MIT 6.811 Principles and Practice of Assistive Technologies
MIT 6.813/6.833 User Interface and Design
I chose to serve as a teaching assistant throughout my Master's year at MIT. This not only funded my year, but also provided me with significant teaching and leadership experience in academic domains I am passionate about but was not exploring in my research. I chose to TA two of my favorite MIT courses, both human-centered design courses where students develop and iterate on a technical solution designed for real users.
Principles and Practice of Assistive Technologies (6.811) is an undergraduate-level interdisciplinary, project-based course in which small teams of students work closely with a person with a disability in the Cambridge area to design a device, piece of equipment, app, or other solution that helps them live more independently. Over the course of the term, each team meets with its "client," iterates through multiple prototypes, and learns about the challenges and realities of designing assistive technologies for people with disabilities. I had really embraced this course when I took it my senior year, having turned my project into my senior thesis in 2015.
I served as the teaching assistant for the course in Fall 2016, and really enjoyed learning about and contributing to the infrastructure required to run such a course successfully. I mentored two project teams, both of which worked with clients from the Boston Home, the same care center where I had worked with my client Margaret. It was a really rewarding experience to share my knowledge of the center and the relationships I had built with these two teams. They both produced outstanding projects, which generated value for their clients and sensitized the students to the importance of user-centric design. Videos from the two project groups I mentored are below.
The course was led by professors Rob Miller and Julie Greenberg, along with Kyle Keane and Anna Young. I am extremely grateful to the entire teaching team for collaborating and making the course such a success. Being involved with this course was truly a labor of love for all.
User Interface and Design (6.813/6.831) is an undergrad and/or graduate-level course which introduces principles of user interface development, focusing on the following areas:
Design How to design good user interfaces, including important design principles (consistency, visibility, simplicity, efficiency, and graphic design) and the human capabilities that motivate them (including perception, motor skills, color vision, attention, and human error).
Implementation Techniques for building user interfaces, including low-fidelity prototyping, input, output, model-view-controller, and layout.
Evaluation Techniques for evaluating and measuring interface usability, including heuristic evaluation, predictive evaluation, and user testing.
Research & UI Analytics (Graduate version) How to conduct empirical research involving novel user interfaces, how to modify and evaluate UI changes.
This course is one of the most popular at MIT, with a class size of 200+ students. TA'ing a class of this size brought new challenges and responsibilities that I hadn't encountered previously.
Creating a new problem set sequence
This year the teaching team decided to create an entirely new sequence of problem sets (rather than re-use the sequence that had been used for the past 5+ years). In the past, the sequence of 3 problem sets involved creating the UI for a standard checkers game. This year, we decided to add some fun and have students create the UI for CandyCrush. Designing technical problem sets - including the specifications along with a skeleton code repository containing the "back-end" implementation - required tremendous effort. I had never realized the immense amount of effort required to create homework assignments, and that the process itself requires extreme one to be extremely rigorous and think of all the "edge cases" students may encounter, yet realize that not new assignment will be perfect and update it as needed. I took a leadership role in the design and development of this redesigned problem set sequence, and it was my intention that my work in collaboration with the instructors and fellow TA's will ensure students for years to come will enjoy and learn via our new problem set sequence.
The final drag-and-drop UI of the CandyCrush problem set sequence. Our slogan: "You're crushing it!"
I found the process of helping to develop this sequence and then helping students complete it to be extremely rewarding. I really enjoyed working with students during office hours as they struggled with the trickier details of the assignment - because I learned so much more about the process of learning. Sometimes concepts I had intended to be straightforward proved incredibly difficult, and vice-versa. I found myself reconsidering and questioning knowledge that I had previously taken for granted, prompted by my students' fundamental questions of "why" and "how". The experience was incredibly rewarding, and I am eager to continue to seek teaching opportunities in the future - in any context, not purely academic - to continue to strengthen my knowledge in a domain and simultaneously enhance other's grasp of the material.
The course was led by professors Rob Miller and Stefanie Mueller, from whom I learned much about efficiently managing such a large class size and delivering a high quality teaching experience. I am extremely grateful to both for their support and encouragement during my time as a TA.
"Beth was very supportive and energetic in class and during project labs. That enthusiasm bolstered us every time our project seemed to hit a roadblock."
"Great mentor for our project. A stickler for detail, which can be tedious, but in the end, extremely beneficial for helping us move our project along. She definitely was a great resource for us and was even willing to discuss opportunities beyond the class."
"She was really helpful at office hours and on Piazza! Really cares and helps you understand."
"Really encouraging, really helpful at office hours, thanks for putting in so much time to help us learn! you are incredible :)"