Learning activities: News media showdown and app redesign

Friday, March 10, 2017 - 9:45am

class activity

This week, my students spent their class time exploring VR through Google Cardboard. On Thursday, we did two exercises as ways of learning about technology design and rhetoric.

News media showdown 

To start, students were grouped in teams of three or four. Each team was given a hardcopy of newspaper and asked to pull up a news site on their individual computers. Each team was also given a Google Cardboard to view a New York TImes VR story (download NYT VR app here). 

The instructions were simple. Students are asked to compare and examine each of these media platforms, and identify the similarities, differences/uniqueness, and limitations of each platform. Then, students reported their findings to the whole class, and addressed some limitations that could be overcome by VR. 

Students discussion

student discussion 2

Some observations:

  • Students were familiar with news genre and were able to point out obvious similarities and differences across platforms.
  • The discussion on the what, how, and why of interface design was rewarding as students brought forth observations about the purposes and intended audiences of these design.
  • Students found it hard to reimagine news content for VR presentation and interaction. They have identified multiple shortcomings of VR that hindered them from wanting to move into VR journalism.

App redesign 

Bilal led the second activity on redesign a social networking app. After the discussions on limitations of designed interfaces, students identified a social media platform that their group was interested in redesigning. They first identified a problem in the interface design, then proposed solutions to overcoming those problems. 

The next step was to develop a wireframe for the proposed solutions. Students used whiteboards to draw up their suggested interfaces.

At the end of the activity, students presented their results to the whole class.

Bilal leading activity

student activity 1

student activity 2

student activity 3

Some observations:

  • The fact that students had to stand up and draw on the whiteboard made this a higher energy activity. 
  • Students had no trouble choosing a social app they would like to redesign.
  • Students came up with multiple problems they would like to address in the current design of their chosen app.
  • Students were able to name a few solutions to the problems identified. Some of these solutions leveraged on VR capabilities to overcome screen-based challenges.
  • Most of the ideas students generated to overcome current problems in their apps still mirrored traditional screen layouts-- they were drawn in rectangular frames, with boxed images and texts.
  • This was an activity that required more time for students to brainstorm and develop ideas. The time constraint, however, forced them to come up with radical solutions quickly. 

Both of the above activities can be done in technical and professional writing courses, where visual rhetoric and design are concerned. Larger assignments could be developed around these exercises such that students actually develop a "shippable" solution by the end of the course.

This entry was written by Jason Tham.