Class Utilizes Cutting-Edge Technology to Explore Prototyping

This past semester, Experience Architecture (XA) students took advantage of resources available at MSU Libraries while exploring the world of prototyping in the Prototyping Experience Architecture course, AL 444, taught by Dawn Opel, Assistant Professor in the Department of Writing, Rhetoric, and American Cultures.

Opel created the course and its projects with the help of the MSU Libraries staff, technology, and spaces.

headshot of a blonde woman wearing a patterned shirt that is green, black, and white
Assistant Professor Dawn Opel

“Everything in this course we invented so as to take advantage of the momentum of the library towards more immersive, interactive digital experiences,” Opel said.

For one project, students worked in the Main Library’s MakeCentral to create workable prototypes that required students to place, in an object of their choosing, Adafruit Technology’s FLORA wearable GPS, which is a physical computing prototype that you can program to add data-logging capability to a wearable textile.

“I thought it would be interesting to work with different kinds of technologies,” Opel said. “These students have had a lot of experience with user interfaces on the web. MakeCentral gave us an opportunity to learn about the way that electronics are and will be embedded in everyday objects.”

Everything in this course we invented so as to take advantage of the momentum of the library towards more immersive, interactive digital experiences.


Opel tasked the students with designing and building a wearable GPS object that could be used in the everyday life of an MSU student. One whimsical group built the FLORA GPS into a bra. They set it up to receive coordinates for a party and to light up when arriving at your destination.

“We wanted to make something fun and novel,” said Levi Salmon, a junior XA major and member of the “Party Bra” group. “It was just a goofy thing that we thought of, and we decided to just go for it.” The team envisioned future use at events such as music festivals and, after posting the project to one member’s Instagram, had interested buyers. 

Other groups put the GPS in backpacks to locate Sparty’s locations on campus, jean jackets to find emergency phones on campus, and purses to light the interior when dark. Students designed the textile and electronic circuitry, then programmed the device according to their design and sewed the electronics into the textile. For this project, an emphasis was placed on the importance of rapid prototyping with emerging technologies in an ever-changing field.

a classroom of people looking at a presentation monitor while four students present
“Party Bra” group presenting their idea.

“Students were not graded on the finished product, but their prototyping process,” Opel said. “Most had never worked with physical computing before. When technologies are unfamiliar, the important learning outcomes relate to perseverance and creativity. I wanted to provide a safe place for students to try and fail.”

For their final project, the students utilized the Digital Scholarship Lab’s revolutionary technologies. Teams designed and built digital experiences for the 360-degree immersive visualization room and the Virtual Reality room and conducted service design consultation for the Digital Scholarship Lab’s professionals. They also created digital content and service designs to improve future students’ experiences making, rather than consuming, digital content in the Digital Scholarship Lab.

“This course was totally different – we created a physical prototype instead of a digital prototype,” said Cole Knight, senior XA major. “I’m a senior and this was the first time that I coded a physical thing.”

This course was totally different – we created a physical prototype instead of a digital prototype.


XA brings the creativity from humanities and the flexibility from STEM together.

“In the humanities, our comfort zone is working toward and with polished, finished products,” Opel said. “In STEM, it is the complete opposite. The more you mess with and break something, the more comfortable you are with the kind of work you will do every day with constantly evolving technologies.”

woman with a blonde bun and wearing a black turtleneck and denim jacket, she is holding up a black bra prototype
Cole Knight, senior XA major and member of the “Party Bra”  group, holding the physical prototype of the bra.

The AL 444 class also helped MSU Libraries redesign the library’s digital repository. The students studied the site, researched other library repositories, developed design suggestions for the upcoming redesign, and presented their work to the web development team in charge of the redesign, which immediately implemented certain suggestions. Some of the students from the class also have been hired to help with the more time-consuming improvements moving forward.

“They are such go-getters; I don’t think you would major in XA if you didn’t have that gumption,” Opel said. “They are going into a profession that is growing and evolving. They are very ambitious and hardworking.”