New web design minor puts it all together

The description of George Mason University’s new digital media and web design minor is of a program that provides students with “transformative learning experiences to gain competence in all major disciplines involved in web design.”

In other words, “intellectual cross-training,” said Robert Matz, senior associate dean of curriculum and technology in Mason’s College of Humanities and Social Sciences (CHSS).

“It brings together course work that was being done across the university into a coherent curriculum that can be greater than the sum of its parts,” Matz said. “Students will really get all aspects of web design and development.”

The minor, which is available as of the 2018-19 academic year, is offered mostly online and brings together courses taught in CHSS, the School of Art in the College of Visual and Performing Arts (CVPA) and the Volgenau School of Engineering.

It also helps put forward one of Mason’s strategic goals: the encouragement of academic innovation.

“It’s just taking the things we all do, and taking the parts we do best, and putting it all together,” Lisa Kahn, CVPA’s associate dean for academic affairs, said.

Students will be required to take one of three introductory courses (AVT 271 Introduction to Web Design, ENGH 375 Web Authoring and Design or IT 213 Multimedia and Web Design.

Students also must take one course from each of three skills and knowledge categories: design, content development and user experience design or accessibility. There is one elective course and a capstone project that integrates knowledge from all the disciplines studied.

“The current state of the art in web design requires a multidisciplinary approach,” said Diana Wang, an associate professor in Volgenau’s Department of Information Sciences and Technology. “A web designer cannot be market-ready without knowing other fields that include content development, visual design, and coding usability. This equips them with the multidisciplinary knowledge that will make them more capable.”

In fact, Matz said, part of the impetus to create the minor was conversations with employers who want students to have capacity across different domains of knowledge.

Another driver was the university’s call for more multidisciplinary curriculum. The minor is supported by a Curriculum Impact Grant, a program through Mason’s Office of the Provost that provides seed grants to innovative multidisciplinary curricular ideas and pilot programs.

The web design minor was one of 16 grantee programs in 2017-18. Twelve grantee programs were chosen for the 2018-19 cycle.

“An unexpected benefit of this has been conversations among faculty across campus, which is good for the students,” Matz said. “It lets us help students see opportunities that they were less familiar with and also helps us avoid duplication in the courses we offer, and instead shape those courses so the courses students are getting are complementary.”