For my capstone class project, I designed an online learning platform that aims to improve student engagement and reduce isolation in online courses. The platform features a pedagogical approach that includes peer collaboration and interactions. As part of the this project, I conducted research that included a survey and a design exercise. I also designed an interactive prototype of the system, which I tested with users.
Nowadays, with the advancement of technologies, much of our time is spent online. Naturally, much of our learning happens online too. Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) have been on a steady rise. Though MOOCs promise to make great education more affordable and universally accessible, they also have serious flaws. Students in MOOCs are isolated and suffer from lack of social interactions with their peers and with the course instructors. I researched these problems and designed Learndevú - a platform that enables student collaboration in online courses. Founded in learning theory, Learndevú aims to reduce the student isolation online.
In order to better understand the problem, I created a stakeholder map. The map made me consider all sides of education in general and helped me think of the various possible issues I could explore within online education.
I wrote love and breakup letters to my product. The technique is intended to be used as if a user wrote those letters to the product. The love letter helped me explore what features might make my project special and make my users love it. On the other hand, the breakup letter aims at describing why a user might choose to leave the product for a competitor. These design techniques were useful as initial tools to explore my idea and start thinking about its features and possible challenges.
In order to explore the problem space, I conducted background research, which included literature review in the following domains:
To explore related products and solutions, we conducted competitive analysis on MOOCs, online learning tools and Q&A boards.
The analysis indicated that though there are many online learning platforms, none of them are focused on rich collaboration between students and instructors. This furthered my interest in the area and convinced me to explore it further.
As part of my research, I conducted a survey with people who have taken online courses. I wanted to learn about the general moods around such courses and also learn preferences about topics, such as deadlines, collaborative work, and working pace.
The survey indicated the following insights:
To try to better understand the user needs and explore the solution space, I conducted a design exercise called speed dating, which I ran over 10 one-on-one sessions. Users were presented with the 8 storyboards in rapid succession, which I explained. Next, participants were asked to rank the storyboards from most likely to least likely to enhance MOOCs through social engagement and collaboration. Finally, a debriefing sessions was conducted to look into the motivations behind their rankings.
The gathered data indicated that collaborating on assignments via a shared work tool was the top ranked approach among participants. That became a central concept in my design.
As I began imagining the various parts of my solution, I drew an interaction flow diagram. This technique helped raise questions and reveal potential design challenges.
Next, I sketched out s high-level view of the main interaction flows of the app. This helped me visualize and iterate on the complete user journey with the potential solution.
Moving to higher fidelity I wireframed the core screens of the solution, in order to get feedback and to start working out deeper details. I was able to show the wireframes to potential users and get valuable feedback.
With the insights that I have gathered through my research and iterations, I was able to build a digital prototype of my solution. I picked Framer as the prototyping tool of choice, due to its ability to create highly interactive prototypes. I wanted to be able to test the microinteractions of my solutions, and thought that the time invested in using this tool is worth it for this design.
To test the usability and value proposition of my solution, I conducted usability assessment sessions with 5 participants. The participants were graduate students at the University of Michigan, School of Information.
Overall, participants found the system easy to navigate and easy to go through. There were no major confusions related to the interaction flow of the application for core tasks, such as picking a course, watching a lecture, or setting up a group for an assignment.
The interface for calling group members was easy to understand by the participants. However, additional features, such having the ability for a user to see their own camera during a call were requested. In general, the call interface seemed too basic to some participants, indicating that Google Hangouts offers a more advanced interface with more features.
Though most participants (P2-P5) liked the drag and drop function of the flexible collaboration screen, none of the participants were able to discover the feature during the sessions. In addition, one participant indicated that when dragging a panel to an area on the screen, they want it to clip and automatically be placed in that placeholder area when even a small part of the panel is over the area.
Two participants (P2 and P4) said that the “group assignment” label on an assignment was confusing, since the system actually gave them a choice to work individually or with a group in that assignment.s
My refined prototype was presented as a capstone project for my graduate studies. The presetntation and final prototype were well received. I was happy to deepen my knowledge in this the exciting online learning domain. In addition, I believe that gained valuable experience from completing a full project lifecylce, which included getting feedback on multiple occasions and iterating on various prototype details.