Final crits for studio course University as a Design Problem… can you feel the tension??

» third in a series of posts by Emily Unrue, Ethics Lab Program Manager

It’s been a busy week here at the Lab.

This Monday, four teams went through crits in Profs. Slakey, Anderson, and Dhillon’s Science and Society: Global Challenges studio course. I was invited to participate as a juror for this mid-semester crit where students formally present their minimally viable product (MVP) to their classmates, professors, and a few outside experts. This was the final (public) check-point before students pivoted and launched into the second half of the semester where they will venture outside of the classroom to consult with subject matter experts and the audience they seek to impact. But I should include the caveat that the traditional semester course is the starting point for student projects. The hope and implied expectation is that students will continue to iterate their projects and products well beyond the scope of the semester and even their time at the university. A great example of a student project that has continued beyond the classroom is the Invasive Hitlist. Read more about the project here.

First, I was deeply impressed with the range, creativity, and thoughtfulness of the student teams. The questions and comments from the jury were rapid-fire and pointed. Each student group was on the hot seat for half an hour, and I can definitively say that with the exception of the transition time between each student team, there was not a single moment of silence or lag. “Desk” or “table” internal crits (which is the form that my University as a Design Problem course took for our second interim crit this Tuesday) are more informal and conversational in tone and format, and they don’t necessarily bring in outside experts like you would find at a juried critique.

In brief, the four teams:

Team Elephant: This group is focusing on the reduction of elephant crop raids in Kenya through installation of beehive fences as outlined in the study Elephants & Bees. These beehives will, in turn, provide honey and other byproducts that the team proposes to bottle and sell in US stores and farmers markets where proceeds will then be directed back to the study and Save the Elephants fund for further expansion and growth.

Team Sex-Ed: The second team is tackling questions of sexual assault and misconduct based on the 2016 GU survey results that found that 31% of female undergraduates have experienced non-consensual sexual contact since entering Georgetown. Based on further research, they found that the best age to inculcate and influence behavior is ages 10-13. Based on that understanding, the team is focusing on creating a graphic novel or similar product that will address the societal factors that encompass sexual education and provide context and an age-appropriate medium for furthering that culture of conversation.

Team Fleece: This group honed in on the issue of microfibers (synthetics, specifically fleece) and their effect on small fish when ingested (hint: they die). To combat this issue, the team proposes to develop a finely woven mesh bag to place the fleece in during washes that will trap the approximately 1.7g of microfiber released from the washing machines during each wash cycle which will reduce the hazardous impact on the aquatic environment.

Team Prenatal: The final team is using a human-centered design process to explore the issue of insufficient prenatal care for low-income, medically under-served D.C. residents. The group, at present, intends to create some sort of field guide as informed by their expanded scope of knowledge as they tackle the issue through the design process.

Now that I’ve had the opportunity to see where the student projects are headed, I’ll be interested to loop around closer to the end of term to see the progress and pivots that happen in the second half of the term as students focus more heavily on the business end of designing for social impact. Next week, I’ll provide an update on my class, University as a Design Problem, and give you a mid-semester report on some of the key findings and commonalities our groups have uncovered.

» second in a series of posts by Emily Unrue, Ethics Lab Program Manager

As I mentioned in my previous post, our team experienced our first crit this past Tuesday.

You might be wondering what this mysterious “crit” is, and why it’s important. Before I joined the Ethics Lab team, I remember perusing their website and thinking, “oh, scary!” when I saw that word crop up in a number of places. A few earlier blog posts provide some contextualization of the concept, and there’s even a handful of full-length videos of final, juried crits from previous terms available.

In short, critiques are presentations of project-based work where classmates, instructors, and interested parties (crits are open to the public, so join us!) engage in active, rigorous dialogue to help analyze, question, refine, and (ultimately) iterate a tangible work product.

In the studio ecosystem, the crit is key because it provides a space where “mistakes” are embraced, getting tied to one idea is rarely productive, and rapid feedback is guaranteed from a variety of sources.

Stephanie, Lilyan, and I settled on a pretty solid project idea in the second week, and we felt reasonably confident that we could take our idea and run with it. But after two meetings outside class, we stepped back the night before crits, changed direction, and met the next morning to start from scratch (re)designing our presentation. And we’ll do it again. And again. And probably even a few more times after that as we continue to evolve and clarify our position.

For round one, our team decided that a low-fidelity rendering of a GU student persona would allow maximum feedback and quick pivoting if the crit steered us in another direction. You can zoom in on the whiteboard image of our team’s “Willow Bark” persona to see some of the detail and read our sidebar notes where we situate our project within the current framework of the undergraduate university system. We used an existing and successful tool—a social media e-folio—to situate our core concept: abolish the undergraduate major field of study and create a competencies-based (percentage) spectrum of progress that integrates both the curricular and co-curricular.

In Willow’s case, her professors, fellow students, and potential future employers can see a cross-tagged portfolio of all the approved projects, initiatives, and participatory ways Willow has demonstrated her leadership competency both in and out of the classroom. They can also see where she’s at in her progress and contributions in biology, community and civic engagement, linguistics, undergraduate original research, French composition, so on and so forth.

Our crit was mostly positive in that we presented a core idea with a radical component, but our medium of an e-folio was decidedly mixed and probably something we’re going to have to adjust once we dig deeper into the research on portfolios.

