Mobius for Designers: A University Course

This fall we’re using Mobius as the basis for the university course “Problem Solving for Designers” in the VCU department of graphic design in RVA. My goals in teaching the class are two fold: 1) teach graphic design students how to solve complex problems using Design Thinking inspired methods and 2) get practical feedback on whether Mobius is helpful for students solving complex problems.

 

When I decided to teach the course, one of the things I promised myself was to write about the experience of teaching for the first time. I also wanted to write about the feedback on putting Mobius into use and learn something from the students in the process. So this post kicks off what I hope is a series of posts about what we’re doing and where we’re going with Mobius in the classroom.

Class 1 – Introductions

The first class we started with the required review of the syllabus, schedule and other logistics. After a brief introduction of myself the students introduced themselves. Then we jumped into an exercise I do with my training classes: expectations. I passed out stickies and asked the students to write down their expectations for the course, one idea per sticky. After 5 minutes they posted their results on the board.

Then we did another fun exercise: silent sort. Half the class went to the board and without talking, organized the expectations into affinity groups. After a few minutes, they sat down and the remaining students organized them further into tighter groups. All without talking. In 8 minutes total.

I put labels on each of the groupings and as a group we discussed the themes that emerged from their expectations: teamwork, real-world experience and problem solving were key groupings

Next I introduced Mobius, I showed the students the canvas and walked them through how we’re going to use it over the course of the semester on their project.

At the end of class came the hard part: the homework assignment to pick a problem they wanted to solve over the semester. I asked the students to come back on Wednesday and in 4 minutes or less, tell their peers:

  • What problem they wanted to solve?
  • Why it was important to them?
  • Why it should be important to others?

I also asked them to bring a one page visual design that represented their problem to share with the class as their visual aid when they presented.

Class 2 – Picking a Problem and Organizing into Teams

When we reconvened for the second class I asked the students to present to their peers the problems they proposed to solve over the semester. One by one, each student came forward and presented their ideas.  Some of the problems related to the city surrounding the VCU campus: parking, bicycle thefts and homelessness. Others focused on women’s portrayal in media an app for helping art students.

After all the students had presented we laid out out the 1-page visuals side by side and I introduced another old consensus technique: dot voting. Or as one of the students said, “Oh, we get to use stickers!” I gave each student 5 voting dots (stickers) and asked them to vote for the projects they were most interested in working on over the semester.

After all the votes were talied three problems rose to the top: bicycle theft, parking signs and women’s portrayal in media.

I next asked the three students who’s problem was chosen to stand up and the other students to self-organize around the problem the wanted to work on, according to their votes. This yielded our three teams for the semester and our first class photo.

The last bit of the class focused on team norms and the importance of getting them established early. After providing some examples I asked the students to spend 10 minutes thinking about their own team norms.

Afterwards each of the teams shared some of their norms and we had group conversation about the process of establishing their norms. We also agreed to establish some class norms and picked a few the teams had established the related to interactions.

I asked the team, “what should happen if someone violates the class norms?” There was a bit of silence and then one of the students said, “You’re the teacher, shouldn’t you do something about that?” I was reminded that oh yeah, I am the teacher. So I proposed that if this happened, I’d pull the student aside and have a 1-on-1 with them. The students agreed this ok and with that we wrapped up the second class.

For homework, I asked the students to come up with an identity for their teams include a name and some design elements. They were also asked to setup a blog with their new team identity. This will be used over the course of the project to post about their progress.

And with that we wrapped up the first week. With the design of the course built around team-based projects, I knew that if week 1 went south the entire class was in jeopardy. Luckily I think we’re off to a good start and the students seem engaged in trying to make an impact over the semester.

Next week we dive into the first step in Mobius:What problem are you really solving?

Stay tuned for progress in the coming weeks and feel free to post comments.

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