MS-HCI ONE STOP SHOP FOR STUDENTS
How can students' information and communication needs be better catered for?
This project was proposed by the director of our Master degree program with the following brief:
"MS-HCI students have information needs specific to the program, areas of study, career preparation, etc. They also need to communicate with each other. They need a resource that can be considered the “one-stop shop” (or close to it) to minimize the number of resources necessary to used to convey all the aforementioned information. This tool will need to be available across platforms, and definitely mobile focused."
The goal of the project was to investigate students’ needs and use of current resources to understand whether students actually require a new tool to address their information-seeking activities and if so, whether a one-stop shop tool is an appropriate solution.
Below is a quick overview of the process this project followed — in Georgia Tech's color scheme. The initial research and synthesis steps constituted Phase 1, and the prototype evaluation was Phase 2.
Target users for this project are the current students of the MS-HCI program at Georgia Institute of Technology. The user population can be broken down into two main user groups: 56 first-year students and 55 second-year students. Each group can be further specified according to student's tracks, one of “Industrial Design”, “Interactive Computing”, “Literature, Media, and Communication”, or “Psychology”. It is also important to note that the user population spans a wide variety of nationalities, ages, and background.
After carrying out a literature review and a competitive analysis of existing university one-stop shops, we put together a semi-structured interview script to find out more about Georgia Tech students' academic information needs, career information needs, and communication needs. We conducted five 20-minute interviews.
Through affinity mapping, we uncovered themes in our data:
- Academic Information
- Participants report a generalized lack of up-to-date official course descriptions. They mention especially course syllabus, course format, and professor teaching the course, as important things they wanted to know when choosing which courses to take.
- Course content during the semester is easily accessible otherwise through official course platforms.
- Participants are not satisfied with how they currently find out about their deadlines. A few of them suggested having a feed of all courses’ deadlines, sorted by urgency, would be a useful feature on course websites.
- Career Information
- There seems to be a lack of awareness regarding the official Georgia Tech Career Services as sources of information.
- There is a lack of career information specific to international students. They feel it would be useful to have a centralized pool of information for international students, based on all alumni & students’ experience.
- More generally, participants expressed a need for general career information, especially in terms of how to find and gather information, how to network, and how to identify relevant companies.
- Communication needs
- Participants report using a variety of messaging applications for communicating with peers in group work situations. All participants use Slack for larger (2+) groups, but tend to revert to a more traditional messaging app for partner projects (Whatsapp, WeChat, Facebook Messenger).
- However, participants do not seem to have an issue with using multiple platforms. It appears they all have clearly identified reasons for using each app, based on the context, and thus do not feel overwhelmed by the number of applications.
- “Talking to people is the best”
- Overall, participants relied a lot on direct interactions with relevant people for catering to their information needs.
- Participants found that talking to people was better and faster than internet searches, or official information. They all highlight how important it was for them to get to that tacit knowledge, be it for course-related information or career preparation. It seems there is a lot of knowledge transfer happening through the different cohorts, graduated or not.
- Some participants mentioned it would be nice to be able to access all that tacit knowledge in one place.
Based on the data gathered through interviews, we then conducted a short survey of close-ended questions to take a second look at a couple of issues identified. A survey allowed for quick access to a larger number of users and it was an appropriate format considering we were able to create relevant response sets using data from interviews, observations of MS-HCI student habits, and knowledge of existing resources.
The survey was deployed on social media and on Slack, used by all students and other stakeholders of the program, and was taken by 28 participants.
Overall, it found that participants use an average of 3 different resources and talk to 3 different groups of people for both class and career information gathering, making a total of 6 different sources of information on average. Respondents generally value direct interactions more than resources for information gathering, or if they use both, they express reservations on using only physical and online resources.
Dissatisfaction cripples the information gathering process, be it for career information, class material, or deadline management.
To conclude the research phase, we summarized the major findings & user needs identified:
- Students have no major issues with regards to their communication needs
- Students need information to be less scattered
- Students want to build on each other's experience and knowledge
- Students want a more efficient and effective deadline management system
- Students need a feedback loop between course decisions and career development
In our analysis, the user needs identified suggest a one-stop shop could indeed be a valid addition to the tools at students' disposal. Specifically, a successful one-stop shop would need to include the following:
- Information Integration from multiple sources to provide in place academic and career information
- Knowledge Sharing functionalities and the ability for students to generate content (eg. course recommendations, interview insights)
- Deadline auto extraction & push alerts
Besides a one-stop shop, our data also pointed to a need for help developing a career strategy and making course and research choices in line with said strategy. This calls for solutions tailored to individual students, making technology rather ineffective. We therefore argued that in-house career advisors were needed, inspired by the MBA programs approach of low student-to-advisor ratio.
Using our research findings and design implications, a design team created a low-fidelity prototype for a one-stop shop. They decided to follow the layout of the Slack interface, a tool already extensively used and liked in the program. We conducted a variety of evaluation methods to determine the value of the current solution and how it could be improved.
Specifically, we conducted two expert-led usability reviews: a heuristic evaluation and a cognitive walkthrough. We supplemented the testing with 6 in-person usability tests and 3 remote, unmoderated sessions using the UserTesting platform. The usability tests were structured such that participants worked through a series of characteristic tasks while thinking out loud. The think-aloud protocol allowed us to understand participants' thought process and to probe them further when appropriate.
The features of the prototype that the users liked the most was how readily available registration information was, and the ease of finding and initiating communication with the faculty and students in the program. Due to similarities with the currently used system (Slack), the interface was also easy to learn and use. However, changing visibility of navigation bar, overcrowding of resources on the page, and lacking notification system were consistently identified as issues that needed resolution.
We therefore made the following recommendations:
- Adding a landing page
- Redesigning the navigation bar for permanent visibility & clearer navigation
- Rethink the information architecture, especially for the "Resources" page — currently a true hodgepodge
- Customizable notification system