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Rivet in the classroom

Mark Niswander shares his experience teaching Rivet to his undergraduate SPEA students.

Scott Anthony Murray

May 19, 2021

Recently, senior business analyst and SPEA instructor Mark Niswander collaborated with the Rivet team to teach a unit about the design system in his undergraduate Information Technology in Public Affairs class.

I reached out to Mark after finals wrapped up and asked him a few questions about his experience using Rivet in the classroom, how students felt about Rivet, and his ideas for teaching Rivet in the future.

Scott: Why did you decide to teach a unit on Rivet?

Mark: Information Technology in Public Affairs, SPEA v261, has always covered internet history and modern web publishing. In the past, we generally focused on evaluating existing web content and learning fundamental tools “the experts” used to create it.

However, I wanted to emphasize how empowering it is to create content for the internet yourself. Much like posting your first selfie or creating an online blog, people learn how to contribute to the web based on their own personal experiences. After using Rivet and then reflecting on that experience, students become “the expert” for their web page and are better situated to critique it.

Rivet is like learning an art form. At first, you may only be able to create something simple and you may not even like what you make. But, by doing it yourself, you grow in your understanding of the craft and develop an appreciation for what already exists.

Scott: Design systems are a complex topic. What aspects of Rivet did you focus on and why?

Mark: Rivet reinforces many of the complex topics we cover in my class about designing and maintaining information systems. Rivet also gives my students a chance to put what they learn directly into practice. For example, Rivet requires collaborating with a diverse group of people to create a technology solution for everyone.

I teach students that the web is not a place of endless possibilities. Limitations are important for consistency, usability, and accessibility. Learning Rivet gives students context about what to consider when they are looking at real-world web solutions.

By the end of the unit, students appreciate how to take a complex problem and focus on solutions that work given the constraints faced by an organization.

Scott: What kind of feedback did you get from your students about Rivet?

Students provided feedback several times during the class.

Their formal survey responses described an overall success using the Rivet starter template and components. Nearly all of the students responded that Rivet was easy to use and the training was easy to follow.

Students found the Rivet materials “reminiscent of Pearson training earlier in the semester and other professionally created technology training tools.” One student surveyed responded that, “while I was not initially comfortable with Rivet, I quickly learned with the training provided. My work in Rivet is what I am most proud of.”

Informally, students asked questions about how to add additional components and styles to their work. Students overwhelmingly wanted to learn more about Rivet and they wanted to learn how to create more interactive experiences.

Students were proud that IU has thoughtfully considered our web design practices and they recommended Rivet training continue to be a learning objective in the web publishing section of our class.

Scott: How would you like to see Rivet used in the classroom in the future?

Teaching Rivet has several long-term benefits.

Most importantly, it demonstrates UITS and VPCM’s attentiveness to the university’s core function of student instruction. Learning Rivet becomes part of a student’s IU technology experience and some students will remember working on their web publishing assignments long into the future.

Also, Rivet can be used to encourage learning more advanced design and programming. Although my course cannot teach one topic in depth, my students will often seek out additional learning opportunities in their areas of interest.

I hope to continue working with the Rivet team to create more advanced training and adopt different ways of teaching Rivet to staff, faculty, and students.

Mark Niswander is a senior business analyst for UITS Client Services and Support. Thanks to Mark for taking the time to share his experience and for his continued advocacy for Rivet.