Blended Classrooms a Must for Learning UI and UX Design

By Charmaine A. Banach

Learning User Interface and User Experience design in a blended classroom is more effective than in a traditional course because the combination encourages discovery and interaction on multiple levels.

A blended classroom is just that – a course set in dual environments, both online and offline.

Learning UI Design

Some of the benefits of teaching UI and UX this way are easy to see:

Students gain an understanding of alternate interfaces – ones that differ from the usual social networking and/or website interfaces. That translates into more empathy for the end user attempting to use software for learning.

According to Scott Jaschik, an editor and one founder of Inside Higher Ed, studies show that lecture material is better retained when read online, with the ability to ask questions and discuss material in a face­-to-­face environment.

Writing is emphasized in the online environment, helping design students stay on top of critical communication and analytical skills either in traditional research papers or asynchronous classroom discussion.

An online class environment usually combines written and video lectures, online demonstrations, and linked resources to important information outside the classroom. This helps students discover what their learning style is while providing resources outside of the classroom that will always be valuable to them.

Today’s students tend to feel very familiar with the instant gratification of social and online media. In that context, an online classroom can challenge them to complete a long-term task – learning an entire semester’s worth of content – and long-term collaboration on projects, melding technology they are comfortable with, as well as coursework and learning.

Beyond the blended classroom, the online-only classroom is just as effective as the traditional classroom — but it is not for everyone.  Self-motivation is key to keeping up with online coursework, lending this teaching method to better suit graduate students, non-traditional students, and working professionals.  The student in an online-only program needs to thoroughly understand her own learning style, as well as have strong grasp of time management. These skills are often best cultivated through a more traditional undergraduate education where the student has the ability take part in an on-campus community during some part of their curriculum.

A blended classroom environment also presents several opportunities for curriculum development.

It allows students to translate the cooperative and goal-oriented classroom experience when analyzing the frame­work for a new user interface experience project.

Creating collaborative group design projects helps with equal participation amongst all members (and their online experience is trackable).

Exploring new software interfaces – Blackboard, VoiceThread and Camtasia Relay, which is used for creating complex projects such as information architecture and visual design review – exposes students to many kinds of UI and UX. That, in turn, translates to a better understanding of their end-user for their personal design projects.

Enhanced assessment capabilities for both the instructor and peer review give a more accurate representation of content learned, and can be placed directly inside of learning modules to promote retention of new material.

Students today find themselves inundated with user interfaces, and they can choose to stop using any particular interface on a whim. But this limits their understanding of the importance of analyzing and creating effective user interfaces and experiences.

In contrast, the online component of a blended classroom helps students build a long-term relationship with an interface as they read online lectures, collaborate in discussion, and experience assessment. Giving students an alternate perspective to fleeting social networks and web interfaces helps them feel more comfortable with technology, though it does not expose them to new user experiences. And that is important, because having an authentic user experience is critical in the analysis and creation of new interface solutions.

In the blended classroom, reading and writing online content can be reinforced through offline discussion, through storytelling and demonstrations targeting differing learning styles. Mixing learning mediums keeps the classroom interesting and helps students absorb content better because they are paying attention (or else they might miss something)! Online discussion provides practice for analytical writing and developing ideas. Plus, shy students often feel less inhibited in an online environment, helping students also become more active in an offline environment.

There is, however, a major obstacle to implementing a blended classroom: Instructors are unsure how to effectively integrate an online component into traditional design curriculum. For some, it is difficult to write online content in a way that compensates for limited facial gestures and bodily cues. For others, it does not feel worthwhile to spend time to learn a new system.  And finally, many educators feel that using online technology cheapens the educational experience, turning their content into a “McClassroom,” and degrading the integrity of curriculum.

But the blended classroom is emerging as a curriculum practice that can help students empathize with differing user experiences, while also helping them better ingest course content and become analytical and effective communicators and designers.

If your institution offers an online course tool, such as Blackboard, it probably offers workshops to help you understand how to better use the system.  Even if you do not want to offer new content on a weekly basis as a blended class, instructors can still benefit from offering supplementation and additional content via the online classroom in order to cut down on time preparing copies of reading material, while helping the environment by creating fewer paper copies.

More and more, compelling research is helping dissuade instructors from feeling that technology opposes true scholarship, and can actually help your students learn better.

So, what are you waiting for?

Charmaine A. Banach is an assistant professor at Quinnipiac University in Interactive Digital Design, and has previously been a professor in Ohio, Iowa, and Pennsylvania. Throughout her 15 years of professional experience in the design industry, she has worked as a web designer, animator and educator, both nationally and internationally, for CIVCO International, MacArthur Foundation, Congressman Loebsack of Iowa, Stamats, Lipman Hearne, and Benson & Hepkar Design Group, to name a few. She is active in the local design community and is the membership director of the AIGA — the nation’s foremost design organization — Connecticut Executive Board of Directors. Her recent research is focused on socially engaged design projects. She recently spoke at the International Festival of Arts & Ideas’ kickoff event with other ReIntegrate teams. Charmaine and a colleague recently presented at the 7th Annual “Design Principles & Practices” Conference in Chiba, Japan, in March 2013, discussing the recent online phenomenon of Mob Hack Reviewing.

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