest years. And so I continued my informal training in this new area. After gaining some years of experience in the field I became a relative expert in a young specialty, and as this field grew in importance, I was asked to teach. I started by lecturing at seminars.
Since then, I have worked with a variety of student types. I’ve done required coursework for freshmen in Maine, workshops in Mexico and Chile, specialization courses for professionals in Chile, online teaching based off Spain, even a customized course for an intelligence government agency, plus talks and guest classes in several places. Yet, I did all of this with no formal training in teaching. Now, as I prepare to lead a course at UNC’s SILS, I have been exposed to an array of teaching skills and tactics, leaving me better prepared to work with the students at SILS.
The feedback I have received so far from my students says that they have enjoyed activities and field stories the most; They appreciate receiving practical tools, and stories that can help them get a sense of the contexts in which the projects are run. In this regard, my professional experience is highly valued by my students. Teaching has been a rewarding experience for myself as well: Initially, each time I prepare a new course, I’m forced to organize my ideas in a way that may help others understand the contents. And later, I learn when the students come up with some wonderful questions that I may not have thought of, and some resources of their own to contribute to the class. Each class has its own dynamics and students are always different, a friend of mine told me that one of the things he likes about teaching is how students keep him on his toes. I can definitely relate to that idea.
My plan for this upcoming User Experience Design course at SILS and my next few years of teaching will incorporate some experimentation. I will use a mix of different teaching methods in order to keep the class alive and refreshing during the semester, and to make sure we can bring out all the voices in the classroom. This mix of teaching tools will include class discussions in groups of different sizes, non-graded in-class activities paired with graded outside class assignments. There will also be presentations and critique sessions for these assignments; to help students sharpen their design judgement and improve their communication skills. Work on this class will be centered around teams, and there will be some individual evaluations as well. My classroom should be guided by a spirit of plurality and tolerance, it will be important for my class to understand and embrace the value of multiple voices for the process of design. I will also attempt to give valuable feedback to the students on their assignments.
This SILS course is only an introduction to user experience design, my goal for this course will be to give you basic design principles, experience with some of the basic tools of the job, and give you a taste so they can evaluate whether this could be a good path in your career.
Updated August 15th, 2011.