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What I learned this semester

My first semester teaching Information Architecture at Parsons has come to an end. I am excited to share with you the results. Fortunately my students have given me permission to share excerpts from their final essays with you here. Below are our lessons learned as supported by quotes from final student essays as well as excerpts from the journal I kept this semester:

1. Art School is almost all “how” 

From my journal entry on Day 2: I think the biggest learning of the night is that everyone is willing to do the assignment, what they will be uncomfortable with is the creation of the assignment. Most of information architecture is just that, holding off on the doing while you focus on the defining.

From a student essay: One of the key concepts behind Information Architecture was something that we shouted at each other quite often when we felt that one of us was going off topic and that is “frame the problem, design the solution.

From a student essay: That’s how the real world works – This class and working in an interaction design agency during this semester taught me that the way things work in the real world are very different from school projects. And it makes me think that sometimes school projects put the “how” before the “why”…

2. Complexity Wrangling is a teachable skill

From my journal entry on Day 4: Tonight we learned about forming consensus within a group around goals. It was a struggle, we all agreed it was the hardest class yet.  But as one kid said so eloquently, almost breaking my heart with the tenderness of the sentiment: “I wish I had known this on every project I have done at school” the kid behind him followed with another crushing blow of gratitude “I want to use this when I argue with my girlfriend.”  It was amazing.

 From a student essay: We took a complicated system, broke it down, and pin-pointed an issue and exactly how to make it better.

From a student essay: This process is what I’ve come to understand of information architecture – the breaking down and building up of a complex system of information. Furthermore, this method of breaking the system down into calculated, non-arbitrary steps/goals can be used to identify problems within the system and in turn go about the necessary steps to solving them.

3. Have faith in those you are mentoring:

From my journal entry on Day 6: Wow wow wow. I am blown away. Today was the hardest class for me personally, mostly because I did not have enough faith in these little Information Architects. In the class hereby known as “the come to jesus” meeting — I got faith. These kids have ideas, they have raw talent, if you just add tools — “Wham” you get conflict and clarity and progress towards a goal. I got shivers in tonight’s class. I get those once or twice a year at most when it comes to Information Architecture – an average I am improving through teaching to my delight.

 From a student essay: [Information Architecture] has given me the (rudimentary for now) ability to look at an organization from above and find the problem areas and the questions they should be asking, and then map out a plan for the future. More importantly, it’s taught me that I should.

From a student essay: It’s very complex to make something feel simple – it takes a lot of work thinking about the right way to present things, the right frameworks and the right models to analyze or think about something. But it makes the following parts much easier and more relevant.”

From a student essay: Before this course, organizing information meant deciding what information is on what web page and creating site maps. I am now more attuned to organizing information before that stage so that it best meets the needs of all people involved in the process.