Requirements & Grading

This is a seminar class that involves topical lectures as well as student led in-class discussions, both of which are supported by substantial reading. Additionally, students are expected to participate in an online discussion forum, related class exercises and complete a three-part project over the course of the semester.

Your grade is based upon the following:

  • Participation in class discussions & exercises: 20%
  • Discussion leadership (2x during the semester): 20%
  • Participation in online discussion forum: 20%
  • Assignments: 30% (Wicked Problem Map: 10%, MLP 10%, Case Study 10%)
  • Team evaluations: 10%

Participation in Class Discussion & Exercises

Participation is evaluated on the basis of in-class discussions, exercises and our assessment of how prepared you are and how well you understand the material and relate it to transition designing. Successful participation involves taking up postures of speculation vs. certainty, learning to ‘dance’ with and build upon others’ ideas (as opposing to entering a debate or proving the other person wrong), being willing to change one’s mind, listening as opposed to ‘waiting to talk’, being generous and encouraging everyone to speak up and participate, not dominating the conversation, speaking clearly and loudly enough for all to hear. Transition Designers will find themselves in positions of facilitation within complex social dynamics—practice developing skills in this course.

Discussion Leadership

Because of the large class size, it will be divided into two small discussion groups that will meet in parallel sessions. Each discussion session will be assigned 2-3 student discussion leaders who are responsible for:  1) completing assigned readings for that class a week ahead of time;  2) meeting as a group (there will be 4-6 discussion leaders for the two groups) to develop discussion prompts/questions and potential short exercises or activities to ensure both groups have a similar experience;  3) meet with Terry and Gideon at the end of the class prior to their assigned date to review their plans and briefly discuss the material; 4) facilitate and guide the online discussion that follows each class. Each discussion group is supported by 1 instructor, 1 PhD student and 1 teaching assistant. In some cases, the instructors may have a pre-designed activity that they would like to run. In these cases, the discussion leaders will provide support during the session.

Each student in the class will have at least two opportunities to serve as discussion leaders. It is their responsibility to ensure there is coherence between the two parallel sessions, that they have a deep understanding of the material, can facilitate lively in-class discussions and manage the social dynamics so that they are positive, productive and inclusive.

Online Discussion Forum

Discussion leaders will work together to develop a bi-weekly discussion question around their class’ topic area and seed conversation on the website discussion forum prior to class. Discussion leaders will moderate conversation throughout the week to keep lively debate going and involve ideas and readings from class. Students will be expected to participate in this discussion and contribute a post of at least 300 words along with ongoing comments. Discussion leaders will assess participation of their classmates via a rubric provided by instructors and assign grades for the discussion string they moderate and submit them within a week to the TAs.

The Readings

The seminar requires you to do a significant amount of outside reading. You must complete the readings prior to each class in order to participate fully in the discussions. You will note that we have divided the readings into two categories: Read Prior to Class (required) and Supplementary Readings. Each class also has a corresponding page in the Additional Resources section of the website. Here is where we will put videos, links and other materials related to the class topic. We recommend you always check this material. If you are a discussion leader for a particular class you are required to review this material. You should read the required texts thoroughly and at least skim the supplemental texts. If you are scheduled to be a discussion leader, you should read all of the texts.

How to Read Multiple Texts for a Seminar

As a graduate student it is important that you develop the ability to read multiple texts quickly and thoroughly. A good approach is to quickly skim each of the readings, then go back and read them in depth. Develop practices aimed at retention. Highlighting areas/points for discussion in class, making notes for your essay as the classes progress, and noting questions are all ways to ensure that you understand the material and come to class prepared. The readings we have selected combine recent texts from journals, blogs and publications with classic (and often out of print) texts from science, anthropology, sociology and other areas. This is a helpful article that discusses reading for graduate school.

Why We Assign Diverse Readings

The wide variety of texts serves two purposes: 1) it acquaints you with key historical concepts/ideas and thought leaders from varied fields and disciplines (such as environmentalist Aldo Leopold, historian/social critic Lewis Mumford and poet/dramatist/ phenomenological scientist Wolfgang von Goethe) and 2) it provides you with experience in relating ideas from other fields and disciplines to design theory and practice. Designers are continually asked to step into new territories and being able to synthesize new concepts and ideas in order to inform action is a key skill. In this seminar you are helping to constitute a new area of design focus: Transition Design. However the skill of synthesizing ideas and concepts from disparate discipline in order to inform practice and research is a much sought after ability in more leading firms and non-profit organizations.

