Graduate Seminar: New Information Environments (GD573)

GRA DUATE SEMINAR : NEW INFORMATION EN VIRONMENT S
LEARNING OBJECTIVES:
Students demonstrated the ability to:
• Explain the principles, theories, and/or philosophy of one of the course topics
(systems theory, embodiment, or network technology).
• Interpret one course topic in the context of designing information environments.
• Synthesize 3 topics into an informed position on designing information environments.
• Propose a design strategy for a given context, utilizing an informed systems perspective.
• Articulate the significance and appropriateness of approaching design projects
through a systems perspective.
• Apply visual mapping methods to the process of analyzing texts and writing essays.
• Collaborate effectively and efficiently with varying-sized groups.
Course Description:
The New Information Environments seminar was an opportunity to explore core
concepts for designing strategic information environments—systems theory,
embodiment, and network technology. Systems theory provides a framework for
understanding conditional relationships and emergence. Theories of embodiment
suggest the process by which we interpret and relate within complex environments.
Additionally, affordances of network technology reveal the underpinnings of our
network culture. In combination, the three core topics provide a conceptual platform
on which to base strategic design decisions. Through inquiry-based discussion and
in-class activities, the seminar helped students develop skills in writing, presenting, and
collaborating.
I provided students with a range of texts within each topic from which to choose.
Students then read different sources, which stimulated rich discussion. In addition
to topical discussions, students practiced techniques that utilize design skills to
analyze, synthesize, and apply abstract concepts in written form. The essays produced
throughout the semester amassed into a digital publication, which the class collectively
designed. Essays were evaluated according to holistic rubrics, which differed among
essays. Students used the rubric throughout the writing process to self-assess progress
and identify areas in need of improvement. Additionally, the course website housed
course materials, resources, and student essays. It provided a space for students to
share relevant examples and comment on each other’s writing.

For the “Share” essay, students explained the guiding principles, theories, and/or
philosophy described by a seminal researcher from one of the course topics. Students
also outlined the significance and relevance of the text in designing information
environments. Throughout the writing process, students used color-coded note cards
to create an argument map. The map enabled students to identify and analyze the big
ideas, evidence, and primary sources within the text. Annotations of the argument map
marked suggestions as to how the big ideas could inform the way in which a designer
approached a project. Each student delivered a five-minute presentation of the essay to
the class.
After writing an in-depth essay on one topic, students composed “Synthesis” essays
with more breadth. Students assembled into groups of three in which each group
member represented a different topic. As a group, students discussed topics in detail
and mapped overlapping concepts and themes. Afterwards, students individually took
a position, mapped the milestones for the argument, and composed a thesis-driven
essay. The essay synthesized the core topics (shared themes and overlapping concepts)
and took a position on designing information environments. Additionally, students
described how the themes inform the way in which designers approach information
environments. The groups had 15 minutes to present and debate the positions.

The “apply” essay challenged students to reframe a project proposal developed in
the concurrent MGD Studio through the conceptual perspective of systems theory,
embodiment, and networked technology. Approaching the project from a specific
conceptual perspective afforded different strategies for designing information
environments in a familiar context. Students worked in groups of four to construct a
proposal that addressed context, strategy, purpose, stakeholders, setting, timeline,
and scalability. The groups mapped the aspects of the proposal as layers over an aerial
map. Then students superimposed visible and invisible information on photographs to
illustrate the design strategy and explicate the convergence of the three course topics.
Each group had ten minutes to present the proposals.
The publication acted as an archival collection of everyone’s essays written
throughout the semester. The class decided on the format as a group, which had
to further the reader’s understanding of the three topics in relation to designing
information environments. It treated the collection of essays as a system, drawing
parallels and divergent threads across essays. Additionally, each student wrote a short
reflection statement, describing the advantages and disadvantages of approaching
design strategy from the discussed perspectives. Students designed the publication with
an external audience in mind who were not privy to class discussions. The department
will likely use it to represent the MGD program, circulating it to other programs,
organizations, and forums in addition to referencing it in future seminars. Additionally,
students who participated in the seminar used the publication as a platform from which
to develop final degree projects.
The course provided a space for students to learn interdisciplinary topics, which
informed the way in which students approach design projects. It also enables students
to become more confident in investigating unfamiliar topics and identifying the value it
brings to design. Additionally, it provided design students with visualization techniques
that utilize basic design skills to employ throughout the writing process. The graduate
seminar prepared students to write clear, credible, and engaging essays for various
purposes.

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