Hello! We’re Don, Win Zaw, and Christy here. As a team, our project revolves around improving the mentorship experience. But let’s not jump the gun here- let’s go back to the very beginning of our design thinking process.
We were dealing with the OpenIDEO Challenge question, ‘How might we better prepare all learners for the needs of tomorrow by reimagining higher education?’. While we are students of one such institution, and probably already have suggestions, complaints, and assumptions in relation to this question, design thinking calls for a blank slate to start upon. The design thinking approach called for us to empathize.
The empathizing process is designed to let us observe users, engage with users, and immerse ourselves in the user experience. Quantitative and qualitative surveys were conducted as they were necessary for this process.
Before going out to interview users, we brainstormed about what kind of problems would need to be addressed in the future. In other words, what might be the needs of tomorrow?
We also needed to determine what questions to ask them. Here are the results.
After brainstorming, we selected the most impartial yet thought-provoking questions, such as where they see themselves in the near future, whether they enjoy school, and what they would change if they can have it their way, whatever they want.
Qualitative Survey #1
Most of the qualitative survey was done by the three of us together. We went out to the Hive in search of students from different disciplines to interview. Each individual was interviewed separately, as this research methodology allows us to converse privately with interviewees without them being affected by peer pressure due to group dynamics, resulting in restrained answers. Below are the separate empathy maps for each interviewee.
9 different students were interviewed, from diverse backgrounds (NTU Aerospace Engineering, Biomedical Engineering, HSS, NBS, and ADM undergraduates, and an NUS Sociology graduate). After a saturate-and-group activity, we found that surprisingly high proportion of students thought that Singapore education is rather good. Exchange students seemed to appreciate the recorded lecture mechanism very much, although it could have been due to novelty. Teacher’s roles seemed to be very important as students seemed to be especially appreciative of high teaching quality and class engagement. Some also thought soft skills and things beyond technical skills are not explored enough. Most thought that beyond the technical, a university is a place to explore new things and make friendships that last.
Qualitative Survey #2
As our topic, we picked ‘soft skills’ and working experience. As asserted by other groups’ findings as well, students seemed to want something more than just technical skills to be taught in higher education. We then set out to dig deeper into the issue and get a better hold of the underlying issue at hand.
For this second interview, we targeted specifically graduates and final year students, as they would have a better viewpoint as to whether soft skills taught in university is insufficient. We also engaged with one extreme user, a professor. As we are reimagining higher education, it is only logical to not only consider the educated but the educator.
We interviewed 6 students and a professor. The results from this finding were rather surprising as through these people’s eyes, soft skills can often be learned quickly on the job. Although it would be great to have beforehand, it is not 100% necessary when students are just starting out. However, we did receive repeated feedbacks (both from students and the professor) that student-teacher collaborative efforts and interaction seems not to be enough. Taking this survey result, we decided to gear towards this issue that is revealed after digging deeper.
In our quantitative survey, students reveal that the biggest problem, for them, is that grades discourage exploration, some students are not able to self-learn or self-motivate, and not enough contact time with mentor teachers. Most of them would also like to spend somewhat more time with professors if possible, and they think that the quality of teaching is rather high. They would also like to know more Professors that specialize in their areas of interest.
Above is the full research results.
The defining process helps us synthesize our findings into insights that will guide our direction. We dig even deeper and try to understand the users’ need to come up with an actionable problem statement. This is when we needed to focus our scope and narrow down.
Mindmapping: As an in-class activity, another group helped mind mapped our big ideas into one coherent mindmap. The main points include lack of self-discovery in university and initiatives. Self-learning culture is also something that is rather lacking. In relation to this, spaces for interaction beyond class time between students and professors are also in want.
Work experience and soft skills, at this point, seemed to matter less as most respondents stated that they are relatively easy to pick up on the job. Although it seems that at this point we sort of deviate from our starting point and we were quite unsure, we decided that it is best to follow through the design thinking process and build on the findings supported by the research surveys.
How Might We Improve The Mentorship Experience?
We brainstormed on the issue of mentorship and were inspired by different projects such as: Kickstarter and IndieGoGo (crowdfunding platforms for creative projects), Steam Greenlight, modDB (community-based game modding).
A few major ideas came up:
- Having a teacher directory
- Rewarding teachers for mentoring
- Providing better experience finding mentors-consultation hour booking app idea
- Convenient way of contacting: online chat, off-hours availability information
- A way for students to target specific teachers to pitch ideas
And a few details built up on those ideas:
- Tracking activity or ‘Last Submitted’ on the project page
- Sorting by recently added projects
- User directory
Possible Interface 1.0: MINDMAP
This is a possible interface we considered.
The genesis of this idea came to Win Zaw when he was working on another group project which involved an open-ended point and click adventure game which involved a divergent storyline. In order to monitor every story deviation and plot connection, they decided to use a website by the name of Mindmup, which was a mind mapping generator in which you were able to make your own nodes and connections. It was simple to use, but the website was useful in understanding where every single piece went in relation to each other. They also arranged the pieces in a hierarchy in accordance with the height.
