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Flexible Learning Options: East Coast, West Coast and Online

User experience is a dynamic field. So, to teach it, Bentley’s Master of Science in Human Factors in Information Design (MSHFID) program has embraced learning options on both coasts, as well as in and out of the classroom.

West Coast Campus
Silicon Valley and San Francisco has long been the epicenter of user experience. Next year, Bentley celebrates five years in this innovation hub, and all signs point to continued success with this West Coast option.

Debuting in January 2013, the program fulfills a strong market demand for graduate programming that prepares students and professionals for user experience research and design careers, fields that are currently rich with job opportunities, particularly in the Silicon Valley and the Bay area.

“As part of a business university, our Human Factors program is uniquely positioned to prepare students to deliver value to both the business and the user community,” says MSHFID Program Director Bill Gribbons. “Students experience the best of a research university balanced carefully with the preparation necessary to become an immediate contributor in leading tech organizations.”

Bentley offers two courses per semester at a San Francisco facility, with additional courses online. Courses are offered in an innovative full-day format, allowing students to participate in the program from a wider geographic region. The program also includes a one-week residency at the User Experience Center on Bentley’s campus in Waltham, Mass. The courses that are taught in California will be available online to the Waltham students. The goal is to create one unified learning community.

“Innovative, product-focused companies on the west coast are in desperate need for a program like Bentley’s MSHFID, not only because there are not enough user experience candidates for hire in the area, but also to enhance the user experience workforce that already exists,” says Nancy Dickenson, consultant and former head of user experience design and research for eBay, and Bentley’s Executive in Residence in the Bay area, responsible for student recruiting and corporate outreach.

Over the past four years, the program has established strong partnerships with leading tech organizations in the Bay area. This network has supported the placement of graduates in these same organizations and corporate sponsorship of leading-edge design problems in Bentley classes.

According to Gribbons, Bentley’s MSHFID program has an innovative approach to analyzing human needs associated with product interaction. “I often describe user experience as both an art and a science. The science involves a deep understanding of human behavior and how people interact with technology. The art is gaining insights from that behavioral knowledge and using it to design the best and most innovative product.”

MSHFID students use research methods such as ethnographic study, field studies, interviews, focus groups, and survey design. They then move from research evidence to design implementation in product, interface and interaction design.

In addition to Bentley faculty members, local academics and thought leaders from the Bay area teach courses in the San Francisco classroom.

Online Hybrid Model
Bentley’s HFID program also utilizes an online “hybrid” model, or live-streaming, that allows students with difficult schedules to fully participate in class from a remote location — without compromising learning results.

Through online meeting software, Bentley can provide in-person learning, augmented by online services, allowing students to fully participate in class, no matter where they happen to be during the time block that week.

Remote students are actively involved in class discussions and projects with fellow classmates. This is a key benefit when compared to traditional online classes, because students are still able to benefit from the enhanced learning that comes from class content combined with context provided by professors and fellow classmates.

Hybrid classrooms are outfitted with video cameras, ceiling-mounted student microphones with digital processors, wireless microphones for professors and smartboards to deliver a highly effective interactive online experience to online participants. This option gives graduate students with jobs, families, or traveling responsibilities the ability to work education into their schedules. At the same time, students can — and are encouraged to — attend classes in-person whenever possible.

Hands-On Experience
Of course, the MSHFID program is headquartered at Bentley’s main campus in Waltham, Mass., just minutes from Boston and the area’s own burgeoning innovation hubs at the Boston Seaport District and nearby Kendall Square in Cambridge. It’s here that the Bentley User Experience Center (UXC) serves as the program’s hands-on research centerpiece.

The UXC’s full-time staff of UX professionals provide consulting services to corporate and nonprofit clients around the globe. Graduate students accepted to the Research Assistantship program receive financial support and gain valuable experience by working in the UXC on client projects. Many clients return to recruit our students for their expertise in applying the latest tools and strategies to improve the user experience.

The UXC itself is a user experience research and strategy consultancy with a global client base in industries such as health care, financial services, and complex software. Its approach focuses on user-centered research and design methods that take into account clients’ business and user experience goals, project timelines and budgets. With world-class lab facilities and an arsenal of rigorous research methods, the UXC helps create a user experience that gets results and takes its clients’ product and business to the next level.

Clients of the UXC — and our MSHFID students — gain access to one of the most sophisticated user research facilities in the United States. The facility houses two state-of-the-art usability testing labs, with special setups for mobile device testing and focus groups, and with specific technologies for field research studies, eye tracking, and biometrics (emotional measurement).

The UXC labs allow clients to observe studies in person or remotely via a live stream, to see first-hand how people respond to their products.

Since 1999 the UXC has worked with well over 200 clients from around the world, including Fidelity, Blue Cross Blue Shield, SAP, TD Bank, Geico, Partners Healthcare, MetLife, Philips, and more. Projects have included everything from software, websites, mobile applications and intranets to documentation, consumer products and medical devices.