Spring 22 Syllabus

NB: this syllabus is subject to change

Course number: IM-UH 1010
Credits Hours: 4
Time: Monday 1:15pm – 3:55pm and Wednesday 1:15pm – 2:30pm
Class Location: C3-029 Arts Center / Zoom (check NYU Brightspace for link)
Class Github: https://github.com/aaronsherwood/introduction_interactive_media
Recommended Prerequisites: None
Instructor: Aaron Sherwood sherwood@nyu.edu
Office Location: C3-191
Office Hours: By appointment

With the advent of digital computation, humans have found a variety of new tools for self expression and communication. However, most of the interfaces to these toolsets are created with a computer in mind, not taking into account humanistic needs of design and usability. Additionally, computers have traditionally lacked knowledge of the richness of the physical world. As such, their understanding of our needs has been informed by click and taps, seeing the world as a binary system of on or off.

This course explores creative computation through software and hardware.  By approaching software and hardware design as artists and designers with an emphasis on human-based factors, we can explore new paradigms of interaction with machines and each other. Using open source software environments and open hardware platforms, we will look at way of making these tools work for us. No background in programming or electronics is expected. A sense of play, desire to experiment, and a DIY attitude is strongly encouraged.

Learning outcomes:
Students who successfully complete this course will be able to :

    • Think critically about interaction design principles for hardware (physical) and software (screen-based) interfaces (PLOs: 1, 2)
    • Work with basic electronics, including analog and digital sensors and actuators (PLOs: 5, 6)
    • Understand and be able to implement basic principles of computer programming, including working with objects and classes (PLOs: 2, 5, 6)
    • Use a computer as a tool for self-expression (PLOs: 1, 2, 3, 5, 6)
    • Bring information about the physical world (such as light, pressure, temperature) into the computer and process it in an interesting fashion (PLOs: 3, 5, 6)

Teaching methodology:
This course is a production-based class. You will be doing work in and outside of the class that is ideally experimental, participatory, and collaborative. In lab classes, we will review topics like programming techniques and circuit design, while non-lab class days will be given over to lecture and discussion based on readings, videos, audio, and interactive works found primarily online.

Grading Rubrics:

Overall Grade:

    • 20% Attendance & participation
    • 20% Weekly assignments
    • 25% Project Documentation (blog posts)
    • 15% Midterm
    • 20% Final project

Grading Calculation:

    • A 95+
    • A- 88 – 94
    • B+ 83 – 87
    • 75 – 82
    • B- 70 – 74
    • C+ 65 – 69

Weekly Production Assignments:

    • Will be one of three grades:
      • A (excellent)
      • B+ (satisfactory)
      • F (unsatisfactory)

Student-Led Discussion:

    • 100% Engaged the class fully in critical discussion of the reading(s)
  1. Documentation Posts:
    • 100% Clear story told with pictures, text, code, video, sketches, etc.
    • (15% minus each day late)

Midterm and Final projects:

    • 25% Technical Operation
    • 30% Creativity
    • 15% Consistency of Interaction (the desired result happens consistently)
    • 15% Clarity of Interaction (is clear to user what they are controlling)
    • 15% Interaction Design (discoverability, use of signifiers, use of cognitive mapping, etc.)

Every class you will have an assignment. Some of the time it will be reading, some of the time it will be practical.

Each week lab there’s a “walk-through” element that will be covered in class, which you are expected to do on your own, and an improvisational aspect, where you take the lesson and make something unique and interesting based on the in-class review. We will spend time in each class reviewing your work, and using this as an opportunity to review concepts that are unclear, or investigate solutions to common problems. Expect to be asked to show your work every time we meet. Some classes everyone may demonstrate their work, other classes only a few students may, but always be prepared.

All of your work must be documented on the class blog (see below for details) and posted before the class starts on the date the assignment is due. Each day late is 15% off the grade for that assignment.  

Project documentation (blog posts):
You are expected to contribute to our shared online journal. The purpose of the journal is twofold. First, it is a valuable way for you to communicate to me that you are keeping up with the work in the class. I read the site to see how you are doing. At a minimum, reference to your work is expected, as well as reference to the readings, and thorough documentation of any research. Secondly, the journal is a way to document your work for your own use and that of others.

