It’s not often you come home and tell your spouse, “Hey! I just got done observing skaters at the skate park under Burnside bridge and I feel like I could have been in a fight!”
How can we best collaborate online? How can we learn better with others online? These are questions I’ve thought about quite a bit throughout my career as a teacher and design researcher.
When I started UX Night School, I was insistent that it be offline first, IRL, as they say. In our workshops, we teach design research in a fairly lo-fi way. And, I stress, in a way that is community engaged - working with local activists, leaders, and local business owners in Portland. There’s a lot we can learn from where we live and work - a lot to observe in the everyday.
Don’t get me wrong, though. I’m no luddite- I was an early adopter of internet socializing as a teen in the 90s, and I still marvel at the joys of internet community, especially in the times that it becomes another sort of offline/online community.
But how do we build successful learning communities online? I have taught and taken online courses since 2003, with varying results- some great, some not so much.
What’s more, as a UX designer and design researcher, I’ve worked with lots of distributed teams - some awesomely communicative and collaborative, others fractured and dysfunctional. What is the difference that makes the difference?
Why do some online communities thrive and others fail? There is no surefire solution - this problem is older than the internet itself!
It’s also worth noting that I’ve been away from this problem for a bit - I haven’t taught online since 2012, instead running my consultancy full-time. Taking this all on again is a daunting task, but I had gotten interest in an online version of UX Night School’s workshops since their inception. For whatever gambles or pratfalls, online learning is too convenient to overlook.
One particular sticking point is that of the most cliched tool of UX design and design research - the sticky note. My favorite way to work and practice is often off-line, or as they say “in 3D”. I get my greatest insights when I’m in the room with collaborators - whether they be design research participants or clients. I love using paper - for notetaking, for iterative testing, for blueprinting.
With students in a physical workspace, we can do this on the same page - literally. But online? I’ve tried several tools, but collaboration never comes effortlessly.
I last used Balsamiq around 2010, when I was teaching in the classroom. When I met Leon, one of their team members, at Write the Docs in Portland, I was intrigued to hear about the new features, especially around collaboration. I’m excited to use it to work on projects with my course participants - “the UX Night School Crew” I call them.
For the uninitiated: Balsamiq Mockups is a rapid wireframing tool. It reproduces the experience of sketching on a whiteboard, but using a computer, which is crucial when it comes to collaborating as a remote team. We chose to use the integration with Google Drive because you can create or edit mockup projects directly from Google Drive, all within the browser. You can even collaborate on your wireframes with others, in real time.
So, not only are we using Balsamiq in UX Night School’s Intro to UX Design/Research course, we’re also partnering with the team at Balsamiq to present a series of free tutorials. Join us this summer! Sign up to get notified when new tutorials are posted!
To be articulate & discriminating about ordinary affairs & information is the mark of an educated man.
It’s misleading to suppose
there’s any difference between
education & entertainment.
This distinction merely relieves people
of the responsibility of
looking into the matter.
It’s like setting up a distinction between
didactic & lyric poetry
on the ground that one teaches, the other pleases.
However, it’s always been true
that whatever pleases teaches more effectively.
- Classrooms Without Walls, Marshall McLuhan, Explorations, #7, May, 1957.
I’ve been in Portland for almost five years now, and I’ve reached a point where I’m somewhat visible in the community and approachable enough. People (kinda!) know what I do, and it seems like they trust me enough to send their friends, colleagues, kids, former bandmates, et cetera — my way when these folks say they want to “get into UX”.
Here's what I've learned.
What does it mean to be "Community Based"?
I started UX Night School, because I was more inspired by my local community - Portland is something of a product design mecca, full of networks of dedicated, thoughtful, diverse people building useful things. And because I wanted to give something to the community - an opportunity to learn and explore as a working professional, to gain new skills without upending your life.