During this project, I have taken the roles of researcher, designer, project manager and in part product owner. Over the course of this project the team has also contained our CEO in the role of product owner, we’ve had 3 other designers off and on, another product owner, and 3 educational scientists. Of those people, only our CEO and I have stayed on from start to end. Next to that the rest of the team has been involved as well, but in a lesser capacity. They have been consulted regularly for feedback and ideas.
The first FeedbackFruits platform launched on November 11th 2013 with the purpose of increasing meaningful interaction within university courses that are blended, which means they have both offline and online parts.
Each course had a separate space, comparable to a Facebook group, and consisted of 4 tools:
However, the biggest problems with this platform were:
Students had problems with finding what they needed. Each tool was structured differently, with Dialog having topics the teacher could set, Share having folders the teacher could create, Live having no structure, and Learn having ‘notebooks’ which were folders the students could create. Because of this users had a different structure in each tool and on top of that in each course, which made everything hard to find.
The navigation was very unconventional and changed based on context, which made the platform very hard to navigate.
The structure and code weren’t ready for expanding and innovating
After we decided to completely rebuild the platform, the main challenge was figuring out how it should be structured to solve these 3 problems and to make sure teachers have the right tools. We wanted to enable teachers to drastically innovate their courses but at the same time not alienate teachers who aren’t yet ready for that.
We started with collecting all the feedback and questions we had gotten through support to get an idea of what our current users were looking for and what they had problems with. Also, I did interviews with some of the teachers that were known as being quite innovative with their courses, to find out what kinds of methods they used and how. I wanted to know how they innovated their courses, what they needed for that, what upsides and downsides of their current approach were, and why they made the choices they did.
For a complete image, I also interviewed students to hear about their experiences, since they are a very important part of our user group. When the students are happy the teacher is happy (provided the grades are good).
After the interviews I looked into how teachers now structure their courses on existing learning management systems and on our old platform, to see what kinds of courses currently get created and what kinds of workarounds people do when not having access to all the tools they need.
Skip to the concept we eventually settled on. The new course structure would be way simpler and consist of only a learn path and a newsfeed. The single learn path per course would ensure there was one structure for students to follow, preferably weeks, which makes the course easier to understand and materials easier to find. The newsfeed was there to ensure both students and teachers didn’t feel like they could miss something, and teachers would be able to help students quickly.
The learn path would consist of study activities, which could be materials like documents and videos, they could be assignments and practice questions, or discussion topics. Having this versatility allowed us to be able to create new tools and add them seamlessly to the platform. In other case studies, you can read all about creating study activities and viewing study activities.
A structure could be applied through the use of folders, where we’d encourage but not obligate to use weeks as the top level structure so their courses would be easier to understand for students. The reason for weeks is because they’re the only thing all courses have in common, they happen over a certain amount of weeks.
For the path, there were many requirements since teachers generally say they want to see as much as possible about their students’ activity, but adhering to all of those requests made the platform look like this:
A learning path showing the structure in weeks, and the bottomsheet for adding tools
A learning path with a week expanded, showing learning activities - here in personalised paths
As you can see all of this is way too full. We needed a way to distinguish between what people said they needed and what they really needed. One of the methods I used to find this out was to ask the following questions:
- If we’d take all of that data out but you were allowed to keep 1 metric, what would it be and why?
- If you’d have to take out one of the metrics, which would it be and why?
This provided insight into both which were the most useful metrics and which were the least useful, as well as what users wanted to learn from them. Something that we missed during the initial design was that context was very important. Teachers said they wanted to see data for all weeks, but that didn’t mean all at the same time. The thing is that courses often work on one week or one subject at a time, that’s the part where teachers need to see what’s going on, not for three weeks ago since no student will be working on that anymore. Knowing which metrics were interesting and that only data about the present is interesting, resulted in us taking out pretty much every metric in the weeks overview on the left, and being smarter with the study activities that you can see on the right.
A week now shows what it’s about, when it will take place, how many things are in it and if it contains something with a deadline that is still coming up. On the left side of week 2, you can see a green line, that indicates that something has happened in that week since the last time the user was on this page. This is a pattern that can be found throughout the platform. On courses, then on the weeks in it, then on the study activities in them and on the comments and other activity inside the study activities.
Study activities are also cleaned up. They show fewer metrics on the learn path and more relevant information. Students didn’t care much about views or how much practice questions it contains, they want to quickly see what the steps are to estimate how long it will take.
Study activities can consist of tasks, such as handing in something or watching a video. We use grey circles with icons to help signal what type of study activity it is and if the user has made progress yet. When they progress through the activity the icon to the left and the task numbers will turn colored. The task that is next to do has a clear call to action to draw the student to it. To allow the students to estimate how much work each task will be we show what it entails wherever we can: ‘read 45 pages’, ‘review the work of 3 peers’ et cetera.
This redesign has been used by both users that had used the old platform and users that had not. What we saw was that teachers that came from the old platform needed quite some time and guidance to understand how they needed to structure their course in the new platform, and it took some getting used to during the first weeks but in the end both they and their students were way more happy with the new platform. There were no more complaints from students about not being able to find their stuff. Also, we’ve been able to add some really great study activities so that teachers now have more powerful tools at their disposal.
Something that does still need to be addressed is that students can’t communicate with the rest of the class easy enough as it is. They do interact inside study activities but some students felt that if they wanted to ask or share something that wasn’t really possible right now, so that will be fixed in the future.
As you may understand I have skipped lots and lots of the process and the versions, if you like to see what kinds of things we tried, you can see lots of old versions below.
very very old versions.
We wanted to enable teachers to drastically innovate their courses
At some point, after we had been going from idea to idea for months, I stopped the team and arranged a few sessions with the goals of getting everyone on the same page again, making sure everyone on the team felt heard, and to get priorities clear. This really helped move the project forward and stop having the same discussions over and over again and people feeling left out of the process. Since we were doing this massive pivot with the whole company it was very important to make sure everyone on the team believed in the new design. Shortly after this, a few people involved in the design process left the company as well which made things also easier since we had fewer cooks in the proverbial kitchen.
The ideation part was pretty difficult during this project and was the part that probably lasted until the end, way until the end of the design phase.
Something that made this harder was the team changed a lot during this phase, there was no clear division of responsibilities and who was in charge of what, and there wasn’t a very clear vision yet.
The CEO and I are both very stubborn so we butted heads a lot, which caused some intense discussions but improved our product a lot. We sometimes didn’t speak in each other’s terms and I still hadn’t mastered the skill of communicating my ideas well and getting people on the same page.
When I started working at FeedbackFruits they assigned me the gargantuan task of redesigning their entire platform from the ground up. As the only interface designer and still intern, this was a big challenge but it was an absolutely great learning experience. Over the course of this project I improved a lot on my design and research skills, but what has been most valuable about this experience is soft skills like presenting my work in a way that will get the story across and yield me the most useful feedback, managing expectations, making the team feel involved, time management, and more. In part due to me still being a novice back then, and in part due to the team and vision constantly changing this project was pretty tough but I’m very proud of the end result.
complete platform redesign.
Since we were doing such a massive pivot it was very important to make sure everyone on the team believed in the new design
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