Possible Interface 2.0: MOBILE APP
This interface drawn by Win Zaw would be more like a mobile app interface. We visualized it as a paper prototype for the skeleton of the digital prototype.
SELECTING & ORGANIZING THE IDEA
Our idea aims to have projects by students and teachers on the same platform. We want to connect interested, motivated parties to explore and learn through self-directed projects or joining projects. It has evolved in that we decided to include the mentors much more closely, allowing students to join in projects by the teachers besides pitching their own ideas. This is also encouraged by the fact that professors (as for NTU) are encouraged to have research projects and may desire to involve students to assist them in such projects.
This could manifest in two interfaces.
Possible Interface 1.0: MINDMAP Visualisation
This ‘paper mockup’ designed on PowerPoint visualizes a mindmap nonlinear potential interface that could be done.
Note:We eventually chose not to add this design as it was slightly confusing to those who aren’t entirely familiar to node based interface/ scripting system.
Possible Interface 2.0: MOBILE APP Visualisation
This interactive mockup designed on PowerPoint visualizes a more standard interface on mobile. Most feedbacks were quite favorable towards this interface, and we decided to move forward with this simpler mobile app/web interface.
References: CollabFinder and TeamUps
Our visualization is referenced from websites like CollabFinder and TeamUps.
Mobile App Prototype
Our first prototype is made by Christy on the platform InVision and was very simple.
The full, interactive prototype can be seen at https://invis.io/TYB366WUM. It is mobile-optimized.
Feedback from class:
The class gave feedback that there should be a categorization of projects to help users, e.g. student-led or teacher-initiated, as professors often have interesting and exciting ideas that could turn into a full-blown research.
Functioning, up-and-running website
After the first visual prototype, Don coded the website following the layout of the prototype as closely as possible. Christy and Win Zaw assisted in the database generating.
The website has a mobile-optimised version as well, but as of then, Scool Projects was more web-oriented. This is also because of the limitations of the skill sets required to construct a mobile app. However, this limitation was also eye-opening as we had to then think of the details– how data is organized, which projects appear first, and why those projects appear first/at the top of the website. It helped in pushing the concept towards a more tangible, feasible direction.
User testing allowed us to get feedback on our solutions and refine it. Although we did not have a full working prototype by this point, users could point out a blind spot or flaw early on.
We interviewed a couple of people after showing our prototype, and the feedback they provided was useful in helping us refine the process a little.
Junyuan (ADM Year 2, Film) pointed out something that was quite interesting. He didn’t like the idea that anyone would be able to add a project on a whim. Instead, he suggested that each group fulfill a set of criteria before being able to add the project on the website. This idea would eliminate the “ideas guy” out of the picture, ensuring that only those genuinely interested would be able to have their projects up on display. The downside would be that a waiting list would start to form. The obvious solution would be to hire an admin to take all incoming requests. However, this solution would begin to scale poorly when other schools are added to the list.
Another system that was suggested was an award or a “backing” system. In this system, users who have completed their projects within the time limit would be given an award, so in the future, all projects started by the user would be given a seal of approval, signaling that he/she would be a reliable team member to work with. The “backing system” would basically be for team members or group projects that are given an approval rating by the lecturer or a third party outsider. This would apply for those who have yet to release or ship their project. The potential problem for this would be that the lecturers would likely be asked by students to rate their project without full understanding for it. Hence, a conflict of interest might occur. The other solution would be to have a third party member selected at random to objectively rate the system.
With regards to the interface, another interviewee (ADM Year 2, VC) disliked CollabFinder’s interface (“ugly“) and wished for something more visually appealing and more user-friendly. She also reminded us of the categorization function that was still missing at this point.
We also discussed in-class how much information should be on the Projects landing page’s cards, as too much information would look too wordy and too little would be uninformative. It is also from here that we considered a future visual direction that may be nonlinear/unconventional, going back to the mindmap visuals early on.
4. PROTOTYPE 2.0
We further develop the platform after receiving the feedback.
Refined category and sorting system by Don
Regarding trust on the platform:
We decided on a consensus that there would be a moderation system. This would not be quite apparent on the interface of the website, but regulation would take into account matters such as content, and sufficient planning of projects.
5. PROTOTYPE 3.0
Taking the feedback that wishes for more visual appeal, we also moved forward with the future in mind. In this prototype, we experimented with an interface that is location-based, providing users with a map that shows different departments, professors’ offices, and students alike. Win Zaw came up with the visuals and interactivity on Adobe Muse, a less Flat Design 2.0-inspired approach and more handwritten typography approach.
On this note, we would like to wrap up the Design Thinking project, hoping that perhaps these ideas have a future and a role in improving higher education towards preparing individuals of the 21st century. It’s been a long, interesting journey. Cheers.