Connecting students with student-mentors to help students balance their social and academic responsibilities.
Vijay Farmah, Mathias Burton, Marianne Aubin Le Quere
10/10/2017 - 12/5/2017
Students have a variety of issues they struggle with when they transition to college, from handling their new course load to missing their friends and family members back home. In this project, we designed Connectie, a community-mentoring tool for college students to connect with other students to help facilitate those conversations and help students get the guidance they need.
We want to learn more about students and where they struggle to focus during the transition to college. Our hypothesis was incoming students are more likely to struggle to stay focused due to the greater range of freedom and choices. Our goal was to test that hypothesis and gather potential requirements for a solution that would best help students focus.
We conducted three research methods:
Informational interviews helped set the stage for the rest of our research. Students are our primary target groups, so we approached them first. Interviewing allowed us to explore many parts of their college transition in depth. The mentors we interviewed all mentored first-year students, two in an academic setting and one in a social setting. By interviewing the mentors, we got to hear about many different first-year students, and they could also tell us what were the overarching trends that they saw.
Interview Findings - Students
- Incoming college students experience more free time rather than less. How they manage their free time is up to them and varies.
- Dorm life and dealing with new social environments became a common theme.
- Students face both social and academic issues.
- Lecturing style is tough to understand for some. Courses are dependent on the professors independently.
- Office hours may not be enough for some students.
- Students tend to have momentum and organization going into the course. However, as classes go on, it gets harder.
- It is common for students to use planners (physical or digital) to organize and manage their day.
Interview Findings - Mentors
- Mentors telling incoming first-year students that some failure is expected, helped them. “You don’t need to be the best or the first, you probably won’t be, and that’s totally ok and you can still be successful.”
- From an academic perspective, students commonly struggled when they got behind on an assignment and then became overwhelmed by everything else. Two of the mentors were under the impression that this gets easier after the first year because you don’t have the same expectations of yourself in second or third year.
- First years need a better way to develop a community to seek advice from. They thought it could be helpful if students could see that they weren’t the only ones dealing with this problem, and that other people had made it through and been successful.
- Students need better access to mentorship and to communicate with people that have been in similar or comparable situations as them.
2. ONLINE SURVEY
Surveying allowed us to capture data from other locations in the US. We identified and shared our survey with various student organizations to give us some confidence that students will be the primary audience receiving the link.
- Students tend to struggle on a daily basis.
- Students seem to have difficulty balancing their time between classes, schoolwork, and life.
- Many full-time students are balancing 3-4 classes and 2-3 personal hobbies, leaving them with multiple contexts to switch and manage between.
- Time management was a recurring pattern.
- Students tend to use planners, calendars, and agendas to manage their classes, activities, or other obligations.
- Homework and lectures were noted as more challenging to focus on.
- One student noted a particular story that shows the effect that stress causes such as personal trauma might have on influencing one’s focus.
3. IN-PERSON GUERILLA STORYTELLING
Guerilla storytelling is an impromptu, basic conversation question for students. This participatory data collection method was quick, and gave rich unstructured stories to discover insights. Our goal was to capture rich narratives of students and their experience on focusing. We asked students at the University of Washington three questions. For each question, a person writes a one-word or one-sentence response on paper. After, our team did an affinity exercise with their responses to better understand pressures that lead to stress and how they respond to it.
What we asked:
1. What do first-year students most need? (Orange sharpie)
2. What overwhelms you? (Blue sharpie)
3. What helps you focus? (Pink sharpie)
In-person Guerilla Storytelling Findings
“What do 1st-year students most need?”
Most of the responses we received centered around the community and network of people around them. “Friends,” “Guidance,” and “Community” were common responses
“What overwhelms you?”
The themes of responses revolved around the future for college students. Many were worried about how their current performance in class or decisions would impact their future careers and opportunities.
Students seemed very focused on concrete, current problems, such as this exact assignment they were working on, or the test averages they would receive, or this upcoming internship and pressure to perform.
“What helps you focus?”
“Music” and “Quiet” physical environment setting play an important role as they were the two most common responses.
Some students also had a more abstract view of what helped them focus, such as being motivated, stressed, or determined.
We consolidated and used our research to create three personas to help us focus on our user needs for the rest of the design process.
After analysis of research, we examined as many different approaches as possible, sketching a variety of solutions. They had some themes like “situational response” and “mental health."
We sketched out mobile-like screens to capture functionality around how one might engage our system idea. In hindsight, that decision likely led us down the path of producing a mobile app over other media.
After initial studies with other designers and students, we digitized our screens and cleaned up our workflow to try and capture all parts of our system. We built the wireframes in Sketch and synchronized them with InVision and ran usability tests with several students and consolidated the changes into a collection of refinements we made in our final prototype.
- (Intro screen) Remove bottom menu into a hamburger or move to another screen
- Adjust the language and semantics to make intro easier to follow / grasp
- Offer deeper dives into personality type, mentor style, (or social references)
- Go through each of the main navigational buttons to determine an exact purpose
- Consider adding some safety features
- Adjust screens so the flow and story are cohesive
- Allow counselee to insert notes before meeting and mentee to add brief description of problem
- Flesh out how we manage the “ratings” system for counselors
- Consider adding supplemental insights as to “why” we ask something
- A more comprehensive “scheduling view”
"Final" Digital Prototype
Our final approach focused on a single scenario of a student needing help on an assignment. We walked through the “critical incident” making interface designs that support both the “mentor” and “mentee” experience. This version will need to be re-evaluated, but we integrated nearly all of the feedback received in the first round of testing.