How might the Lamar Dodd School of Art prepare its students for evolving art careers?
In a college course titled "Wicked Problems" taught by the director of the art school, my classmates and I spent half of a semester researching problems our art school was facing while learning how to organize, break down, and prioritize a web of issues. The second half of our time was spent in groups developing a practical solution to a more narrow problem.
THE PROBLEM SET
My class was able to separate the majority of problems into 5 central themes. In addition, one common thread stood out in almost every instance of our research: art students were aware that they needed to be fostering skills in academic classes outside of the art school, and non-art students were aware that their careers would require them to possess creativity and a digital skill set that the wider university wasn't exposing them to.
The problem set that attracted my team most were issues of Digital Communication. Within this umbrella, the most common pain points from both teachers and students involved (1) Discoverability, (2) Transparency, and (3) Accuracy of information they could find online. Messy online content was already a known pain point by our director and would be a great candidate for pitching a practical solution to the board.
Finally, we formed our question:
How might we deliver a simple experience for students to find and take classes that met the holistic needs of their major?
My team and I conducted interviews with students, professors, and outside educators. I created surveys, personally documented every classroom and the details of every hallway in the art building, and sought out documentation and resources about the School of Art, mimicking how any a student, teacher, or visitor would find information about our programs, events, professors, and students. I went deep into the bizarre and endless online ecosystem of UGA's past and present. We conducted a community charrette where students were invited to share about their experiences, critique our current model, and prototype new ideas for better art education.
We came up with CourseMate, a new online platform that fosters a more cohesive academic community at UGA by creating a discipline-agnostic space that unites the goals of students, teachers, and their classes.
Generate Accurate Information
The application would focus on helping teachers generate their syllabuses by walking them through a non-traditional, student-friendly process that answers the questions students often have when evaluating a course - transforming the tedious, last minute process of submitting a course into the bureaucratic abyss. One way CourseMate sought to do this was utilizing a tagging system for teacher's to use to describe their classes, such as "Design Thinking" or "Team-Building." Filling out this form could also prompt administrative tasks, like requesting a computer lab instead of a classroom -- helping satisfy teacher priorities simultaneously.
Discover Great Content
Students could now discover classes via course number or choose tags and topics of interest to discover courses that met their personal interests and career needs.
Foster Transparency & Accountability
After taking a course, students would use CourseMate to submit their class evaluation as well as a course review, providing teachers with greater accountability and students with accurate information about how the class went as advertised.
CONCLUSIONS & LEARNINGS
Our CourseMate MVP received mixed reviews, as expected from a complex university environment. While some teachers praised the assisted syllabus creation, others were artists who saw them as a way to express themselves. The Director loved it, and we were encouraged to develop the idea with more research.
One teammate and I began to take our project idea through the Business College's Start-Up Accelerator, an eight week program created to teach students about entrepreneurship, product development, investments, and growth. The ultimate constraint became clear: Universities have age-old structures in place confining students to a specific major, course load, and trajectory. Our open source, interdisciplinary model didn't belong in a public university, and couldn't feasibly be explored well within a few weeks.
However, the project inspired me to continue my research for another semester, and I received a scholarship to develop a Senior Thesis, uncommon for art students at UGA. With my experience, I was able to focus more closely: How might the Graphic Design program at UGA become more open to interdisciplinary student tracks?