You must update the journal weekly with the work you have done for class. All weekly assignments, as well as the midterm and final projects, require documentation.

Document your projects thoroughly as you go; don’t put it off until the end.  Photos, video, drawings, schematics, and notes are all valuable forms of documentation. Explain the project at the beginning of your documentation, so that people who come to your site from outside this class can understand your work quickly.

Use pictures, drawings, and videos liberally to explain your work. Don’t directly upload videos to WordPress. Use Vimeo, Youtube, or another video hosting site and embed the video in your post.

See here how to embed your P5js sketch directly into your post: https://intro.nyuadim.com/2022/01/06/how-to-embed-a-p5js-sketch-in-your-blog-post/

Don’t overload your notes with code.  Code repositories like Github are best for sharing code, rather than blogs, so post your code to a repository and link to it from your blog. When you base your code on someone else’s code, cite the original author and link to their code, just as you would when quoting another author in a paper. If you only changed one part of an existing program, post only the part you changed, and link to the original. Make sure any code you post is well-commented, so you and others can understand what it does.

Always cite the sources of your code, the places you learned techniques from, and the inspirations of your ideas. Copying code or techniques without attribution is plagiarism.  Few ideas come out of the blue, and your readers can learn a lot from the sources from which you learned and by which you were inspired. So be generous in sharing your sources.

Good documentation should include a description and illustration of your project. You should include what it looks like, what it does, what the user or participant does in response. When it’s interactive, mention and show what the user does. Your explanation should give enough information that someone who’s never seen the project can understand it.

You should also include a section describing how the project works, aimed at a more informed reader (your instructor, or next year’s classmates). Include a system diagram to make clear what the major components of the system are and how they communicate.

Here is an example of good weekly documentation:

The writing is expected to be well reasoned, grammatically correct, and written as if it were a paper being turned in. You should link to any relevant sources, and provide as much context as you can using images, video, audio, or other forms of expression. I’ll set you all up with an account on the first day of class.

Here’s some excellent final project documentation 

Student-Led Discussions:
Throughout the semester there will be readings assigned to pairs of students to lead subsequent discussion regarding the readings (or videos).

Instructions to participants:

    • Be aware if you tend to speak up first and more than others, or if you tend to not speak first or much at all. If you are in the “speak more” category, try to wait before raising your hand to allow quieter people the chance to speak up. If you are in the “speak less” category, consciously make an effort to step out of your comfort zone and speak up. It becomes easier with repetition and time!
    • Be empowered to speak up, your voice is valuable!
    • Don’t repeat what someone has already said
    • Don’t just say that you liked or disliked the reading. Offer critical insight. Why did you like or dislike it? What does it connect to?
    • Did it change your mind about something?

Instructions to leaders:

    • Read closely, annotate, underline, take notes, list questions, and points
    • Meet, and discuss and answer each other’s questions
    • Since critical thinking is one of the learning objectives, question the reading
      • Does the author support his/her claim, e.g. with references?
      • What is the author’s context? Does he/she stand to gain financially by convincing you of their point of view?
      • What about the publisher?
    • You have 15-20 minutes. Allow 3-5 minutes at the end to wrap up, so divide the remaining time into your questions or topics (say 2-5 minutes each) and move on to the next question or topic even if there are still hands raised
    • Make sure you know what you think the key points of the reading are, and what is important for everyone to take away from the reading.
    • Ask questions that engage the class fully in critical discussion of the readings. Lead people to the main points of the reading through questions, but don’t tell people the main points. 

Final Project :

Create a physically interactive system of your choice that relies on a multimedia computer for some sort of processing or data analysis. The Final should use BOTH Processing AND Arduino.

Your focus should be on careful and timely sensing of the relevant actions of the person or people that you’re designing this for, and on clear, prompt, and effective responses. Any interactive system is going to involve systems of listening, thinking, and speaking from both parties. Whether it involves one cycle or many, the exchange should be engaging.

You may work alone or in groups.

A few examples:

Musical Instruments. Performing music involves a sustained engagement between the performer and the instrument. The feedback from the instrument has to be immediate and clear in order for the performer to continue playing. The interface has to be flexible so that the musician can exercise her creativity in playing, but has to have some boundaries so that she knows what the instrument can do and what it can’t do.

