Devices for Inquiry

AMT: Parsons The New School for Design
Collab FALL 2014: [PSAM 5550 D]

Course Dates: Aug 28, 2014 – Dec 11, 2014
Meeting Times: Thursdays 7:00 pm – 9:40 pm
Location: 6 East 16th Street,  Rm. 1206
Instructor: Aisen Caro Chacin
Office Hours: By appointment.

Course Description:

Keywords: Tools, Experimentation Methodologies, Device Design, Microcontrollers, Sensors and Transducers, Human Computer Interaction, Open Hardware, Open Protocols.

This course generates hybrid practices in the fields of Sci & Tech/Art & Design, to share experimentation techniques and build tools for observation and inquiry. It aims to hybridize scientific and artistic forms of investigation by developing tools that are easily replicable and effective. Students will take novel approaches to designing their own experimental devices, as well as contribute to furthering human understanding of natural phenomena. They will study community labs to design new open source devices that propel further access to citizen science research. Students will engage in lab experiments to rethink and envision new devices that can facilitate scientific inquiry from an artistic perspective, gaining new skills in experiment design, computing media, and device fabrication. Utilizing physical computing methods they will expand on the field of open source hardware, learn interaction design methods and rapid prototyping. This course will provide transdisciplinary relations that will inform new design processes galvanized by scientific experimentation and propel functional and accessible models of labware.

Students will develop innovative techniques for prototyping and generate conceptual models that contribute to the use of labware in design practices. The purpose of this course is to engage Humanities students in the fields of STEM by facilitating the learning material via hybrid topics that will encourage the melding of the artistic and scientific practices. The content of these courses will be heavily influenced by the laboratory and the studio approach of development, where students can re-invent applications for scientific tools  and prototyping their own instruments.
Embracing the transdisciplinarity of Art Media and Technology, this course provides a platform for the study of natural and artificial systems. It supports community lab initiatives, providing students a well rounded understanding of cross disciplinary research. Embracing the topics surging from the making community, DIY science community grows and becomes more accessible to non-scientists; we must keep current in all modes of technological investigation. Dislocated discoveries propel new perspectives and by making technology available, students will generate open source knowledge accessible to people from all practices.

Learning Outcomes:

  • Creating fully functional and integrated prototypes.
  • Detailed documentation of individual projects and lab exercises.
  • Learning to program microcontrollers, identify electronic components, and become literate in circuit schematics.
  • Exploration of conceptual models which will critique, enhance, and innovate in the space of Human Computer Interaction.
  • Engage with hands-on biotechnology labs, and gain a basic understanding of chemical and biological processes.
  • Acquire fabrication and prototyping skills, such as casting, thermoforming, and CNC machining.
  • Demonstrate critical thinking skills in search for the usability and potential applications of the technologies introduced in the course labs.
  • Advance independent research and conceptual models to be executed as practical prototypes.
  • Learn to frame their designs to be propelled beyond the classroom, e.g. preparing material for Prix Ars Electronica and other design conferences.
  • Familiarize themselves with lab equipment and experimentation methodologies and  procedures.

Educational Methodology:
Mixing engineering and artistic learning methodologies, such as labs and studios, lead to a more complete understanding of theory and concept. Students can benefit from the interchange and materialization of  ideas by engaging in hands-on, workshop opportunities, to ultimately excel in learning by making. Students are required to provide detailed documentation of individual projects and lab exercises to be archived in the course’s blog.  This will allow the students to have full access to the blueprints of all the correlative workshops, reading materials, as well as to function as a platform to share learning goals and examples for each class session.

Class Structure Overview:
Classes will be taught in two parts, conceptual application studio research projects and hands-on lab-workshops that demonstrate the electric principles of each topic.

Introduction to the material, lab prep talk.

Experimenting with a new language and techniques.
Hands-on workshops.

Think Tanks, Discussions, Critiques, Making.
Process to be documented on the blog and presented the next day of class.
Students will have 2 major projects due one for Midterm and one for Final review.

Documentation and synthesis of material delivered in class.

