TEAM PROJECT FOR UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN'S SWEETLAND CENTER FOR WRITING
GINA BRANDOLINO, LOUIS CICCIARELLI, LILLIAN LI, NAOMI SILVER, ALI SHAPIRO
MAY 2017-MAY 2018
THE FULL STORY
Before I switched to User Experience Research and Design, I was an adjunct professor at the University of Michigan's Sweetland Center for Writing, an arm of the English department. One of the major contributions I was able to leave at Sweetland was joining the research committee that overhauled Writing 100—Sweetland's core course, and also its most problematic. From low student buy-in, to ineffective assignments, to overburdened faculty, the class was the most complained about course in Sweetland history.
The skills and methods I honed on this research committee continue to serve me now as I enter the field of UX.
TALKING TO EXPERTS
My research area focused on "remediation," or transforming one medium (ex; an essay) into another (ex; a podcast). I'd never heard of the concept! Now it would be the students' final project in the new-and-improved Writing 100. Luckily, three teachers on the Sweetland faculty (Ray McDaniel, Shelley Manis, and Naomi Silver) had been incorporating remediation into their classes for years. I interviewed each of them extensively, and also gathered artifacts, such as their past syllabi, assignments, and readings. I synthesized all this data into an easy-to-read set of best practices to include as a teaching resource for the rest of the faculty.
After we each logged 100 research and interview hours, my team was ready to write up our recommendations of how to revise Writing 100. Our rationale needed to be especially strong and persuasive in order for the director of Sweetland, Anne Gere, to approve.
All thanks to our rigorous research and well-explained rationale. Some changes we made included:
More stringent attendance policy
Stricter add/drop policy
Shortened one-on-one student meeting times
Course focus shifting from product to process
Inclusion of the remediation final project
Shorter paper assignments
Death to the dreaded e-portfolio
LAST BUT NOT LEAST, THE STAKEHOLDER PRESENTATION
While Sweetland faculty had been clamoring to revise Writing 100 for years, we knew that getting everyone's approval would be tough. Many faculty had been teaching the course for years, some for over a decade. In preparation, three team members, myself included, even taught the pilot version in the fall semester to iron out any kinks.
We were especially worried about the biggest change to the curriculum: the remediation final project. It all came down to my final presentation on remediation—would my colleagues accept this new pedagogical challenge?
I put myself in the stakeholders' shoes—what would they be feeling right now, how would that feeling help or hinder their ability to accept this new curriculum. From there, I asked, how could I synthesize my own complex experience into simple takeaways? I immediately knew how I would structure my presentation. By dealing directly with the anxiety in the room, I could validate the faculty's emotions and alleviate them as well.
And now? The new-and-improved Writing 100 is still being taught today!
Part of growing and learning is talking to people who know more than you
Back up everything you recommend with research and strong rationale
Diagnosing someone's pain points makes them feel understood