Maria C. R. Harrington, Ph.D. About Research Publications Teaching Art

Teaching

I am prepared to teach introductory to advanced courses in computer science, information science, and art or new media departments. My area of expertise is in project management, human-computer interaction and user experience, and virtual nature and new media art used in informal learning environments with AR and VR technology. I see my research and teaching as complementary activities, drawing heavily on my scholarship to create innovative curriculum emphasizing design projects requiring creative process in the arts, sciences, and humanities.

“Teaching is about putting crinkles into brains,” an idea attributed to my mother, but I used it for the first time as a computer graphics lab tutor in Harry Holland’s CMU Fine Arts computer lab. I carried this insight with me into the college classroom. While it is not a formal educational pedagogy, theory, or assessment, it serves as a reminder that whatever course I teach, my goal is to put the good crinkles into my students’ brains by taking every opportunity to demand active and responsible learning and creativity from my students.

Creativity is not a license for unbridled chaos, however. At its best, it represents hyper-problem solving, in multiple directions, simultaneously optimizing a multi-dimensional problem space. In the past when I taught human-computer interaction, which is an ideal problem space to study creativity, I structured the class around traditional activities with readings, assignments, individual projects, labs, lectures, papers, and homework. Independent iterations each week moved in graded feedback cycles towards an independent midterm project, and then merged with a group towards a final collaborative project. This dual-pronged approach provided both individual and group co-creativity lessons, in which the students, unaware of the scaffolding surrounding them, advance towards complex, novel solutions. The brilliance of this approach is that each project is unique, each student highly invested and motivated, and each learning trajectory personalized. I use this method in every class I teach, independent of topic, due to the effectiveness proven by the quality of the student’s work.

Because of this view, I maintain a highly flexible and dynamic approach to my classes. Always responsive to opportunities in the moment driven by individual student curiosity, while bracketed by the defined curriculum, traditional methods and processes, clear objectives, assessments and feedback, and a variety of real and digital tools, I try to help students to achieve a lasting crinkle. Each lesson serves to help students progress through content, and cycling, reinforcing, and branching out with multiple trajectories towards more complex and demanding material, each student achieves good to excellent solutions. My dissertation advisor, Dr. Peter Brusilovsky pioneered adaptive, intelligent tutoring software for e-learning.

I want each student to leave my class understanding that the creative process is something that is within his or her abilities, and is independent of technology. I define this creative process as a form of extreme problem solving, hypercritical thinking, and rapid iteration in order to remove error. Removal of error is one key to the success of this method. And so, to remove error, one first must recognize it, and that can be very difficult to do without the help of others. One of the most difficult aspects of the creative process is for students to learn how to accept failure, or what they perceive as failure, and yet continue to strive for excellence, to be resilient. Excellence is a limit to reach for, even in the face of impossible perfection. Even the greatest works of art, Michelangelo’s David, and Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, have errors, and yet they still serve as examples of excellence.

I introduce the art critique as a technique of evaluation and also of advanced conduct, behavior, and thought patterns, on how to combine artistic and scientific evaluations of designs and solutions in order to offer a more comprehensive evaluation of a system design in class by the student and their peers. This approach gives the opportunity for a student to demonstrate their ability to think critically, creatively, and scientifically, while not being hurtful, destructive, or obnoxious. Critical evaluation is not negativism, nor is it an opinion, it is evidence based with logic, reason, and substantial judgment. The critique allows for a social collaborative feedback process to identify errors, provide a range of suggestions, and provide a new cycle to improve, a new iteration of problem solving. Students start to understand that it is a process around midterms when they realize that it is not a onetime event, but a cyclical processes incrementally moving towards a limit of perfection. When they realize that all they have to do is their best, find the errors, and fix them, then that is the moment when I can hear the crinkles forming. Quality is the output of this process, and so too is the final grade.