  • Always include images and embed videos to which you are linking.
  • Write a paragraph that describes what you are posting, whether it’s a project, an idea, etc.
  • Categorize you posts (Currents: News, Events; Prior Art/References: Inspirational Projects; Resources: Libraries, Forums, Communities, Books; Supplies: Sales, Stores; Student Introduction: About, Image, Pcomp Interests) *If there is not a category, please make your own.
  • When posting about your projects you must include a few images, a video, your code (which you can add a tag for in “Text” view format of the post, not “Visual”)
  • Always credit the examples you followed to create your project. This is very important to follow for academic integrity, and also to keep our community informed of resources.

Students will be graded upon the quality of work based on concept development, technical execution, and fabrication. Major projects are expected to be fully functional and completed integrated prototypes. Blog should be updated weekly, all projects must be documented, homework labs, midterms, and finals.

Participation: 25%
Blog: 20%
Innovation: 5%
Midterm: 25%
Final: 25%

Course Framework:

  • Two Worlds: Observation and Perspective
  • Sensors: Transducers of the Physical World
  • Microscopy and Visualization
  • Biocultures
  • Understanding Sound
  • Hacking and Signals
  • DEO (Design of Experiments): Methods and Protocols
  • Data collection: Quantification and Qualification
  • Controlled Experiments: Independent Variables, Groups and Placebos
  • Field Experimentation: External Validity
  • Natural Experimentation: Observing the Variables
  • Device Fabrication Processes

Project based applications:
What have you learned in this lab?
Can you find an application? (Sketches)
Is your project an experiment/ research based exploration?
What is the conceptual statement?

These quizzes are meant as reminders of the material, and do not count towards your grade. However; participating in sharing the solutions to some of the problems will be noted, and will be counted as extra credit.

Reading Material:
These are suggested Books that you will find helpful. (++Required)
++ Snow, C. P., Two Cultures.
O’Sullivan, Igoe, Physical Computing.
Reynolds, Carson, Devices that Alter Perception.

Experiment Design Discussion Topics:
1. How many factors does the design have? and are the levels of these factors fixed or random?
2. Are control conditions needed, and what should they be?
3. Manipulation checks; did the manipulation really work?
4. What are the background variables?
5. What is the sample size. How many units must be collected for the experiment to be generalisable and have enough power?
6. What is the relevance of interactions between factors?
7. What is the influence of delayed effects of substantive factors on outcomes?
8. How do response shifts affect self-report measures?
9. How feasible is repeated administration of the same measurement instruments to the same units at different occasions, with a post-test and follow-up tests?
10. What about using a proxy pretest?
11. Are there lurking variables?
12. Should the client/patient, researcher or even the analyst of the data be blind to conditions?
13. What is the feasibility of subsequent application of different conditions to the same units?
14. How many of each control and noise factors should be taken into account?

Course Outline:
Week 1, 08/28/2014
Syllabus: Tools, Experimentation Methodologies, Device Design.
[LAB] Publish a post on the class blog, who you are, what you goals are hoping to achieve within this course, what inspires and intrigues you.

Week 2, 09/04/2014
Two Cultures: Observation and Perspective
[LAB] Design a Mobile Lab. What tools do you need? What phenomena do you want to better understand?
[READ] Snow, C. P., Two Cultures.
[POST] Mobile Lab Prototype.

Week 3, 09/11/2014
Microcontrollers & Prototyping Environments
Introduction to Arduino, IC logic, PWM, Digital and Analog.
[STUDIO] Synthesis
What experimentation devices use a microcontroller?
[POST] Microcontroller Experiment

Week 4, 09/18/2014
Transducers of the Physical World
Electronic sensors, Serial Communication, Measuring and Making Sense of Data
[LAB] Analog Sensing, Mapping Values, Tones Library.
[STUDIO] Synthesis
[POST] Maker Faire Awesome Projects: What are you making?

