Politecnico di Milano (ITALY)
About this paper:
Appears in: INTED2019 Proceedings
Publication year: 2019
Pages: 8983-8992
ISBN: 978-84-09-08619-1
ISSN: 2340-1079
doi: 10.21125/inted.2019.2236
Conference name: 13th International Technology, Education and Development Conference
Dates: 11-13 March, 2019
Location: Valencia, Spain
This paper starts from a reflection on the role of metadesign (Giaccardi & Fischer, 2008, Arquilla, Simonelli, Genco, Guaricci, 2016) in the University product design learning and practising process to present an innovative learning approach. Based on seven years of experimentations, this paper describes the evolution of the course from a traditional design educational activity based on hypothetical projects to a radically innovative environment.

Using a learning-by-doing perspective, year by year new and more effective elements coming from a real context (project-based learning with a wide network of partners and contributors) and new didactic tools (blog, project management tools, MOOC) were adopted.
The Co.Meta lab is a metadesign course that aims at transferring knowledge, tools and methods connected to the preliminary phase of designing new products and services dealing with users, technology and market research, to the students.
The key aspects of innovation are:

- The challenging topic:
ASD is a complex world. As many specialists say: there isn’t a single kind of autism, there are a lot of autism’s people. This means that the designer needs to start designing with a single user in mind, focusing on a niche and then testing its value for other individuals with ASD: these Design For All (Barnes, 2011) principles require students to focus on and apply Inclusive Design methodologies.

- The learning approach:
Co.Meta can count on blended learning practices. Students follow place-based lessons and evaluate their knowledge by answering questions on an online e-learning platform called MOOC, according to the so-called “blended learning” (Russell T. Osguthorpe, Charles R. Graham, 2003) approach. Learning is also project-based: at the beginning of the course, an Autism Association and different scientific and medical partners provide a brief to work on.
This triggers a positive and continuative value exchange between University and Industry, defining new ways of tangible cooperation.

- The multidisciplinary network:
Co.Meta involved several actors revolving around the ASD world, such as associations, psychologists and caregivers.
This allowed students to do on-field research by visiting ASD centres, talking with professionals and conducting direct interviews with people with disabilities, in a fully hands-on perspective.

- The tools:
In the early phase of the course, students became authors of a collective online blog where they were asked to post articles about ASD (Boud, Cohen, Sampson 1999): from fiction to scientific publications, a crowd-generated research repository about the topic came up, allowing the young designers to understand their challenge better.
Project reviews were held both in person and online, thanks to a collaborative platform for sharing files and concept ideas.
Finally, students were asked to collect and organise their research insights into professional UX deliverables such like personas, user scenarios and customer journey maps.

In conclusion, Co.Meta opened new learning perspectives that encouraged social awareness and professional growth in students, overcoming the initial barrier due to the complexity of the challenge. The blended and multidisciplinary approach forced students in a deep reflection about the relationship between design and technology and about their duty as professionals to define meaningful scenarios and to create new products/services able to be both socially and economically sustainable.
Autism, design for all, inclusive design, peer learning, multidisciplinarity, user experience.