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. Over the course of the semester, students will also complete 4 assignments that together, introduce the emerging Transition Design approach.

Your grade is based upon the following:

  • Participation in class discussions & exercises: 40%
  • Assignments: 50%  (Wicked Problem Map/Stakeholder Mapping: 15% ; MLP: 10%, Causal Layered Analysis (vision): 15% ;  Designing Interventions: 10% )
  • 360 degree team evaluations: 10%

Details of these 4 assignments can be found within the Assignments section of this website. Note: because the assignments will be undertaken within a team, students’ ability to collaborate with members of their team will be assessed. Students’ team members will fill out an evaluation at the end of the semester in which each student is assessed by their team members on: ability to collaborate; ability to complete work delegated by the team well and on time; communication skills; likelihood of wanting to collaborate again with the team member.

Participation in Class Discussion & Exercises

Participation is evaluated on the basis of students’ overall presence/posture, engagement in discussions & exercises, assessment of how prepared they are, how well the material is understood and students’ ability to relate it to transition designing, how well students are able to build upon the ideas introduced in both the readings and the discussion and willingness to engage fully in the class. 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. 

In an age of social networking and the ubiquitous presence of computers and cell phones, it is increasingly challenging to create an atmosphere conducive to discussion and collaboration. The success of this course requires that everyone is fully present and committed to the discussion. For this reason we request that students take analog notes and set aside computers and turn off all cell phones. We strongly recommend printing out readings, highlighting key passages and ideas and making analog notes. If you wish to do this with PDFs, we ask that you use an ipad rather than a computer, so that the temptation to look continually at a screen (instead of making eye contact), check email and be on the internet is reduced.

This will be frustrating for some students. This requirement is intended to develop the skill of engaging fully with individuals and groups and is a key skill in a wide range of design-related activities such as client engagement, direction of creative teams and all manner of interpersonal communication. Transition Designers will find themselves in positions of facilitation within complex social dynamics—practice developing skills in this course. The instructors and the TA will be evaluating each student’s participation in each class based upon the above criteria. If you are spending more time looking at your computer/device than you are in active discussion and listening during class, your grade will be adversely affected.

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. You should read the required texts thoroughly and at least skim the supplemental texts. As outlined above, we strongly recommend printing out the readings, highlighting key ideas and taking analog notes of your thoughts/questions/issues with the text in order to arrive in class prepared to engage in the discussion.

We ask that each student come prepared to pose either one question or make one observation about each paper that has been assigned. This can serve as a useful start to discussions and we hope ensures that students will complete readings: a course like this cannot succeed if this requirement is not fulfilled.

How to Read Multiple Texts for a Seminar

It is important that students 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. Printing the texts out, highlighting areas/points for discussion in class, making notes, 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 the ability 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 highly valued in commercial 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 discussions 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 within class discussions. 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 and is one of the objectives of a university education. Practice and hone your powers of articulation. Be brave. Be curious. Discussion is an art and ability that designers need to cultivate.

Team Evaluations

Transition solutions can only be conceived and implemented within diverse and multi/transdisciplinary teams. For this reason, the 4 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.


On time, consistent attendance is essential to the success of a seminar class and for a passing grade in this course. Both instructors and students have very full schedules and are juggling multiple deadlines but it is important to manage commitments so that these two important criteria can be met. The instructors and TA are committed to starting and ending this class on time and TA’s monitor/record both attendance and participation. Please carefully review this policy:

Absences of any kind are strongly discouraged as your learning and work will be adversely affected by the information and activities you miss. Be punctual, arriving just before 10:00 am, so we can start on time. If you are ten minutes late you will be marked as absent. Three absences may cause your final grade to drop a letter. Six absences may earn you a failing grade for the course. Please schedule doctor’s appointments, interviews, etc. for times other than class sessions. Interviews and conferences are not considered valid reasons for missing the class and will be counted as absences. In the event that you encounter a health or life issue that requires you to miss class (such as a physician providing you with instructions that necessitate your quarantine) please notify us (and your team members if you have commitments on your projects) as soon as possible to provide an idea of the severity of your illness/issue and the length of time needed for recovery so that we, and other university resources if needed, can support your successful learning and completion of work.

  • 30 sessions over 15 weeks: 6 absences may lead to course failure
  • (20% of classes missed; if 5 absences the percentage is 16.666)
  • 15 sessions over 15 weeks: 3 absences may lead to course failure
  • (20% of classes missed)
  • 14 sessions over 7 weeks: 3 absences may lead to course failure
  • (21% of classes missed)
  • 7 sessions over 7 weeks: 2 absences may lead to course failure
  • (29% of classes missed)

Note again that attending conferences and job interviews do not count as excused absences.

Academic Integrity & Plagiarism

Please review Carnegie Mellon University’s academic integrity policy. Student teams will create a Medium site where they will post and document the 6 assignments. Since you will be writing and publishing your work to a public site, please be aware of the guidelines that pertain to plagiarism: