Selection of my students work from Northeastern University this Fall 2013

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These are some sites created by my Interactive Design students at Northeastern University (college of Art, Media + Design) this semester. Some are re-design concepts for existing organizations and others are for startup concepts.

*note – Sites are not live sites in production, for education purposes only.
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Design thinking with the five senses

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Teaching, Technology

Recently I discovered Jinsop Lee’s TED talk about enhancing experiences with the five senses. Here is his talk:

As a teacher of design, I decided to build a codebase that allows some quick modifications of some simple code to output a comparative five senses chart. This way my students could explore on their own ways the five senses can enhance experience design, while getting some exposure to code elements in Javascript.

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The results of the experiments were fantastic, and I decided to contact Jinsop Lee personally to share my results and codebase. He responded, and wondered if there were other ways the five senses data could be designed and displayed beyond a simple XY axis. Now tickled, I plan to bring this challenge back to the classroom, and see what my design students can come up with.

Click to download student experiments >>

The codebase is available for download free, and open source on GitHub >>

See Live Example >>

Guest Reviewing Undergrads at RISD

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Went to visit the Rhode Island School of Design campus today, and partake in a guest critique session with Colin Owens’ Dynamic Media course. The students presented some really great concepts and prototypes for media projects ranging from new takes on project management, principles of interaction and looking at the way news websites handle their headlines over time.

A standout project for me was a student who presented a pitch for a new phone application that allows people to crowd-debate on topics from the New York Times. We discussed how the application could be brought to a new level of interaction by generating analytics from the guts of the debate, and to allow a person to jump from one side of the debate to another. We also discussed how politicians may find the crowd-sourced data extremely valuable when planning campaigns.

Overall, I was truly impressed by most of the students work, and even more impressed by their willingness to push the envelope on specific topics. Also, the overall sense of how the students push each other to really transform their projects was also nice.

Square Peg in a Black Hole – Why Massive Online Courses are Giving Universities a Run for Their Money

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Having done a considerable amount of research on student learning and digital learning tools to build my capstone experience for my graduate work, during and prior to my edTech MOOC experience, has solidified the idea of open education for me. I can imagine what Buckminster Fuller, a strong influencer in my thinking and work, might say about all this connectivist methodology. People connecting with people to learn, grow and solve the worlds problems. What a great idea! Lets go! The only problem I see, lies in the nature of our perpetuated paradigm of westernized education, and it’s futile, and illustrious mission to educate everyone the same way, through a closed and proprietary system. More on this to come in this reflection.

Sir Ken Robinson, a noted Ted Talk invitee, makes a case around the idea that creativity is the key to successful learning, and by our very nature we are social beings. All day, every day, we work with other people in some fashion to operate our lives. Most of the time, these interactions are not deliberate, and seem commonplace such as making deposits at the bank, and chatting with the teller, or sitting in traffic with other people in other vehicles. Even though we are not sharing the same immediate space, we are still working together to get traffic moving. To bring it back to our broken educational paradigm, we need to be thinking of how we fit mentally, emotionally, creatively and personally into a larger context of culture. If we are all social beings naturally, how come we we focus so much now on applying a mass-produced curriculum to each individual student, expecting we can all learn the same way (basically in a vacuum or solitary confinement)? Well, it is pretty evident now, that flat out does not work to create and cultivate a growing culture, nevermind an individual.

Note: Before we move on together here, I want to point out that I am a university professor of visual design at a four-year, private art college. I take great pride in my students and the ways they teach me as much as I teach them. I’m not making a case saying all universities are this way, its just from my experience so far, and also from my experience teaching I can say that the best way to facilitate and operate at a university is to put aside the university politics, and focus on learners. I often include elements in my courses that seem un-orthodox or progressive to others, such as using digital tools to make student process evident.

So please keep this in mind, and I am not blanketing some statement on all universities. I do beleive some are more progressive than others, and the more progressive, faster moving ones will be the winners of this game of natural selection.

