I met Elio Venero last year when some of the 2019 SI scholarship holders, at Gothenburg, arranged a meeting with us scholars of 2020. I got the idea to share another point of view from him, as a second-year student in the master’s programme Interaction design and technologies. He is currently a teaching assistant in the course Tangible interactions. He was telling me about the hard work they put in to prepare classes for future students. I was amazed about all the preparation he mentioned that I asked to have a more in-depth conversation about it with the lab coordinator, Farshid Harandi, he provides teaching services to Chalmers with his independent company since 2009. He fulfilled his master’s programme in Intelligent Systems Design at Chalmers and now is a teacher in the Tangible Interactions course every year.
You may wonder “What is tangible interaction?”, so did I! And the way I understand it, it is everything that can be felt, visualized, or even smelled. In this course, students present innovative, digital ideas for the final users of everyday items. Imagine you have a regular answering machine and every time you get a recorded message you need to press a button to hear it. How boring! Now imagine the machine would represent every recorded message with a marble piece that you can put into the answering machine to hear its message. It would be like holding the recording with your hand and making it tangible. How cool is that? But that was just an example, because perhaps in this course, the sky is the limit? The course consists of lab experiments and a collaborative project to build a prototype and construct a mockup.
As you can imagine, this is a very hands-on kind of course. That got the coordinators (Morten Fjeld and
Farshid Harandi) and TA’s (Sjoerd Henricus and Elio Venero) to think about possible solutions when they realized that the pandemic's consequences would affect the standard way to conduct the class. They figured out that the best way to do it was by structuring take-home kits with all the elements a student would need when developing an electronics project (with a bit of crafting, of course). The professors at Chalmers put together the components, development boards and pre-soldered all of the parts to make it plug and play. They also made sure the kit contained a double amount of elements in case something happend (if someone was like that Harry Potter kid that blows stuff up). Since they weren’t allowed to meet with the students due to the pandemic to supervise their assignments, they included an additional web camera to show the workbench of students so the TA’s could have a better view of students circuits and observe results or provide better assistance when necessary.
In total, there were eight groups, each of them delivering one final project plus the small lab experiments. I asked about their results, and Farshid was happy to say that all the circuit implementations on every assignment worked properly. Given that students were not in the usual environment and that the TA’s had it very difficult to detect failures and help to fix them without being in the same room. This doesn’t mean that there was nothing to improve, on the contrary, this first experience helped determine all the things that could be done better if they should do it again.
Here are some of the pros they discovered
- They could easier find and book time slots for supervision sessions since there wasn’t a need for either of them to take themselves to university. Assistance could be provided and received from any location.
- They practiced collaboration on distance and built their electronics projects, did some crafting, and developed their skills in delivering prototypes, despite the remote-learning education from January to March.
By the end of my conversation with Farshid, some things were clear to me. The coordinators' and TA’s preparation was challenging but with a lot of enthusiasm they made it work in the end. This was done for us, the students, to make the best out of the course so that we didn’t miss important lab experiences. I truly appreciate the effort they put in to face these difficulties and that they were brave enough to think outside of the box.