Teaching Reflections: Three assignments

The semester is over, and I haven’t updated my research blog this entire time – because I haven’t done any research. I didn’t understand that being a Teaching Assistant in a lecture with ~600 students is a full-time job, and I couldn’t do much else during the winter semester. I tried to follow the words of the great Ron Swanson, “Never half-ass two things. Whole-ass one thing.”

Now the semester is over, and after taking off a much-needed weekend to go into the mountains (where I belong), I’m back on track, with a huge amount of data from the assignments I made. So far, in an act of shameless Selbstbeweihräucherung (one of the greatest words the German language has come up with), I’ve read only the feedback and overall, they were perceived as valuable learnings and experiences. This is of course very soothing – at least if nothing else, the students had fun.

Instead of making one assignment to rule them all, I created three assignments according to the three focal themes of my research. Here’s the translations of the prompts (without the exact task lists or additional material) – and that’s it for my first post-semster-post!

MINDQUEST

The prevalence of mental health issues in students has increased since the turn of the century, and in recent years, the results of statistics and surveys in European countries have provided worrying results. The main issue cited is depression.
The reasons for this are manifold and diffuse: On the one hand, financial and performance pressure is cited, on the other, many students complain about social isolation and existential anxiety. In our increasingly complex world, it will probably take a while until the issue is fully understood and can be systemically addressed.
But on a personal level, we can critically engage with this subject, which concerns us all in one way or another – especially given the current lockdown and other COVID-19-related measures transforming our everyday life right now.
In this assignment, you will analyse the mental health services offered at the TU Wien: you will critically examine how realistic and accessible they are, and explore how they could be – possibly digitally – improved.

GOOD SOCIAL MEDIA

Social media are a recent phenomenon that defines the interpersonal relationships and social behaviour of an entire generation. Is it good or bad? Opinions are strong and differ – after all, it’s not easy to judge something of such impact and proportion.
On the one hand, the biggest social media platforms are financed by advertising, which ultimately leads to users being manipulated. But on the other hand, there are also positive effects: for instance, social media allows marginalised groups to create and find communities.
They foster political polarisation, but also give people who were previously unheard a voice.
We know they have a hold over us and influence us, but we still use them for various reasons.
Whatever anyone’s personal opinion may be, there is one deciding fact to keep in mind: social media were never conceived with a human-centered, pro-user approach, but as products to generate profit for a company.
But what if that weren’t so?
In this challenge, you will explore what “good” and “bad” mean as technology-related values, and how technologies could be improved to be more positive. You will interview or survey 3 of your colleagues about their social media use and opinion. The focus of this assignment is user research.

SPECULATIVE DESIGN: A NOT ENTIRELY NORMAL SEMESTER…

This year’s first semester students will experience a very unusual introduction to student life, a state of constant disruption as our lives are re-configured in navigating a pandemic.
You start this new chapter of your life in interesting times – many of the experiences that would be considered normal as a newly enrolled student will be missed out on – and it doesn’t matter if it’s your first or second time studying.
In virtual Zooms and on online learning platforms, studying can quickly turn into a checklist of tasks without inspiration or joy, and more importantly, without a feeling of community and social interaction – or at least, not in person.
Connecting with peers is not only one of the most valuable experiences University has to offer, but also plays an important role in well-being, mental health and, of course, academic success.
In this design assignment, you will analyse the social aspects of your day-to-day life in distance learning, and creatively engage your personal challenges in communication and socialising by designing a fictional solution to enhance closeness to other persons from afar.