DESCRIPTION

As part of the User-Centered Research Evaluation course at CMU I got familiar with Contextual Design.  Contextual design is a process were we aggregate data from interviews, ethnographic studies and apply the findings into the design of a final product.

The aim of this assignment was to improve graduate students assignment workflow, by understanding how they start an assignment , if they collaborate around the assignment, what tools they use, and what kind of pressures they feel.

    TOOLS

  • Contextual Interviews
  • Affinity Diagram
  • Flow Model
  • Sequence Model
  • Cultural Model
  • Design concepts

USER-RESEARCH

We did five contextual interviews to graduate students with diferent assignments for different courses. We schedule the interview and we went to the the place where the student do his homework, the environment were the work usually occurs, and we observed them doing the assignment . While they were doing their homework we asked them to think aloud, we took notes and also made questions. We recorded the interviews and later transcribe them.

CONSOLIDATION AND FINDINGS

We did five contextual interviews to graduate students with diferent assignments for different courses. We schedule the interview and we went to the the place where the student do his homework, the environment were the work usually occurs, and we observed them doing the assignment . While they were doing their homework we asked them to think aloud, we took notes and also made questions. We recorded the interviews and later transcribe them.

From the notes from our research we did several interpretation sessions where we extracted useful information from the interviews, and organized them into list of notes and flow, sequence and cultural models for each interview. We consolidated the list of notes across all users using an affinity diagram, where the notes that were naturally related were grouped together. As well as we consolidated all flow, sequence and cultural models from each interview. At the end, after several hours of consolidation the data, we got a clear notion about our data. and the insights that we got were:

Insight 1 - Students in the same class use google to search for similar problems.

We found out that a common search method is Google, more than books, and notes from class.

Insight 2 - Students face issues as what keywords to use while searching, not always knowing what words to use to look up information about class topics.

This insight is especially true for technical classes or  classes where they have little prior knowledge. Here it is a snippet from the affinity diagram. It shows that students rely on search engines to complete their homework. If we look closer, we see the first key issue: students are sometimes unsure what keyword to use as they search. The white sticky underneath shows that this is a problem with students knowing the course-specific vocabulary (U3-7). The other part of this issue is running out of ideas for search terms. There was an user who had been searching for a while and could not think of new search terms to find more examples. Because she did not know what words to use, she got stuck  "But I still need more...I need to see more examples...".

Insight 3 - Students conduct similar searches, but never share valuable links. 

Here is a part of our consolidated flow model where students find resources. We can see that there is a lot of communication happening here between the student and info source (Google).

Insight 4 - The users had not effective ways of keeping track of links they wanted to return to.

We also found problems with students trying to re-find their previous search results related to a course or an assignment. Not all students have a good way to keep track of important links ("Yeah it's important, so I am gonna email to myself"). We also noticed that as students found online resources, they rarely documented them.

Insight 5 - Collaboration for students is important for them to succeed.

Through our cultural model we found that students and collaborative classmates have the attitude that "We have to work together to succeed.". We wanted to see if we could take this attitude and make it more prevalent throughout students' assignment process, particularly in the resource-finding process.

SOLUTION

Our design idea is a side-bar plugin for a browser, because all our students use google to perform their searches.

On the side bar students can get suggested vocabulary based in what their colleagues had search for, and also some links that they have shared. One important thing is that the links that classmates have searched for are available for every classmate. Within the same bar the studend can also find his own search history related to a specific class.