UX Research Case Study: Improving Student-Teacher Communication Through a Class Management App

Illustration of a student holding a sapling in the palm of her hand
illustration by Lydia Hill

I got an opportunity to Intern as a UX designer for an Edtech startup in April 2020 after I made a career switch from a Consultant to a Designer role. This start-up is technology-driven, they didn’t have Designers in the team until me and another UIUX designer joined it. The process they followed was Develop-Ship-Get feedback-Iterate; I convinced the stakeholders to try the Design thinking process and start with the user research for a new web & mobile app we were planning to launch. I took over the entire responsibility of doing the user research, it was a high learning curve for me and indeed a great opportunity.

Talking to the users, listening, and understanding their problem was my thing, I had learned those skills in my previous jobs; the problem was conveying the research insights. It turned out to be more difficult than I thought — Do the research, make personas, conduct a workshop to share the research insights, and there you are, all the teammates empathizing with the user problems! This is easier said than done! Keep reading to know how did I manage (a.k.a struggle) to do it.

Spoiler alert: There are no UI screens and finished prototype in the end for display, the product is work in progress.

Goal of the research: Finding the digital touchpoints of the target users in their day to day college life

My role: Research and Analysis

There are 3 parts to this case study:

  1. Understanding the problem
  2. Digging the problem
  3. Conveying the problem

1. Understanding The Problem

Overview

Colleges use ERP(Enterprise Resource Planning) and Learning Management System which have various modules, a high learning curve due to a lot of features, and they are not designed to fit the user needs. These systems are only built on the basis of requirements to be fulfilled for the college by the staff. Faculties spend a lot of time feeding data and updating these systems, this time can be rather spent on teaching and helping the students with their academics. We were determined to solve this problem by providing an alternate platform to reduce the manual work, redundancy, and improving the off-class communication in colleges between faculties and students.

Stakeholder interviews

Before I start working on the user research, I had to understand what is the foundation of the product not only from the existing research available but also from the stakeholders to gain their perspective and initial understanding of the problem. These are the few questions I asked to get started:

  • What are the project goals and the product’s vision?
  • What is our competitive advantage?
  • How are we trying to do this better than other companies?
  • Where does the company play and how does the company win?

BMI Framework

There are not a lot of existing products that are solving this problem even after this problem being fairly common, what value are we providing that ours didn’t or if they did, why did they fail? My curiosity to find the answer to this question leads me to a framework called Business Model Innovation(BMI) framework, that I borrowed from Ryan Rumsey’s Business thinking for Designers. I drew a BMI framework post stakeholder interview to get a better picture of the value proposition and to understand how does the business work and also to whom & how do we provide value.

Research canvas

Since this was my first research project, I wanted to document the entire process and be extra sure of the steps I was taking and Steph Troeth’s research canvas helped me do that.

Steph Troeth’s research canvas
Research canvas

2. Digging Into The Problem

Competitive analysis

To understand how other competitors are solving this problem, I chose to do a competitive analysis. I could find few products that were solving the same problem but they operated in only a few colleges across the city. Further, all these Edtech products are multifaceted, they provide a lot of different features that make the product overwhelming to use. Their user feedback is in the same lines; most of them use these apps only for specific purposes like checking timetable, attendance, class updates, assignments.

Survey results

User Interview

I conducted user interviews with 14 users — 4 admins, 5 faculties, and 5 students. User interviews helped me conceive the user problems first hand and validate a ton of assumptions. Most of the user problems were not taken into account by the team and might have lead to users eventually abandoning the product. I could plot the unique trends and behaviors of the users and also re-think the way we were approaching the solution.

Key insights #1

Most of the faculties still choose to do their work manually if, given that option. The faculties are unaware of the problem and hence don’t acknowledge it.

Key insight #2

The college administration doesn’t want to make the job of the faculty necessarily easy, they only want to make it reliable, because handling that manual work is a part of their job.

Key insight #3

The faculties prefer to use different apps for personal and student communication to draw a line between personal and professional life.

Key insight #4

The college ERP systems are mandatory for the faculty but not for the students. At the end of the day, all the faculties have to update attendance, timetable, and other class-related activities to the ERP.

3. Conveying The Problem

Persona

In order to share the research insights with the team for continuing the process with the same level of empathy for the fragile group of users; I created the persona of our three target groups. Personas helped everyone get a better understanding of the user pain points and their viewpoint.

Empathy mapping

Thematic analysis helped me find the most prevalent pain points that needed attention. I used empathy map to trigger a discussion within the team and compel them to adjust their perspective and approach. During the initial stage of understanding the problem, I could perceive that the proposed solution was based on a lot of assumptions made by the team.

Empathy Map made with Digital post-its
Empathy Map

Storyboarding

Storyboarding turned out to be quite helpful and effective in conveying the user’s journey. The reason I chose to use the storyboard is that visualization of the user’s journey was important for the team to make better decisions and these user touchpoints were crucial action points for us. There was no better way to convey these touchpoints than storyboarding.

Storyboard: Scene 1 — Teacher taking attendance, Scene 2: Giving assignment
Storyboard

“How might we” questions

Defining the key insights and user’s digital touchpoints helped me identify problems that pose major challenges and turn them into opportunities with “How might we questions”. It also helped the team suggest possible solutions to the problems keeping the user, user journey, and user’s mental model in mind.

How might we design the attendance feature to reduce the time taken to mark attendance?

How might we reduce the redundancy of feeding data?

How might we make the onboarding of students easy for the college Admin?

How might we make the college administration feel secure about their data?

How might we improve encourage students to ask questions to the faculties off-campus?

How might we make the task of sending & receiving assignments easy?

Conclusion & Learnings

Navigating ambiguity was a tough part of the process for me, the user problems were broad and inconsistent. We had to find the most important categories of user needs to ship the MVP. The stakeholders and the team acknowledged the significance of the Design Thinking approach because it provided actionable insights that helped the team steer in the right direction. If it wasn’t for the research, the product would have been built on the basis of assumptions made by the team about the problem-unaware users. I learned that Research reports alone are not enough for the team to empathize with the users, the research has to be conveyed to them in a manner that is quick to comprehend and easier to associate.

You have reached the end of this research case study, thanks for reading. Let me know your feedback below and hit them claps if you liked it.

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I like logical design but I like emotional design better

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Abhijeet Raskar

Abhijeet Raskar

I like logical design but I like emotional design better

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