IT and Society class: first try at a crash course in interviewing

Since the beginning of the term, I have been involved in a class called “IT and Society” as a teaching assistant. The class is the product of a collaboration between Åsa Cajander and Mats Daniels at Uppsala University and Cary Laxer at the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in the United States (IN). It differs significantly from other courses at Uppsala University in that it revolves around a real-life issue provided by an external client (the EPJ department in Uppsala County) and, maybe most importantly, gives the lead to the students. (I invite you to check out this post by Åsa if you are interested in knowing more about what makes the course special. Mats Daniels has also been blogging about the class – you can find his latest post on the subject here.) Those are indeed expected to work together in an autonomous fashion throughout the whole course, from deciding on how to structure the project and distribute the work among them to delivering a formal project report to the client. The role of the teachers and mine as a teaching assistant is thus first and foremost to provide students with the means to work in such an autonomous way and offer them some guidance and support when and where they need it.

This year’s class is dedicated to investigating different aspects related to the tracking of people and equipment within and outside of the hospital, and is expected to result in a systems definition report. Next week, the students studying in Uppsala will be given the opportunity to go and interview different healthcare professionals at the University Hospital in Uppsala in order to gather additional information on the topic, as they now have been working on the project for several weeks. As a way to help them in tackling the challenge of conducting successful interviews, it was decided at the beginning of the course that I would hold a two-hour crash course in interviewing for the Uppsala students. Last Wednesday, the D-day had arrived.

As I attended an excellent daylong workshop on qualitative interviewing during a Summer school at Kingston University earlier this year, I decided to try and emulate some of this workshop’s activities with my students. I thus had them create a short interview schedule (about a fictional topic) and conduct a live interviewing experiment. Ida (Löscher, a fellow HTO group member) kindly accepted to come by and play the role of the interviewee, while one of the students volunteered to be the interviewer, and another slid into the shoes of the note-taker. The remaining students and I settled into the role of the observer. Once the mock interview was terminated by the interviewer, I asked both interviewee and interviewer to share their experience with the group: how did they think it had gone? How had they felt? What did they think was good, and what did they think could be improved? This opened a short debriefing session during which each participant came to word – either to make comment or to ask a question. I then wrapped up the course talking briefly about the analysis and reporting of interviews, a topic Åsa had wished for me to take up with the students.

It is of course hard to say whether this small crash course will be effective in helping students making the most of the interview opportunities they have been provided with (especially since everything did not go as smootly as I hoped…). However, I strongly believe that experiencing and reflecting on a real-life interview, even staged, can be very helpful in order to understand what interviewing is all about – what makes it so challenging, and what tips and tricks can help. In any case, I hope that the students have appreciated the experience and will enjoy conducting their upcoming interviews.

HTO and DISA planning activities

Last Monday, two workshops aimed at framing and planning future work activities were conducted within the HTO group. The first one concerned different aspects of the work environment within the HTO group and the second activity aimed specifically at planning the DISA project.

During the HTO workshop, we used the affinity diagram technique to map out aspects of the work environment that we liked and aspects where we felt improvements were needed. We started out by writing down our thoughts about good and not so good aspects on post-its for a few minutes whereafter we gathered by a whiteboard on which we arranged our positive remarks in columns with related notes. After all notes had been added to the whiteboard each column was labeled to make it clear which areas worked well. Among the identified positive aspects were; good support and organization, good athmosphere and good ability to communicate to the public. When we were done with the positive side we did the same for the negative aspects that needed some degree of improvement. Among the negative aspects we found; somewhat unclear boundaries between pojects, hard to get an overview of what everyone is doing and sometimes too much information in the HTO slack channels.

Later on the same day we had the workshop for planning the DISA project. Diane, Ida and I planned the workshop and invited the other DISA members to the two hour activity. Everyone started out by writing down 2-3 studies they would like to perform within the scope of the project (some of these studies had already started). This was to make sure that every participant got the chance to express what they wanted from the project.  Those who could not attend sent their ideas to one of the participating colleagues before the workshop. After about 15 minutes everyone presented their ideas shortly and put their notes on the whiteboard. Again, the affinity diagram technique was used to cluster ideas from different participants into categories. On the picture above Diane has just started the process of assigning a label to each of the categories. On the poster to the left of the post-its the main parts of the DISA project are mapped out. The next step was to match the proposed studies to the different parts of DISA shown on the poster. This exercise resulted in a study being added – this was needed in order to make sure that the last year of the project was sufficiently covered.

The second hour of the workshop was devoted to placing the proposed and already ongoing studies on a timeline, drawn on another whiteboard, which contained relevant deadlines (like conference submission dates, special issue deadlines and dates when individual project members’ contracts with the University went out). After we had placed the studies we were conducting, or wanted to conduct, during the first year on the timeline we added information about who should lead the different studies. The end result of this workshop activity was the timeline which clearly showed all the important dates, studies and responsibilities.