Recently, I’ve attended a number of graduation presentations in the User-System Interaction field. Unfortunately, a number of them are also confidential, so not too much can be said about them. However, it is interesting to see where the strengths and weaknesses of interdisciplinary research lies. What I mean by that is that a number of people with different backgrounds (psychology, design, computer scientists, engineers) are asked to do a project, using a user-centred design cycle. When you work in a group, each person uses their own backgrounds and strengths in such a way that it tends to enhance the end-results. However, when you’re alone it can be quite difficult to keep an overview of all the necessary skills (even though you’ve been training them for the past year) and not to give in to temptation and stick what you know best.
So far, the best results seem to come from people who are not afraid to venture a bit outside of their comfort zone. However, scaffolding also is a necessity, since some supervisors might not know whether their students are doing something they need extra help with. Especially when these supervisors themselves don’t have a background in USI / HTI / HCI. There should be support from the academic side as well, but since most students sit at the company their project is at, they might hesitate to confide that they are struggling with something. Not in the sense that the supervisor would expect them to be perfect and dead-on from the start, but rather that they still lack the vocabulry to ask for help about what they need.
If a student reports needing maybe a bit more help selecting their test-method, the field is wide open and it’s hard to know whether they want to discuss their options, or want you to point them toward whichever you think is best (if you have an opinion in the first place) or want you to point them towards literature which can help them select. If you’re busy faculty, and have only 30 minutes for this conversation, they might decide not to bother you at all, and ask their student-colleagues for help. So how, as a supervisor, can you find out which scaffolding and help your students need at a certain point in time, without needing t know the project as inside out as the student?
Personally, the strategies employed with the last student were not very succesful. They included encouring him to walk into the office when he had a question, sending him emails with interesting literature, asking him for regular progress reports during our meeting, and yet… it still feels like I failed him. However, it’s unclear to me whether this is because of the student, or because of the strategies used in this case. Come january, there are 2 other students, and I really would like to do better by them.