I went to a conference last year (Engineering Education in Sustainable Development, EESD) and came home with a great idea for an exercise, "Rich pictures". I wrote about it a year ago and will thus only quickly summarize this year's exercise that is being held in my Social Media Technologies course. The exercise consists of two parts where the first part (a kick-off) was conducted during a two-hour seminar and the second part (a group assignment/project) is being conducted during and in parallel to the rest of the course (6 weeks of which only a little more than a week remains at this point).
- I met all students the day after the course started. The students helped me rearrange a seminar room and we spread out hundreds of pictures on the desks. Each picture had (at least) one person in it. This person was often strange-looking or was involved in a strange-looking activity.
- Students were to pick one or two pictures (i.e. persons) and take a few minutes to think about the person in the picture; Who is the person, what are her worries, what brings him joy, what is her story? Think it up!
- Students were to mingle and present their persons (i.e. pictures) to one another and look for commonalities. What could bring my and your person together? A successful match could go on and recruit others so as to form a group with 4-5 persons (it was ok to exchange a picture so as to fit into a group). A group should always be formed around a theme and the ten groups that were formed were: Appreciation, Crowds, Alternative art, Loneliness, Joy, Food strike, Wild-life, Active old people, Role-playing and connecting Internationally and Extreme fashion.
- The class is diverse and there were some further restrictions on the groups formation process so as to make sure to mix the students up (no same-country, same-language, same-sex or single master's program groups).
- Each group's task was then to work together during (in parallel to) the rest of the course and develop a tailor-made social media tool or service for the target group; What challenges does this group face today? What do their lives look like? How do they know each other, what do they do together? What could a social media tool or service do for them?
- Students will present their projects in the form of a poster (70*100 cm) and a paper (4-6 pages of text plus probably some pictures).
- The posters will be presented at "Torget" (house D top floor) on Wednesday December 7 between 10-12. The posters will also be displayed there during the preceding 24 hours.
- The posters should clearly state a target group, a problem area and a proposed (social media) solution (service or tool).
There were also some further limitations and guidelines for the project deliverables but I won't go into that here.
Last year, I wrote up a text for the social media course's blog (that the students read) where I summed up some of the lessons learned (i.e. things that should be changed). I think basically all of those points have been handled this year, but some further changes have also been made since last year:
- Last year the Rich Pictures exercise was compulsory but not graded. Some students were disappointed when they understood that the time they spent on the exercise would have no effect on their grades. The examination of the course has been changed quite a lot since last year, and the group assignment/project now contributes to 20% of the final grade on the course.
- This means that I have developed and made more detailed criteria available to the students about how the deliverables will be judged. We will use six different criteria to judge/grade the posters this year; Relevance, Innovation height, Credibility, Integration, Independence and Finish.
- We also had review meetings halfway into the course so that students could pitch/discuss their ideas with me and get some feedback. This is after all a task with many dimensions of freedom, and since it is going to be graded, I felt it wouldn't be fair for them to be too much in the dark about what was required of them.
- Another difference is that we have actually found the money to print glossy nice-looking posters at a printshop instead of cutting-and-pasting a collage together. I look forward to see the results - the finish should be a lot higher this year compared to last.
I have to admit that the set-up for this exercise can be stressful for the students. It's not easy to choose people you know nothing about to work together with. It is on the other hand a good way to meet some new people (especially for International students). I presume some people get more done and work harder than others in the group, but I have unfortunately little insight into the internal workings of the groups. The basic rule is that everyone gets the same grade - even though some group members deserve it more and others perhaps less. We have therefore also asked students to include a short paragraph about the division of labor within the group. There issues are always difficult and sometimes even problematic in group assignments. On the other hand, the exercise has hopefully also been a fun and creative opportunity to work together with other students in a course where we otherwise mostly read and discuss a lot of literature...