What this all comes down to is design. Bucky was many things, and a self proclaimed ‘Design-Scientist’ – meaning he was not just a designer of ideas of things, and not just a scientist. I believe design is the glue, pathway and connective tissue that holds our culture together. Our current model of public education is designed the way it is for a reason. It is a by-product of an industrial revolution model for training factory and machine workers for the tasks of mass production. Students come out in batches (9th, 10th, 11th, 12th grade) and the bell rings when it’s time to move from one place to another (is it quittin’ time yet?!). This model became so widespread, implemented, bureaucratic and bloated, that we are now suffocating under our own (brilliant for the time – about 1760-1840 C.E) invention.

Fast forward to the early 1990’s – AOL, Prodigy and other internet service provider spring up, and your computer and phone jack become your gateway to limitless information. I can remember connecting for the first time to the internet, and finding out that my Netscape Navigator browser came with chat rooms. While exploring, I could not believe that the other people in the chat room were from the other side of the planet. I remember feeling like our world was not quite as big as I thought, and that the only way to contact Italy or England was by expensive long distance phone calls. More importantly, now that I reminisce, I now realize how that, and further internet experiences such as Napster, Bit Torrent and Facebook have radically shifted not just my learning, but the way I consume and my overall attention span. I’m sure if you are reading this, you can relate in some fashion. In design, when you have a closed system that seems to operate just fine the way it is (education), and a huge wrecking ball (the web) comes in and smashes down the factory walls, it will eventually cause long term effects on the factory. Eventually, the workers see the outside light and want to discover it’s possibilities. We, naturally, are curious and social beings.

Online courses from universities, held in traditional fashion, while make the university hand-over-fist cash, are not the saving grace and or silver bullet to this problem. Universities have been trying to emulate the classroom space online for over a decade now, and it’s still a hodge-podge of bad software, poor user interface and, more importantly, bad instructional strategy. I can’t tell you how many times I hear “Well, we want to take xCourse101 and put it online so anyone can take that course– Even in your pajamas! At Home! 24/7!”. This is how it is marketed to the students of the university, and to the student’s disappointment, they have a less than favorable experience, and or feel they have been participating in a bait-and-switch tactic when they find out that assignments are ‘due by Wednesday’ and they have to ‘comment on others works by Friday’. The universities seem to look at online courses as quick money makers, and thus sacrifice some really important design decisions in the process, such as cognitive load (just received three new emails, ‘event in 15 minutes, ding-ding! Alert, Alert! – Shhhhh.. Im trying to write on a ‘discussion’ board!), and the nature of social interaction. In a classroom, you are again naturally interacting with others directly or indirectly, and can not just interpret words, but read moods, facial expressions and connect with feeling and intensity.

So to me, it’s no wonder that something like a massive online course model has come to be, and is taking the education world by the throat. It’s fresh, social, open, personalizable and 100% yours to control.

A break for a moment of casual reading–

“Wait just a damned minute!”, said the executive staff of the established university “How could some free online course be more popular and engaging than our online courses on our tried and true Learning Management System? We offer credits and degrees! We’re expensive and that make us a top tier school!”

“Woh there!” said the eager undergraduate student, “What’s all the racket about? I was just on my phone, reading a tweet from a P.HD professor in Brazil, who suggested I check out a YouTube video on how gravity affects the mass of objects on earth v.s. the moon.” said the eager undergraduate student. He then replied, “And look!” he exclaimed, “the professor even dressed up as Sir Issac Newton! Check this out, he linked to his research paper, and I just downloaded it to my phone to read on the train ride back to my dorm.”

So what is this all about? The student in this case is already accustomed to content creation and consumption in a very different fashion than his tenured P.HD professor or seasoned executive university staff. The student is used to gaining knowledge on a 24/7 basis, from many outlets, peers and media.

This massive-open notion is highly desired by students, as it feels very natural to them, but makes the universities nauseous at the thought. Universities are scrambling to find a way to fit the new model (open) into their old (closed) system beacuse they see it as ‘hot’ and ‘now’. But in reality, they are like two magnets repelling, and can not coexist when facing each other. So the universities are in a pickle, as they want to appeal to the new generation of information gatherers, and their fondness for open learning, but can’t (and probably won’t) find a way to integrate them for real into their existing system without radically changing their old-model paradigm. This is why MOOC’s and other open course models like CodeAcademy and EdX will only continue to grow and evolve, and the slow-moving, bureaucratic, top-down university model will eventually have to shift, or even radically change, to meet the needs of learners, and not the needs of the overall university’s status.

