UTS student Jamee Newland talks to Dr Tuck Leong, the brains behind ‘Interactive Games Design’s’ games arcade assessment to ask how the exam came about, how it helps students and how it’s changed the way Tuck approaches his teaching.

1. Hi Tuck, would you like to introduce yourself, and what you teach?

My name is Tuck Leong and I’m the Program Coordinator and Director of the Interaction Design and Human Practice lab at the University of Technology, Sydney.

Interaction Design centres on designing people’s interactions between digital products and services; finding ways to best design the interaction of humans and computing technology. In essence, I teach students about how design principles can best be used to build systems for human interaction, including when and why we adhere to these design principles or when it is appropriate to depart from them

Dr Tuck Leong in the arcade

2. Why assess students in a games arcade?

At UTS, students studying Fundamentals of Interaction Design are taught a great deal about good digital design principles. When these principles are used appropriately to inform the design of digital products, like platforms, services and applications, users can easily discover and understand how to use the product correctly. Throughout the semester, students hone their understanding of these principles through different assessment activities.

First, they create journal entries to reflect and critique how these principles are used appropriately (or not) to support the design of everyday digital designs. Second, they put those principles into practice by working on an Interaction Design project.

However, I also want students to understand that these principles may not apply, or may need to be broken, when used to design ‘products’ for different purposes and contexts. One of which is gaming. Given that, I needed to find ways for students to not only see the ‘products’ but to also use them. That’s why I chose to assess students in a gaming arcade.

In the future, it will be great to find other publicly accessible venues with working technologies where students can be assessed on different aspects of design in a fun, real-life, and practiced-based approach. For example, ‘entertainment’ hubs where students can play with VR headsets and voice inputs. They don’t really exist right now, but these kinds of interactions are ones we’re already starting to see in homes and everyday technologies.

3. How do students even pass an exam like the arcade assessment?

To pass the exam, students have to be able to identify, describe and critique particular design and usability principles they have learned in the subject, and that appear in the gaming technology they’re playing. They analyse how design principles:

  1. Are used or guide users to play the games without a lot of instructions and explanations, or
  2. How these guidelines are purposely not followed so as to make these games more interesting and engaging

4. Were there any significant challenges or difficulties in getting the assessment off the ground?

Initially, we had to convince the faculty that this activity has pedagogical merit.

In more recent times, it was finding a venue to host the assessment. This hands-on exam was created when the subject only had 30 to 40 students. In Autumn 2018, we have 333 students enrolled. It’s becoming more and more challenging trying to conduct this exam in a public venue that is both accessible and large enough to comfortably accommodate the growing number of students.

I learned we have to be creative in finding ways to support student learning and this may involve slightly non-traditional approaches. Like an arcade assessment!

5. What have you learned from the assessment?

The program has reiterated and emphasised the practical and practice-based nature of the subject and discipline. It’s reminded me that learning is most effective when students can ground abstract ideas and concepts. If they can experience it first-hand and engage with it directly, they’re more likely to retain the information.

In Interaction Design, this means encouraging and allowing students to engage in actual everyday technologies – to observe, reflect and critique how the design of these technologies and products shape our activities and use, and most importantly our experiences.

These learnings are foundational to designing human-centre technologies and such skills are highly sought after in the industry.

6. How have your students responded?

In general, students have been very excited about this exam. For some, this assessment gives them an opportunity to test and extend their understanding. There have certainly been some ‘aha’ moments from students when they realise how the principles they learned don’t actually apply if you’re trying to design an interesting and engaging game.

7. On a personal note, what inspires and motivates you as an educator?

It might sound corny but what drives me is the vision for a better future, or more specifically, how I can help shape a future that is respectful of shared human values.

If the current trajectory holds, digital technologies will continue to increase, becoming even more pervasive and intimately woven into our lives. Whether we like it or not, digital technologies are already mediating most aspects of our everyday lives; shaping how we experience ourselves, our world and others. So, as an Interaction Designer and a Human-Computer Interaction researcher, I try to ensure my designs of future digital technologies are not only effective and efficient but support people’s experiences and desires positively and meaningful.

However, training and shaping the next generation of designers, computer scientists and engineers is an even more effective approach. I’m very motivated and passionate about sharing my knowledge with students and working together with them to find ways that can best inspire (and infect) them with this passion for designing for a better future.

I’m really encouraged when students have that ‘aha’ moment; when the pin drops and they start to see how what they learn connects palpably to everyday life.

Related articles

For a full story on this assessment. along with other authentic assessment examples from Transdisciplinary Innovation and Communication, head to ‘When uni meets the real world’ [opens UTS Newsroom].

Interview: Jamee Newland, UTS Communication student
Photography: Fiona Livy, Aaron Liu and Allison Glavin

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