Discussing the Texts

We aim to build a culture of trust in this course in which people respect each other’s views but also feel able to engage in lively debate. Come to the discussions prepared to present your point of view, but always be willing to change your mind. Be vocal, but generous. Be aware of whether you are monopolizing the conversation and be willing to hand the discussion off to others and ask someone who hasn’t yet spoken, “what do you think?”. Build upon or challenge what others have said to keep interesting discussion threads going. Be aware of whether you’re truly listening or simply ‘waiting to talk.’ A good discussion is a dance; you’re building on what others have said (not changing the subject without acknowledging you are and saying why). You’re not being asked to deliver a lecture or monologue. If you find yourself getting perturbed or upset about what someone is saying, consider the possibility that it might be because your deeply held beliefs and assumptions are being challenged—that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Practice and hone your powers of articulation. Be brave. Be curious. Discussion is an art and ability that designers need to cultivate.

Class Exercises

Collaboration is a key skill for transition designers. Instructors and discussion leaders will often culminate a discussion or lecture with brief exercises designed to help you embody the ideas that we’ve discussed. These exercises are an opportunity to bring diverse points of view and experience to a topic or problem. Here is where your collaboration skills can be honed and where you have the opportunity to learn from your colleagues. Invest yourself. Explore. Your team mates will evaluate you on your skill in this area.

Course Assignments (Team-Based)

Three related assignments will be given during the seminar and will require you to collaborate with 3–4 other people, undertake research outside class and present results to the class. For each assignment there will be a 360 degree review (you will review each your teammates for collaboration & performance) that will be incorporated into your individual assignment grade.

  • Mapping a Wicked Problem: 10%
  • Multi-Level Perspective Modeling: 10%
  • Case Study of a Transition Design Solution: 10%

Details of these 3 assignments can be found within the course calendar (found in the Calendar menu) as well as in the respective class page. Each of these assignments addresses an important facet of Transition Design. The foundation of designing for transition, depends upon designers’ ability to see complex, wicked problems and map their interconnections and interdependencies at multiple levels of scale. Transition designers also critique and evaluate existing projects and initiatives and amplify and/or link them to transition visions for greater leverage; in this way separate/discreet projects can become steps in longer transition solutions. Developing case studies of these hypothetical transition solutions can serve as templates and guides for conceiving new projects and initiatives.

Team Evaluations

Transition solutions can only be conceived and implemented within diverse and multi/transdisciplinary teams. For this reason, the three assignments and several of the class exercises will be undertaken in teams. We will be grouping you into small teams for these assignments in order to ensure that there is as much diversity as possible. Although you may feel more comfortable working with your friends and people with whom you have much in common, in this seminar, discussions, exercises and assignments will be more successful when undertaken by groups with diverse skill sets and points of view. Learning to collaborate well with people from diverse backgrounds and understanding when to lead and when to defer to another’s area of expertise are important 21st century design skills. Course assignments and class exercises will provide you with opportunities to hone these skills.

It has been said that collaboration is like a dance, and your dance card should always be full. At the end of each assignment you will be asked ‘which of my teammates would I willingly work with again?’ ‘Which teammates would I not want to work with again…and why?’ You will evaluate your teammates on a variety of criteria. Although the team will receive a single grade for the assignment, the team evaluations will bolster or detract from your individual grades.

Our Expectations

There are two important expectations for this seminar: that you attend and that you be fully present during class:

  • Attendance: Regular, prompt attendance is required for a passing grade. You are allowed 3 excused absences. Your letter grade will drop after 3 absences and 5 or more absences will result in a failing grade. Please notify the instructors or TA if you anticipate an absence. More than 3 tardies will equal one absence. Note that attending conferences and job interviews do not count as excused absences.
  • Presence: We ask that you arrive to class fully prepared (having read all assigned texts) and fully ‘present’ during class. Please put cell phones away and out of sight. Please do not surf the internet, hang out on Facebook, Tweet or otherwise ‘check out’ of the class and into cyberspace. Please do not work on other assignments during this class (sounds crazy, but it happens). During class various people (including your classmates) will be lecturing, leading discussions and facilitating activities — it requires your undivided attention; when it’s your turn you’ll appreciate, attentive participants — be one. Instructors and the TA will be evaluating you on the basis of your ‘presence’ (mindset and posture) and participation in class.

Academic Integrity

Please review Carnegie Mellon University’s academic integrity policy. Since you will be writing and publishing your work to a public site, please be aware of the guidelines that pertain to plagiarism: