Teenager on Laptop

ClassChat

ClassChat is a social networking extension of University College Cork's existing LMS, Canvas. The platform connects cohorts before they arrive on campus so the ice is broken before they meet in person.

Through games, chat rooms, and a course-wide social and academic calendar, classmates can get to know one another regardless of language, social, and technological barriers. Students are connected to and supported by the people who understand their situation best: their fellow coursemates.

DESIGN QUESTION

How can

we provide opportunities for incoming students to connect with their coursemates

In a way that

bridges social, language, and technological barriers

so that

students have the support they need to succeed academically and personally while at UCC?

DESIGN PROCESS

Empathize

User Interviews, persona development, storyboarding, use cases

Ideate & Iterate

Rapid prototyping, wireframing, user testing

Create

Lo-fi "works-like" prototype

EMPATHIZE

My team began by seeking to understand students' social & academic needs. While we each brought our own personal insights into student life, the goal of the interviews was to eliminate our own assumptions about the student experience. Instead, we dove into capturing the unique struggles of new students in order to build a rich, narrative baseline to understand what kind of solution would be most effective. Our persona, Eva, captured the insights we gleaned from our interviews into one qualitative reference point to compare our design decisions against -- for each element we asked, what would Eva do/want/need/think/feel?

From "Our" Experience to

"The New Student Experience"

Despite the abundance of communication technology, social media, and on-campus events, none of our classmates had connected before we formally began our Master's course.

 

As soon as we were together we commiserated over the difficulties and complexities we faced as incoming students including registration, finding accommodation, campus navigation, and immigration processes. We had all sought out resources on our school's website, on social media, and through administrative contacts but all had less than ideal experiences completing the necessary tasks to set ourselves up for success as an incoming Master's student. We weren't sure what would benefit students most -- a physical meeting space? A virtual meeting space? A class-specific social platform? We trusted the design process to present us with the insights we needed.

User interviews were conducted of five UCC students, one undergraduate, one transfer undergraduate, one Master's and one PHD student, each in their first year of study at UCC. These interviews revealed a plethora of barriers inhibiting students from connecting with each other for support or recreation.

Interview Insights

PHYSICAL LIMITATIONS

"A lot of people leave the lecture as soon as it's over and do not hang out"

"Most of the people within my course are older and live outside of the city"

INTERPERSONAL CHALLENGES

"I transferred less than a year ago mid year and only did 2 modules so I missed a bit of the intros"

"I'm not the type of person who would talk to people actively. So there are only few people I know."

"There's very little platform or forum or even time to [connect with classmates]"

CULTURAL BARRIERS

"At first, language barriers are the most serious, and I may need others to repeat the questions several times. Second, it’s a cultural background barrier, because sometimes I don’t understand what they are saying."

Eva, MSc.

I would love to get to know more of my classmates but I am shy and not very confident in my English.

Eva is a full time International Graduate Student at UCC. She is a female in her mid-20’s who speaks Chinese as a first language and English as a second language. She is extremely nervous and excited to study abroad for her Master’s degree in Design & Development of Digital Business. Since she is living abroad she is highly mindful of her expenses and while she wants to make the most of her cultural experience abroad ultimately doing well in her course is her priority. As a millennial she is comfortable regularly using a cell phone, laptop, social media.

Eva is facing language, cultural, and personal barriers that make it feel overwhelming and intimidating to initiate getting to know her classmates. She wants to get to know her classmates in person but no one hangs around after class because everyone is busy, stressed, and shy. She knows she would feel less lonely and have more support if she got to know her classmates.

GOALS

Make new friends & travel throughout Europe

Achieve First Class Honours overall in her Master's

Obtain a full time job offer and establish her life in Cork

PIVOT POINT - ONLINE OR PHYSICAL SPACE?

After conducting our research, capturing the essence of our primary user through personas, we were ready to head into the brainstorming phase. The main question we came up with was, what would the perfect social networking resource look like? Would a physical space be better than a digital space? There are already so many digital resources, how do we prevent becoming just another social media site that students wouldn't use? We compared the two options with Eva's goals and barriers:

EVA NEEDS A SPACE THAT...

Mediates social interactions
Provides academic resources
Is special to her cohort
Provides support for her language barrier
Provides opportunities to play and socialize
Allows her to connect with her colleagues before she arrives at school

PHYSICAL SPACE

DIGITAL SPACE

It became obvious that as designers, we could have a greater impact over a digital space than a physical one. We could provide better quality support for students at a cheaper price and would not be limited by the price of reserving a space on campus, building a new space, or purchasing resources like computers, games, furniture, etc. A digital space is also more easily replicated for each cohort, and provides specific interventions that meet Eva's needs, such as being able to connect with her classmates before she meets them in person. This not only allows her to utilize online/ software translators to aid her language barrier, but allows her to ask her fellow classmates for help during the complexities of preparing for the school year before it begins.

Ideate & Iterate

Wireframes were made in Balsamiq to capture the primary touchpoints/features of ClassChat which met Eva's needs and goals. User Testing was conducted with current UCC students to address navigation, recognition, and user flow issues.

WIREFRAMES

1. DASHBOARD
 
2. USER PROFILE
3. CLASS CHAT ROOM
4. CLASS CALENDAR
5. CALENDAR EVENT DETAILS

FEATURES

Calendar

 

Assignment due dates, examination dates, key academic dates (registration, commencement), social events

Games

Students can challenge each other 1 on 1 or play by themselves to earn the class high score

Contact Book


Contact book with cohorts' academic email and social network contact information


Chatroom

Students can talk together as a class or 1 on 1

TESTING INSIGHTS

Entry recognition should be used alongside an error message if the user enters in an invalid email, address, or phone number.

Any image of the user's profile should link back to their home page.

The system could make use of specific drop down menus for things like location (the where are you from? Box in bio). 

The system should make use of notifications to indicate a new message, and typing indications in the chat.

Create

A final lo-fi prototype integrated the feedback received in user testing of the wireframes. Testing was conducted to ensure the new prototype addressed the issues presented in previous testing. This prototype acts as a Works-Like prototype, demonstrating how incoming students would be able to engage with ClassChat's various features. Further testing should be conducted using this prototype before proceeding with Full Stack Development. This version would act as a well fleshed out guide to inform the system requirements for the web application.

Final Use Case

Each course of study would have access to a social and academic hub specifically for their cohort as soon as they are accepted into their program of choice.

 

On the academic side students would be able to view their program's timeline, module schedule and assignments, their grades and examination information.

 

On the social side students would find other students' names and contact information, be able to play games against each other, and chat both individually and in a group with their fellow students.

ClassChat Impacts the New Student Experience By...

Eliminating awkwardness of initiating face-to-face conversation

Encouraging comfort/ familiarity between coursemates before they arrive on campus

 

Connecting students socially without use of social media

 

Providing both academic and social support

 

Allowing language independent communication

 

Easy integration with existing digital platforms available to students (LMS)

Insights for Building

the Student Experience

College Students

Despite students' various backgrounds, languages, experiences, abilities, cultures, they are looking for ways to engage with and support one another, but do not feel that social media and first introductions in-person are enough.

As populations on college campuses become more global, there are great opportunities to use technology as a support for encouraging and mediating in-person cross-cultural interactions.

While most of both social and academic resources go towards on-campus opportunities for students to connect with each other and the institution, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and efforts to engage students before they arrive on campus is both critical and highly achievable with current technologies.