Critical Hacking - Augmenting UNM's Reality
Seminar - UHON 401

Instructor(s): Christopher Holden

Course Description

This course is an opportunity to work together at something interesting: to create augmented reality (AR) here at UNM.

What does that mean? There are myriad possibilities. We start from maps and scavenger hunts or games like Pokemon Go, common ways to orient us to places we inhabit or visit, and from there explore other modes and technologies for stitching realities together. The purposes may be many: unhiding the things we could notice but all miss, gaining the insight usually only available to some, combining multiple dimensions of awareness, providing needed resources, or even just creating new kinds of fun among our communities. And the means can be just as diverse.

You'll explore UNM, many notions of AR, and get some hands-on experience working in small teams to make worthwhile experiences for others nearby. Maybe we'll take a crack at understanding the roles of public art on campus, create an introduction more materially useful than NSO, or help students see the interplay between natural, built, and social environments? Maybe just make a Pokemon-like game but using the details of Organic Chemistry?

Critical Hacking represents an attitude towards engaging with the world that may serve you well, especially as you look to worlds beyond college coursework. It should give you a chance to develop new interests and skills, and to maybe make something of a fire that already burns within you. A chance to combine theoretical and practical pursuits, to do something you can be proud of while still working in a place where a successful product is not the final arbiter of success.

"Critical" refers to a care for what we're trying to make and why—we should be unafraid to take on new perspectives, take responsibility for digging in to those points of view deeply, and reflect on our own progress.

"Hacking" means we're going to put things together somewhat haphazardly. We'll try new things and make messes. We'll scrap it all and try again. AR and games will be our first models for "what" we're making, but as overarching types of interaction design and metaphors, not mere technical specifications.

This might sound scary, new and uncertain. But I hope to encourage you to leap into this unknown.

Students often worry about the tech, but this won't be a problem. Yeah, we'll use different kinds of tech for this AR stuff. Some old-school and some new. But there's no expectation of experience. It will be fun to play around with new creative tools as long as we make this a place where we all feel comfortable playing. Chances are, we'll be hurting more for teammates who have some interest in tackling the extroverted aspects of getting our designs into players' hands.

The one part I'd like you to consider carefully is if you're willing to play in a place you don't fully know what to expect from yet. Are you ready to take charge of your learning and face an unknown? If you can see yourself taking some initiative in this space, and end up taking responsibility for doing so, it will be a great, meaningful experience even if that's only something that makes sense at the end.

And who knows, maybe we'll get lucky and make something that really does live on to augment the reality of this place for those who come later? That would be really cool!


While design is not learned through passive reading, we will still have some help to arrive at some common background. The readings below will help us wrap our heads around the idea of making, in groups, things for others to play, reading and altering the reality around us, and a bit about how tools, play, and people can work together.

We will also read, watch, and play plenty else, much of which you will need to find on your own and bring back to us. This will all depend on which direction you take us.


  1. Major Design Project. On a small team create a playable AR prototype and supporting materials for a common theme we agree to as a class.
  2. Participate in our class. Be a real part of what we’re doing together as a group. We need you in class mentally and physically, and to have motivation and responsibility for our work.
  3. Practice design. The major project will follow several smaller design experiments.
  4. Develop interests. You will need to do more than rely on what you come in knowing. We will have readings, excursions, etc. to help you get started, but you will need to continue those conversations, do independent research, and keep a weekly journal.
  5. Read, watch, and play. You need to build a diverse set of knowledge around these ideas. Sharing these experiences will also help us work together better.
  6. Regular writing, reading and discussing of each other’s work, in-class and online.
  7. Be part of a team. This is as much the work as the artifacts your teams produce.

About the Instructor(s): Christopher Holden

Chris Holden, originally from ABQ, has been a professor in Honors since 2008. He is a mathematician (PhD, Number Theory, U.Wisconsin-Madison) and his research centers on issues of learning, place and games (not math). He has affiliate appointments in both the Organizational and Information Learning Sciences and the Educational Linguistics programs. He's helped make games about everything from language to history to science in contexts that range from the classroom to museums to the outside world, mostly what you'd call AR. Learning about games has helped him to recover and understand the central role learning plays in our lives, in and outside school. He is also the Scholars Wing faculty advisor so you can find him in Hokona too.