Game interfaces. Like musical instruments, they involve constant back-and-forth interaction and immediate response. They are often simpler than musical instruments. In fact, the standard game controller has gotten so standard that the action of many games is artificially adapted to the needs of the controller, not the physical expressiveness of the player. Pick a specific game and see if you can change that.

Assistive devices. Whether it’s something as simple as a reaching device or something more complex, these devices are very demanding of clear, reliable response.

Remote control systems. They require not only a clear interface, but must also return enough information on the remote system’s action to let you know that you’re doing the right thing. Whether it’s a remote controller for your home electrical devices or a Mars rover controller, the need for clarity and good feedback are equally essential to the person who it’s made for.

There are many other good applications for this project. Discuss the specifics of yours with me!


  • Attendance in all classes is mandatory. Be on time and ready to start work at the posted start time.
  • Two late arrivals equal one unexcused absence.
  • Arriving more than ten minutes late to class will count as an unexcused absence. 
  • Unexcused absences or habitual lateness will negatively impact your final grade for the class.
  • Four or more unexcused absences will result in a failing grade for the class.
  • If you know you are going to be late or absent, please email me in advance. If you have an emergency, let me know as soon as you can. To receive an excused absence, you must ask in advance, and receive permission from me.


Engaging in the class discussion, and offering advice and input in the class is a major part of your grade. participating in class discussions is helpful for me to get to know you as an individual and keep track of your progress, but most importantly, it provides you and your classmates with the opportunity to share failures, successes, and insights on the work you are doing.

You are expected to show work in class. This includes working prototypes, failed assignments, things that don’t work the way you expect, and so forth. Each week some time is given over to your work, expect to be called on and show something. Don’t be afraid to volunteer to show what you did, or failed to do.

If you do not ask questions, I can only assume you understand the material completely. Asking questions about concepts you do not understand and showing work that did not function as expected is not a sign of failure, it is an opportunity to learn.

Laptop use is fine if you are using your laptop to present in class, or if we’re in the middle of an exercise that makes use of it. Whenever classmates are presenting or we’re in the midst of a class discussion, please keep your laptop closed. The quality of the class depends in large part on your attention and active participation, so please respect that and close your lid.

Have your camera turned on during class so we can all see each other. This really helps the cohesion of the class while we are doing remote learning. If you have a special reason why you need to have your camera turned off please email me with the details of why and we can discuss.

Mobile Phones:
Do not use your phone in class unless it is part of the lesson. If you have an emergency that requires you to answer your phone during class, please tell me ahead of time.

Required Tools
Sparkfun Inventors Kit (available from the NYU bookstore)

Required Software
P5js https://p5js.org/
Arduino http://arduino.cc

Recommended books
Title: Getting Started with Arduino
Author: Massimo Banzi and Michael Shiloh
ISBN: 978-1449363338
Publisher: Make Community, LLC
Publication Date: January 6, 2015 Edition: 3rd

Title: Getting Started with Processing
Author: Casey Reas and Ben Fry
ISBN: 144937980X
Publisher: Make
Publication Date: July 2, 2010 Edition: 1st

Title: Learning Processing: A Beginner’s Guide to Programming Images, Animation, and Interaction
Author: Daniel Shiffman
ISBN: 0123736021
Publisher: Morgan Kaufmann
Publication Date: September 2, 2008 Edition: 1st

Title: Arduino Cookbook
Author: Michael Margolis
ISBN: 1449313876
Publisher: O’Reilly Media; Second Edition Publication Date: 2011

Title: Make Electronics Author: Charles Platt
ISBN: 0596153740
Publisher: Make Publication Date: 2009

Title: Making Things Talk 2ed
Author: Tom Igoe
ISBN: 1449392431 Publisher: Make
Publication Date: 2011

Title: Making Things Move
Author: Dustyn Roberts
ISBN: 0071741674
Publisher: McGraw-Hill/TAB Electronics Publication Date: 2010

Recommended tools
Hardware : basic hand tools like pliers, screwdrivers, wire cutters, wire strippers.
Software : tinkercad https://www.tinkercad.com/