The key word, I believe, in all this open-course movement soup, is the idea of evolution. Again, the universities seem to be treating MOOC’s like they are some silver bullet solution to getting more people to pay tuition. It used to be ‘Online courses, 24/7 access!’, but the reality of that is dwindling fast, as strategies are not in place typically that take into account the very different nature a person has behind a computer, as they do in class. Instead, I like to think of the current MOOC idea as just an iteration of a fast moving, and growing idea. Much like Friendster was the precursor to MySpace, and then Facebook, the current iteration of MOOCs has proven that open, online learning can happen, as long as the learner is in the drivers seat.

The connectivist MOOC I has participated in this spring was a fascinating experience, and I learned a lot from a wide range of people. I used Twitter and Blogging mostly to connect with others, and was even able to gain feedback on projects I had been working on that I thought the community would enjoy, and they did! This MOOC iteration of online learning (the first being an attempt to put face-to-face courses online), has set the framework for even more possibilities for people to learn and grow, and without a university gateway, this concept of massive open courses can grow at an exponentially faster rate than the universities can develop. Industries such as computer science for example, can’t wait around for universities to catch up their curriculum to the needs of companies.

I do believe open education is here to stay, and quickly we will see it evolve to meet the needs of learners from all walks of life.

Read: R. Buckminster Fuller – Education Automation

Buckminster Fuller’s prophetic 1962 book Education Automation brilliantly anticipated the need to rethink learning in light of a dawning revolution in informational technology – “upcoming major world industry.” Along with other essays on education, including “Breaking the Shell of Permitted Ignorance,” “Children: the True Scientists” and “Mistake Mystique” this volume presents a powerful approach for preparing ourselves to face epochal changes on spaceship earth: “whether we are going to make it or not… is really up to each one of us; it is not something we can delegate to the politicians – what kind of world are you really going to have?””

Watch: Sir Ken Robinson
Do schools kill creativity? –

Changing Educational Paradigms –



GRIDTYPE – Public Beta Soon June 2013

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The new forward-facing site for my graduate thesis – GRIDTYPE – is up and running. There you can access all the research data and eventual download of the public beta release coming this May/June.

GRIDTYPE installs like any other content management system, and uses PHP/MySQL to run on any web server.

Instructional Research Documents + Infographics now Available!

GRIDTYPE is a new open source, web-based, software platform to allow students and faculty to work together on improving the work of art and design students. More details in this article >>

Be kind, rewind, make stuff, fun with friends

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Growing up a VHS rewinder was more than a novelty, it was what kept my family’s video rental account in good standing by allowing us to avoid fees for video tapes returned in good standing. After all, going to the video store with my family or friends to rent Terminator 2 or Empire Strikes Back was a real, in-person expreience. Are we losing this to streaming services and torrents?

Born in 1985, technology never seemed like ‘technology’, and seemed more like a fun afternoon playing The Legend of Zelda (gold cartridge) with some friends. To define my background with technology a bit more:

  1. I can remember a time before I had a computer (barely)
  2. My first computer was an IBM with a green screen and two 5″ floppy drives we acquired from my mothers office after they upgraded
  3. I would go to kindergarten early to play the match game on a Apple II
  4. I had Atari 2600, but NES was my first video game console love affair – 1991
  5. My first internet experience was in 1995 using Netscape Navigator (watch the meteor show!)(14.4 baud rate modem)
  6. I first started programming HTML in 1998 (anyone remember this:
  7. Had my first cell phone in 2000 (Nokia 5110)
  8. Frequented Napster P2P service in 2001
  9. Bought first Mac in 2002 (PowerMac G4 Tower)
  10. LiveJournal – 2002
  11. MySpace – 2003
  12. Facebook – 2004
  13. Bought a MacBook Pro in 2005
  14. Learned how to use/code in WordPress, PHP/MySQL in 2007
  15. iPhone – First Generation – 2007
  16. Twitter – 2009
  17. Started teaching web design/programming – 2009
  18. Worked for education based tech startup 2011-2012
  19. #etmooc – first mooc experience – 2013

Thats some of the technology based milestones in my 28 years. Im sure there are many more, but this brings me to my newest experience with how technology is changing my learning process – #etmooc.