Week 5, 09/25/2014
Rosh Hashanah
[POST] Discussion of C.P. Snow Two Cultures

Week 6, 10/02/2014
Microscopy and Visualization
The Electromagnetic Spectrum: the probes we use to visualize matter.
[LAB] Hacking a webcam to make our own microscopes.
[STUDIO] Design your own microscope stand.
[POST] Observing Small Worlds and Device Design.

Week 7, 10/09/2014
Pond Water: Paramecia and Tardigrades.
[LAB] Wet-pong: Controlling unicellular organisms with electricity.
[POST] Microculture Interactions

Week 8, 10/16/2014
[STUDIO] Work Independently on Midterm Projects

Week 9,  10/23/2014
[STUDIO] Midterm Presentations

Week 10, 10/30/2014
Understanding Sound Waves
[LAB] AudioPop Circuit Assembly and Fabrication: Listening through your teeth.
[POST] Wave propagation experiments.

Week 11, 11/06/2014
Signals and Hacking
Understanding Electronic Devices, Circuitry, Transistors, Frequency, Data Ownership and Ethics.
[LAB] Circuit Bending: Walkie Talkie experiment, Photoresistor Laser experiment, Audio Loops.
[POST] Hacking and appropriating existing devices experiments.

Week 12, 11/13/2014
Design of Experiment: Methodologies and Protocols
[STUDIO] Creative Research
[POST] Final Project Proposal

Week 13,  11/20/2014
Controlled and Natural Experimentation
Observing Variables, Groups and Placebos
[LAB] Data collection: Quantification and Qualification
[STUDIO] Algorithms and formulas/ code or paper systems
[POST] Results

Week 14, 11/27/2014
[POST] Field Experimentation: External Validity
System Functionality and Experimental Observation

Week 15, 12/04/2014
[STUDIO] Work on Final Projects

Week 16, 12/11/2014
[STUDIO] Final Presentations
[POST] Final Projects and Research Paper.

Sparkfun Starter Kit (Recommended*)
Or you can buy things separately:
Arduino Uno or Sparkfun Equivalent
(Mult) Push Buttons
Analog Sensors (Any such as: photoresistor, force, accelerometer, flex, etc.)
(Mult) LEDs and RGB LEDs 4 legs
(2) Breadboards
USB Cable
(3) Potentiometer – Linear (10k ohm)
Piezo Buzzer
Jumper Wire Kit
Tools (Snips, Pliers, etc.)
Solder (Smallest gauge (.22) you can find in RadioShack)
Cheap Webcam (We will hack this, so don’t spend too much money on it! $5-7)
RF Communication Devices (Remote Controlled Car, Walkie-Talkie (look for an antenna)
Fabrication Materials

Local Component Stores:
Radio Shack
NYU Computer Bookstore
Home Depot
Dollar Stores
The Container Store
Canal Plastics

All Electronics
Carolina Scientific

University Resources:
The university provides many resources to help students achieve academic and artistic excellence. These resources include:

In keeping with the university’s policy of providing equal access for students with disabilities, any student with a disability who needs academic accommodations is welcome to meet with me privately. All conversations will be kept confidential. Students requesting any accommodations will also need to contact Student Disability Service (SDS). SDS will conduct an intake and, if appropriate, the Director will provide an academic accommodation notification letter for you to bring to me. At that point, I will review the letter with you and discuss these accommodations in relation to this course.

University, Divisional/School, and Program Policies:
Academic Honesty and Integrity
Compromising your academic integrity may lead to serious consequences, including (but not limited to) one or more of the following: failure of the assignment, failure of the course, academic warning, disciplinary probation, suspension from the university, or dismissal from the university.

University Policy
The New School views “academic honesty and integrity” as the duty of every member of an academic community to claim authorship for his or her own work and only for that work, and to recognize the contributions of others accurately and completely. This obligation is fundamental to the integrity of intellectual debate, and creative and academic pursuits. Academic honesty and integrity includes accurate use of quotations, as well as appropriate and explicit citation of sources in instances of paraphrasing and describing ideas, or reporting on research findings or any aspect of the work of others (including that of faculty members and other students). Academic dishonesty results from infractions of this “accurate use”. The standards of academic honesty and integrity, and citation of sources, apply to all forms of academic work, including submissions of drafts of final papers or projects. All members of the University community are expected to conduct themselves in accord with the standards of academic honesty and integrity.