Over the coming weeks, we now know we’ll need to flesh out the competencies rubric and address the pressing and potentially unrealistic issue of faculty and job market buy-in of our concept given that this presents a fundamental shift in how students are classified, assessed, and how course enrollment is determined.

Our project also lacks clarity on the development and integration of a justice-centered education as a central tenet, rather than a byproduct and administrative pro-forma nod to an idealistic notion that’s tossed by the wayside as more pragmatic and urgent concerns arise. For Ethics Lab, keeping this concept at the core is vital, a ballast upon which we form our ideas and circle-back to for inspiration and calibration.

Before I move along, I want to also make sure I include a roundup of the other teams’ key concepts as I’ll be referencing them in future posts:

Team ORB: This team focused on a two-part process where the first three years of the undergraduate journey would be spent enhancing their toolkit through various platforms (reflection circles, design thinking, etc.) which would then enable them to fulfill the second part of their model which was an interdisciplinary defense of a major project or body of work with creativity, empathy, and iterative work at the core.

Team Empathy: The second team honed in on promotion of empathy as an explicit and centrally stated core value that underpinned all Georgetown learning goals. By creating an environment that allows for testing of this “skill,” team empathy would like to build upon the notion that empathy should be interwoven deliberately into the curricular, co-curricular, and extra-curricular framework of GU student life.

Team (Dis)courses: The final team had a three phased approach. Reciprocal relationships between multi-disciplinary academic courses and small student dialogue groups would be facilitated in safe and respectful environments that allowed optimal sharing of knowledge from multiple perspectives and multiple disciplines.

In all, I think our four teams had a lot of common threads presented in first crit (and a lot of common, first attempt pitfalls), but I’m excited for class tomorrow to see where we pivot next. Now that we have the groundwork and contextual background to get us started, we move next to building a physical model of a fractal core. Stay tuned!

This summer, Ethics Lab student Danielle Huang attended UC Berkeley’s summer course in landscape and urban design at their Center for Environmental Design (CED). This week, the program wrapped up with final crits, where Danielle exhibited her work: “Channeling Light,” a landscaping project designed to improve the pedestrian experience at Lake Merritt in Oakland, California.

From the project description: “Lake Merritt’s Necklace of Lights provides beauty and safety for pedestrians and bikers. Utilizing natural light, the Channeling Light master plan transforms bleached, over-exposed lots into fields of warm, powerful color. The solar experience will demonstrate the vastness and awe of nature while also providing an artful display of lights.”

View photos from Danielle’s crit night above. Read more about the program here.

This year, students from Trinity Hall and The Ethics Institute at Kent Place School, with mentorship from Ethics Lab, launched a year-long design fellowship project concerning food.

Last Friday students pitched their design projects at Kent Place School in Summit, NJ to culminate their Ethics in Action program experience. The objective of the Ethics in Action program was for students to develop new approaches and solutions to complex real-world issues using methods adapted from the ethical decision-making model and design.

Twitter was buzzing around the event so we put together some of the top tweets to capture the day on Storify.

Check it out →

This week, Ethics Lab hosted mid-term crits for Professor Slakey and Professor Pavesich’s studio collaborative. Students from Shaping National Science Policy (Slakey) and Introduction to Rhetoric (Pavesich) were asked to pursue legislative and non-legislative routes to affecting some change in the science and public policy space.

Teams will likely iterate and evolve from their current project states, but here are high-level summaries showing the range of their work:

  • Team A: increased funding for young science researchers
  • Team B: increasing the number of minority participants in clinical research
  • Team C: guidance and legislation to improve treatment and recovery of concussion victims
  • Team D: a new approach to reducing opioid prescription drug abuse and overdose that equips those likely to be with at-risk patients with the education, skills, and medication they need to provide life-saving care if an overdose occurs
  • Team E: better, more equitable treatment of transgender people in healthcare
  • Team F: a shadowing program for pre-med students from low income backgrounds
  • Team G: labeling for GMO foods highlighting the positive aspects of this technological advance
  • Team H: proposed legislation to grade foods by their sugar quantity in an effort to get people to eat healthier

It wouldn’t be a final crit in the lab without cupcakes … these ones for the brave souls who plunged into a four-week intensive summer course on Moral Status offered through the Philosophy Department and taught by the charming and unflappable Hailey Huget (graduate fellow of the KIE!). Student teams produced board games intended to engage issues of ambiguous, contested, or shifting moral status, which jurors happily played.

We welcomed an all-star jury of designers and Georgetown University leadership — including University President Jack DeGioia — to the lab this weekend for final crits in Vice Provost Randy Bass’s class, The University as a Design Problem.

It’s that time of year…

Sweaty palms. Uncontrollable jitters. A heretofore never experienced kind of stress.

What has students so worked up, you ask?

It’s crit season.

Crits are essential to the practice of studio. Through crits, students publicly present their work, defend their design choices, consider new perspectives, and sometimes, admit that they failed. But failing fast and failing publicly is a key aspect of studio method, so it isn’t a bad thing… But more on that later. Crits allow students to actively engage in conversations—and sometimes, arguments—with jurors (professors, comic book store managers, NIH scientists, President DeGioia… the list goes on!) about the many facets of their product. Whatever it may be.

Look who showed up for this semester’s final crits!