As I foster this creative environment, students begin to develop an appreciation of diversity when they learn that each person in the class can create a unique and wonderful solution to the same problem. They realize that there is not one absolutely correct creative solution, or product design, or work of new media art. In this atmosphere, I might explain the Nash equilibrium and Pareto efficiency. In the world of art, science, or technology, if you create, and not just transfer, steal, or plagiarize, you bring into this world something new, something needed, and something that transforms the human experience, and thus go beyond the past, the present, and into multiple branches of the future. Novel is another key component of my teaching philosophy.

I want my students to conduct their work guided by the ethics, values of accuracy, and positive impact. Truthfulness and goodness are also keys. In any given course, we might talk about signals and noise, about Claude Shannon’s Information Theory, and how context influences all we see and know, all we believe to be true. I show them Edward Tufte’s visualizations as ways to create meaningful context with information and graphics. I may deliver a lecture on context and psychophysics using Edward Adelson’s checkerboard illusion. Once a student fell off his chair, hit the floor, and said, “The Bomb!” Everyone laughed, but more importantly, the lesson stuck and the crinkles grew deeper.

We talk about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, and then I insist that they select their projects to support personal goals that also contribute to their community. A well selected project, in an area of unique interest will motivate and build portfolio pieces for graduate school, summer internships, or research scholarships. Some students take their projects and launch companies. Many students create projects for a family member, an e-commerce website for sisters, brothers, fathers, and mothers. The idea, the thought that even as a student, they could actually produce a product that gives direct access to the market, and make themselves or a person they love successful, is deeply empowering. At the end of the term, every student shows complex emotions, of pride, excitement, disbelief, and elation simultaneously, knowing they passed a personal barrier and exceeded their own expectations creates a level of unbridled excitement at the final presentations. At the end of one semester, a group presented a t-shirt to me, created by their company website they launched. Printed on the t-shirt was, “We LOVE Harrington.” I was more impressed by their happiness and self-confidence.

Teaching is very hard work. It is demanding and time consuming. It does not pay well. But I know it is a responsibility and a duty that benefits the next generation. Teaching helps me to be a better, happier person. In the act of teaching, mentoring, advising, I am giving something to others. In this act of sharing my knowledge and experience, I feel useful, of value, and happy. I help others to understand the world. I show students how to do things they did not think possible, to create. By sharing my knowledge, I help them to help themselves. I can help them to change into the people they want to be and to affect the world for the better.

List of Courses at UCF in Digital Media and Games and Interactive Media:

Graduate level course focused on the interdisciplinary design of AR, VR, and MR for museum exhibits. Open to all UCF students interested in the application of digital media and learning sciences research to the design of interactive immersive informal learning systems. Students are expected to research literature, frame a design problem, partner with a local cultural institution, develop a prototype, and produce a final paper for a conference or poster publication.

Human-computer interaction (HCI) theory is applied to the iterative design process of websites and apps to ensure excellent user experience (UX design) of interactive digital media.  The project-based course develops emergent product requirements in the user centered design (UCD) process to fully understand the intersection of market, user, stakeholder, and technology constraints. Students use a rapid iterative co-design process to reduce risk of project failure and enhanced functionality with prototyping, think aloud protocols, and task analysis to measure factors of usability and translate them into design improvements within the theory of HCI.

Traditional software project management methods are applied to the development of the design of digital media products: emergent ideation and team formation, project charter, roles and responsibilities, team contract, scope definition as an intersection of market, technology, user and stakeholder requirements, and team resource inventory. Then the execution plan is detailed in management and communication plans, stakeholder registry, risk mitigation, work break downs, activities, Gantt, and budget. Final prototype deliverables are produced.

Graduate level course in the analysis and design of digital asset management systems. Students approach a system design problem as an expression of digital media content creation, storage, and retrieval in terms of functional and non-functional requirements. Then expand requirements to integrate those activities with business process frameworks and project management process to support organizations’ supply chains.  

List of Courses Taught:

New Media Art

Information Science and HCI

Information Systems and Computer Science