The User Experience (UX) program at Milwaukee School of Engineering is an interdisciplinary program that provides students with the essential skills to design user-friendly products and services that make the world better for all. Over the past year a team of six faculty, 10 UX practitioners, and two UX Students collaborated to redesign the curriculum to fit the semester system.
MURAL’s education and non-profit marketing specialist Emma Schnee sat down with MSOE’s Dr. Nadya Shalamova, Professor and User Experience Program Director, and Amii LaPointe, Assistant Professor of UX & Chair of UX Industrial Advisory Committee to learn more about how they facilitated their curriculum redesign remotely.
Nadya: Our university made the decision to move from quarters to semesters, so we had an opportunity to completely revamp our curriculum for a third time since we launched our UX program in 2016. We try to be agile and iterate as often as we can. In the past when we made changes, it was done analog with a lot of sticky notes to cover the walls to brainstorm ideas and come up with courses and sequences. Remotely, the processes stayed the same using basic principles of instructional design, which happen to coincide with design thinking.
Walk us through your curriculum design process.
Nadya: We start with understanding our audience and stakeholders. Additionally, we have data built up from program assessments over the past four years. We also look at current trends in UX education. Since this was our third iteration, we knew who our stakeholders were, their expectations, and what they wanted to see in the new curriculum.
Next, we needed to define the goals, objectives, and student learning outcomes (SLOs). We had previous versions of these statements but the key was how we were going to take them to the next level and how we were going to communicate when we were all remote.
This is when we started our collaboration in MURAL. We lined up learning outcomes from the existing program and the university’s common learning outcomes and values to determine where we were aligned and where there were gaps. From there, team members could brainstorm new statements and document them on the mural. We would review the statements and vote asynchronously so when we would come back to meet as faculty and industry partners we had a better starting point.
Amii: Once we created a clear value definition, learning objectives, and outcomes for the program we could start to ideate and brainstorm. We dumped all the classes we currently had into a semester system in a mural. We then started combining and pulling classes apart, so the mural got really messy and we didn’t share it with anyone outside of our faculty. This was for the purpose of getting something down so we could start reacting to it.
Our industrial advisory committee (IAC) is a group of working UX practitioners and leaders who come together to help guide and steer our program from a strategic perspective — including helping us with curriculum design. We were able to allow them to start slamming out ideas and we were affinitizing within that as well as ideating and voting to start understanding what we have, what we need to change for next year, and what we want to keep. From here we started thinking about new classes.
Every single piece of information, every single sticky note, was looked at, touched, and included in some way shape or form in the next version. We started as bare bones, just us faculty playing in a sandbox to then get really messy and then eventually more organized and polished.
Nadya:Once you have a working prototype you test it by going back to your stakeholders. In our case it is our industrial advisory committee, other academic programs, and students. Then we go back to the mural to keep iterating. The mural keeps evolving as we go through more and more stages of this iterative process. All throughout we need to make sure we are aligning the program with the university mission, values, and common learning outcomes.
How did you facilitate the curriculum design process virtually?
Amii:Most of the murals Nadya would build before our meetings so she could take time laying it out and then when we had meetings she would zero in on a section of the mural for discussion and collaboration.
Going into meetings Nadya would have agendas to help facilitate and answer the questions that we knew might come up. If we ran out of time we would finish asynchronously and have people vote and leave comments and thoughts on the mural. After every meeting Nadya would take the mess that we created as faculty and organize it into something that made sense and make sure our notes were captured.
What do you recommend to other departments starting the curriculum design process?
Nadya:It is like a big puzzle that you are trying to put together and you don’t know what that final picture is going to look like. The most important thing is not the technology itself, it is just making sure that you and your team are on the same page. Software like MURAL enables you to do that. If we are not listening to each other, providing feedback, and having everyone involved — it won’t be successful.
Solutions like MURAL also bring complications. No matter how easy a new technology is, bringing in a new solution does bring in complexity. I myself signed up for a bunch of workshops and watched tutorials to make sure I knew how to use MURAL in a way that would help my colleagues actually understand and contribute to the process. There should be a dedicated person or people who are leading the curriculum development process, who are familiar with the tool and take time to learn it to facilitate the collaboration successfully.
👉 MURAL is free for students, professors, and teachers to use in the classroom and discounted for collaboration between faculty and staff. Check out www.mural.co/education to get started with MURAL and make your classes more collaborative, inclusive, and fun!
Emma is a a marketing manager at MURAL where she champions the stories of educators, students, and nonprofits to highlight the creative and impactful ways they incorporate visual collaboration into their work. She is passionate about the intersection of social impact, business, and design.