Students are responsible for understanding the University’s policy on academic honesty and integrity and must make use of proper citations of sources for writing papers, creating, presenting, and performing their work, taking examinations, and doing research. It is the responsibility of students to learn the procedures specific to their discipline for correctly and appropriately differentiating their own work from that of others. Individual divisions/programs may require their students to sign an Academic Integrity Statement declaring that they understand and agree to comply with this policy.

The New School recognizes that the different nature of work across the schools of the University may require different procedures for citing sources and referring to the work of others. Particular academic procedures, however, are based in universal principles valid in all schools of The New School and institutions of higher education in general. This policy is not intended to interfere with the exercise of academic freedom and artistic expression.

Academic dishonesty includes, but is not limited to:

  • Cheating on examinations, either by copying another student’s work or by utilizing unauthorized materials.
  • Using work of others as one’s own original work and submitting such work to the university or to scholarly journals, magazines, or similar publications.
  • Submission of another students’ work obtained by theft or purchase as one’s own original work.
  • Submission of work downloaded from paid or unpaid sources on the internet as one’s own original work, or including the information in a submitted work without proper citation.
  • Submitting the same work for more than one course without the knowledge and explicit approval of all of the faculty members involved.
  • Destruction or defacement of the work of others.
  • Aiding or abetting any act of academic dishonesty.
  • Any attempt to gain academic advantage by presenting misleading information, making deceptive statements or falsifying documents, including documents related to internships.
  • Engaging in other forms of academic misconduct that violate principles of integrity.

(This is an abridged version of the policy. For the full policy text, which includes adjudication procedures, visit: )

Guidelines for Studio Assignments
Work from other visual sources may be imitated or incorporated into studio work if the fact of imitation or incorporation and the identity of the original source are properly acknowledged. There must be no intent to deceive; the work must make clear that it emulates or comments on the source as a source. Referencing a style or concept in otherwise original work does not constitute plagiarism. The originality of studio work that presents itself as “in the manner of” or as playing with “variations on” a particular source should be evaluated by the individual faculty member in the context of a critique.
Incorporating ready-made materials into studio work as in a collage, synthesized photograph or paste-up is not plagiarism in the educational context. In the commercial world, however, such appropriation is prohibited by copyright laws and may result in legal consequences.

Open Source Policy
You are encouraged to work in groups, but unless otherwise specified  you must turn in your own work. Copying/pasting and reusing code is a key part of the programming process, especially while learning. You often learn best by modifying working examples rather than starting from scratch. We stand on the shoulders of giants;  that’s the essence of the open source philosophy. However, there is a very important caveat: any code you borrow and/or modify must be labeled as such. That is, you must include, in your work, the name of the author, the source URL, and you must make clear which lines of code are not yours. If you fail to do this, you will fail the class. It is very, very easy to get this right, though, so if you take a moment’s time to label your work correctly, you will not have a problem. Just be diligent and honest.

Course Policies
Students are responsible for all assignments, even if they are absent. Late papers, failure to complete the readings assigned for class discussion, and lack of preparedness for in-class discussions and presentations will jeopardize your successful completion of this course.

Class participation is an essential part of class and includes: keeping up with reading, contributing meaningfully to class discussions, active participation in group work, and coming to class regularly, prepared and on time.

In rare instances, I may be delayed arriving to class. If I have not arrived by the time class is scheduled to start, you must wait a minimum of thirty minutes for my arrival. In the event that I will miss class entirely, a sign will be posted at the classroom indicating your assignment for the next class meeting.

Additional Course Information
Student Course Ratings
During the last two weeks of the semester, students are asked to provide feedback for each of their courses through an online survey and cannot view grades until providing feedback or officially declining to do so. Instructors rely on course rating surveys for feedback on the course and teaching methods, so they can understand what aspects of the class are most successful in teaching students, and what aspects might be improved or changed in future. Without this information, it can be difficult for an instructor to reflect upon and improve teaching methods and course design. In addition, program/department chairs and other administrators review course surveys.

