Course Philosophy

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The purpose of this course is two-fold: to teach user-centered design process and skills, and to introduce students to the world of entrepreneurship. The course does not aspire to be comprehensive on either front; rather, it aspires to give students an introductory grounding in both. This course is aimed at providing students with a mindset which they can apply to their work developing innovations into sustainable enterprises. It will also teach students practical skills which they can apply in their current and future projects. This course is structured to support students whether they are interested in business-oriented entrepreneurship or social entrepreneurship.

Flexibility of the Course

Because this course is designed to meet students' practical needs, there is an inherent flexibility in the structure of this course. This means that as your instructors, we are not only open to your suggestions, but strongly encourage them. There is a vast amount of knowledge that one can have about user centered design and entrepreneurship, and it is impossible for us to cover everything in this course. Therefore, if you have suggestions or preferences, please let us know, either publicly or privately. We are more than happy to adjust the class to help meet your interests or practical goals. You must realize, however, that this means that the structure of the course is flexible, and thus our schedule, and even our assignments, may change over the course of the semester. This is not a class where the subject material is clearly bounded, and a certain set of concepts must be taught by the semester's end (e.g., like an introductory math or physics class). Therefore, do not expect that kind of rigid structure from this class.

Expected Attitude

This class is designed as a collaborative learning endeavor. That means that each person is expected to participate as a student and as a teacher throughout the course. We heavily emphasize group work, which means that anything less than full participation is detrimental not only to your learning experience but to your classmates’.

It is important to realize that everybody will be bringing different perspectives from different backgrounds into the classroom. We expect that those with specialized knowledge will willingly and actively share it with the rest of the class. This applies in particular to the more technical aspects of the course: students who have a stronger technical background are expected to actively mentor students who do not. However, it also applies to other aspects of the class. For example, some students will have more knowledge about the hidden rules and tricks of academia than others (e.g., how to read instructors, how to make good impressions, what kinds of behavior are typically rewarded in the classroom, etc.). I expect students to be actively teaching those rules and tricks as well. In order for knowledge and understanding to be rewarded, we must work to create as level a playing field as possible. And yes, there are other areas of expertise besides technical knowledge and knowledge of academic hidden rules and tricks which are relevant to the class, not covered here. Any such contribution to your fellow students counts.

Grades, Grading, and Assignments

Grades are a part of the certification aspect of attending a university: a fundamentally necessary but secondary function. Thus, there are two common and diametrically opposed philosophies of grading. The first philosophy holds that grades ought to be accurate measures of achievement and accomplishment. This philosophy is often accompanied by a belief that high standards create strong motivation. The second philosophy holds that grades are social constructions students need in order to get a piece of paper which many kinds of employers require before being willing to offer the students jobs. As such, they are a distraction to the true purpose of academia, which is to engage in learning and understanding. Both philosophies have merit and a degree of truth to them.

In our course, we expect that you are taking this course because you are intrinsically motivated by an interest in the subject and by the creative freedom that the major project affords you. Therefore, the primary purpose of grading in this course is to give you feedback on the development of your skills. This means we expect you to put a significant amount of effort into the assignments and that you will not receive credit for assignments that clearly demonstrate substandard effort. If you have a concern about any of the grades you receive in the course, please come see us.