‘Looping Reduction’ is a project design and development approach applied to a one semester course that brings together students with very diverse educational backgrounds from 2 tracks within an MSc programme so they can solve with their different expertise real-world problems provided by external stakeholders. The method makes use of 3 phases: Ideation, Prototyping, and Implementation/Validation, where each phase looks at the problem in different levels of granularity.
Name: Looping Reduction
Partner organization: University of Amsterdam (UvA)
Authors: Frank Nack, Tom van Engers
Aims: The objective of this method is to provide students with different types of reflection to better understand the problem while also reflecting on meta-cognitive skills during the project development process.
Time: This method is designed for a population of around 290 students, divided over 9 projects (minimum 20 and maximum 35 students per project) running over 5 months, where the first 4 months require around 4 hours per week and the last month is full time.
Original Context: The method was designed in the context of the MSc Information Studies, situated in UvA’s Informatics Institute. Within this programme, the method serves as the approach to better integrate the two tracks, i.e. Data Science and Information Systems, which both address similar issues with respect to Information Studies but in different forms. The method is placed in the first semester of this one year master.
Group: The method is validated every year with the participating students. There is also a general validation process applied by the UvA in the form of a questionnaire. In addition, particular questionnaires are used for each phase (course specific testing).
External stakeholders to provide the project.
For each project one dedicated staff member supervises the groups within the project.
3 staff members cover the research related lectures (1 on the relation between the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of research; 2 on quantitative research methods; and 2 on qualitative research methods).
2 workshops for the first two phases, i.e. methods for ideation and methods for prototyping.
Potential application/ adaptation: This method can be useful for any educational environment, where a course stretches over a longer period and requires reflection on project development.
This method is applied to a full semester course, with the aim to join different expertise from a group of students with different disciplinary backgrounds to solve real world problems that are provided from the Information Science Industry. Diversity is particularly crucial, as the students are also divided over 2 tracks (the Dada Science Track (DS ) and the Information Track (IS)) which focus on different views on information and would otherwise only partially work together.
The method is designed to enhance the understanding of process development and personal development:
1. Experience and understand the creative process of developing an interaction environment as part of research into complex systems, with a particular focus on stakeholder research, user-research, data identification, context mapping, interaction design from agile development to a technologic prototype, and evaluation (validation).
2. Stimulating personal and professional development, via activities that improve team building and project management skills, and activities that contribute to intellectual development, autonomy and employability.
The method operates on a 3 step structure: ideation (Sep – Oct), prototyping (Nov – Dec), and implementation/validation (Jan). The first two steps run parallel to the courses, where the last step is devoted to this project only. The system development has to fulfil the requirements provided by the client, where the focus is on finding a multi-disciplinary solution by:
- Understanding the client requirements, resulting in a requirement document (ideation)
- Development plan and schedule (ideation, prototyping, implementation / evaluation)
- Creative exploration of means of interaction available to address the client’s problem (ideation)
- Reflecting on the findings and decision making regarding the potential prototype (ideation / prototyping)
- Conceptualising the prototype (prototyping)
- Iterative implementation (Implementation / evaluation)
- Test (Implementation / evaluation)
- The findings are presented in a final report and in the annual DSP symposium at the end of January, where selected groups present during the conference sessions and all groups present during the poster sessions.
Students have to establish a portfolio over the entire period to monitor project development. In addition they are provided with questionnaires that, for each step, support their reflection on the process of reduction (why do they cut and how), from generating system ideas to the final implementation. This setting allows for experimentation (there is not one solution) in an environment where failure is possible, as long as they learn from it and document this.
During the pandemic we kept the overall structure of the course (the three phases). However, we shortened the introduction meeting during the study introduction day (1.5 days to 2 hours) and we organised an online symposium so that at least at he group from each project, chosen by from all the group members and the stakeholders during an internal project presentation session, could present their work, including a 15 minutes Q&A session per project.
We talk to the students at the end of each phase and the face to face communication with the group members in individual groups within each project turns out to be helpful, as it quickly becomes clear where students see the need for improvement and which type of reflection method they have used.
We also use the phase questionnaires to see if the process of reduction and the related reflection steps are both understood and applied. It turns out that students in general prefer this due to the p character of this project method, peer-review and peer-tutoring. Feedback from the supporting staff member is appreciated with respect to discussion of content and help with planning. Self-verbalisation and self-questioning would have been applied far less if the related questionnaires were not provided. Every year the final overall questionnaire reveals that the students value self-reflection as a means to gain a basic understanding of reflective practice, and in that way strengthen their self-responsibility so that they determine the ability to be adaptive in agile work environments.
Overall it seems that the method works, as the outlined goals are achieved. The problem for the years to come is that the numbers of students opting for each track diverges drastically. There are currently ⅔ of all students in the DS track, which means that the interdisciplinary approach taken so far is eroding.