Attendance Policy
Parsons’ attendance policy was developed to encourage students’ success in all aspects of their academic programs.  Parsons promotes high levels of attendance because full  participation is essential to the successful completion of coursework, and enhances the quality of the educational experience for all, particularly in courses where group work is integral.  Students, therefore, are expected to attend classes regularly and promptly and in compliance with the standards stated in course syllabi. Faculty members may fail any student who is absent for a significant portion of class time.  A significant portion of class time is defined as three absences for classes that meet once per week and four absences for classes that meet two or more times per week.  During intensive summer sessions a significant portion of class time is defined as two absences.  Lateness or early departure from class may also translate into one full absence. Faculty will make attendance standards clear, in writing, at the beginning of the semester.  Students may be asked to withdraw from a course if their habitual absenteeism or tardiness has a negative impact on the class environment. Students who must miss a class session should notify his or her instructor and arrange to make up any missed work as soon as possible.  Students who anticipate a potentially lengthy absence must immediately inform the program Chair or Director and must explain the extenuating circumstances in writing.  Students must receive advance approval for the absence in order to ensure successful completion of the course.  A Leave of Absence or Withdrawal from Program will be recommended if the absence would compromise the student’s ability to meet course requirements and standards.

Classes meeting 2 time per week: 4 absences are grounds for failure.

Two (2) tardies will be counted as one absence.
5 minutes is considered tardy.
The following may be counted as tardy:
· Coming to class without the required materials.
· Sleeping in class.
· Being asked to leave class because of disruptive behavior.
· Doing other course work in class.

Academic Warning
Students who do not complete and submit assignments on time and to a satisfactory standard will fail this class. It is a student’s responsibility to obtain missed assignment sheets from other classmates and make-up the work in time for the next class.

Course Expectations
In order to receive a grade for this course, students must actively participate in classroom discussions and critiques, and complete all the assigned projects, including mid-term & final projects.

Mid-semester Evaluations:
Mid-semester evaluations are issued to help students improve performance and make progress. Although a grade may not be given, the comments will indicate your standing on a below – average – above scale.

Grade Descriptions (from SDS Guidelines):

A 4.0  Work of exceptional quality. 95-100%
These are projects that go above and beyond the expectations and requirements described in the assignment. They demonstrate substantial effort and achievement in the areas of critical thinking, technique and presentation.

A- 3.7  Work of very high quality.  90-94%

B+ 3.3  Work of high quality, higher than average abilities. 86-89%

B 3.0  Very good work that satisfies goals of course. 83-85%
The “B” student offers a clear and convincing structure to a visual endeavor that is more complex and unique than a project at the average level. The creator’s point of view and point of the project are merged successfully and organized fairly consistently throughout the project. Although minor structural problems may be present in the assignment, they do not hinder the overall outcome.

B-  2.7   Good work. 80-82%

C+ 2.3  Above Average work, Average understanding of course material. 76-79%

C 2.0  Average  work;  passable. 73 -75%
The student demonstrates an engagement with the assignment. The project will show that the creator can identify and work with key ideas and examples found in reference material. Typical of a “C” project is that the original problem or assignment once approached, does not develop further. Projects may also have organizational, technical weaknesses.

C- 1.7 Passing work but below good academic standing.  70-72%

D 1.0  Below average work; does not fully understand the concepts of the course. 60-70%
Although this is passable work, the project only answers the minimum requirements of the assignment. The projects shows very little effort, is incomplete, late or incorrect in its approach. The outcome shows a lack of full understanding and commitment on the part of the creator.

F 0  Failure, no credit. 0-59%

WF  Withdrawal Failing.

Instructors may assign this grade to indicate that a student has unofficially withdrawn or stopped attending classes. It may also be issued when a student fails to submit a final project or to take an examination without prior notification or approval from the instructor.  The WF grade is equivalent to an F in calculating the grade point average (zero grade points) and no credit is awarded.