The idea of anything collaborative, interesting, global, open, new and learning based intrigues me to say the least. As this MOOC comes to a close, I am still wondering on a few topics. First, I am wondering what will happen over the next five years as the higher-ed system continues to grow. Working/teaching in the tech and creative fields daily, the need for an old-fashioned, classically acquired bachelors degree seems to be dwindling in my fields of work. I think this is because with things like #etmooc, open courseware, MeetUps, Skillshare etc., we are moving towards a ‘show me what you can do, and why you love to do it’ professional space. The shift is happening due to the massive size of most higher-ed institutions, and the pace in which they can move to make changes to curriculum. They just move too slow to keep up.

Besides MOOC’s ability to move fast and grow organically, and the old paradigm of ‘show me your transcript’ or ‘show me the numbers’ being mostly incompatible with this idea, I have learned that MOOC’s are just a jumping off point for a new adventure and paradigm for education. I think of MOOCs as they stand now, sort of like how MySpace was the precursor to Facebook. Next year, MOOC’s may not be called MOOC, and may have taken on a different form. The point is, we must allow for iteration in our learning.

As a MOOC participant and proponent, I am also open to the idea of ideas shifting. Just as you have a BETA test before a software launch to 1.0 status. I believe education and people are so much more pliable than the traditional learning models allow.

I also appreciate the varied differences between a MOOC and a ‘online course’ at a traditional college or university, as MOOCs put the most important person in the drivers seat: THE LEARNER!

Digital Citizenship


To think of us as digital citizens is an interesting idea. To call ourselves ‘digital citizens’ implies we are wanting to / are part of a larger system context of ‘people’. I have a somewhat firm belief that the rapid evolution of screen based devices has caused such a rift in our social graces, that something interesting is happening in direct response. Remember when I was mentioning my NES console above? Lets take that idea for a moment. What did playing NES, which pre-dates any iPad or iPhone by more than 20 years,  really consist of?

Typically when you played NES growing up, you played with a sibling or friend(s). The act of sitting down to play Duck Hunt or Double Dragon was more than just pushing buttons or shooting ducks, it was a time to socialize with your friends. It was a big deal to go to your friends house after school to try out the new Super Mario iteration. Even in the mid 1990’s, as computer games and software became commonplace in homes, game manufacturers wanted the ability to ‘play with friends’ over the internet (Duke Nukem 3d Ten Game for example – 1996).

As we move towards removing wired peripherals to control digital experiences, and begin to use our hands (iPhone) or body (Xbox Connect), we are radically shifting our perception and interactions with the technology. Technology is becoming personal, very personal. To some, phones and tablets are like children, and because of this ‘input device’ switch (mouse to hand for example), we feel a whole new level of attachment to the device and the content it can deliver.

Another example of a reaction to the ‘digital’ rift is the resurgence of film cameras (Lomo / Polaroid in particular), vinyl records (fun with friends), vintage style, MadMen and more. As humans, I believe we crave tangible experiences. Instagram (iPhone app for creating vintage film looks) as exploded on the iPhone, as it has begun to give us the essences of analog form in a 24/7 web connected universe. Why is it we want these things? I often wonder this.

In fact, as I write this, the idea or term of ‘digital’ seems so 1980’s…just a side note.

So I believe to be called a ‘digital citizen’ of ‘virtual world’, you must also be a contributor as well. Just as you may volunteer for your local PTA or City Council. Communities that thrive pay attention to the needs of it’s citizens. This is true in the online space as well.

The devices we have now are far more advanced then my old NES console, and are very much moving towards the idea of digital creation (think iMovie, GarageBand, Wii Console etc..). No longer do you have to have access to special tools to make content such as videos, movies, audio recordings, photographs etc. Just go pick up an iPhone.

What of quality control of content generation? With so many people having the ability to now generate new content (video, audio, media, code, text etc..), who is to determine  what is ‘of acceptable quality’? The answer is simple: the individual / community to which the new content is presented.

The real question I have for everyone in #etmooc is: Have we moved to being ‘digital citizens’, or ‘citizen contributors’, digital or otherwise?

I had fun. Thanks to everyone!

-Matt White – @dirkweiss