Leaning into the Learning Community
An initial survey completed by 400 graduate students at NYU identified three main challenges graduate students encounter in their first year. The survey showed that graduate students needed more support in navigating the peer feedback process- an integral part of the learning process.
I was part of a team that aimed to establish a sustainable peer feedback experience for NYU graduate students.
Adapting to Remote Learning
Especially while transitioning into the remote learning environment, graduate students were having trouble both giving and receiving peer feedback. Feedback Loop is a web application designed to address the challenges in navigating the peer feedback process.
Create a sustainable feedback loop in 3 months
Our goal was to create a web application that would assist graduate students in building a network of trusted peers. This would allow for the feedback loop to begin with a foundation of trust which would lead to actionable, purposeful, and continuous feedback.
For this project, I utilized my strengths in research and collaborated with team members whose strengths are in product management, visual and graphic design, and content strategy. However, each of us was involved in every stage of the research and design process, from research to final prototype.
Insights in User and Market Research
At the outset of the project we lacked clear goals and user insights, so we began by collecting and analyzing qualitative data through user and market research.
We started by discussing some of the issues we believed our users would encounter in the peer feedback process. After all, we were all NYU graduate students. We included a thorough discussion through the lens of the Design for Diversity Framework, including our strengths or limitations as a group and how we might continue to reflect on the Excluded Source throughout the discovery process. Then, we developed our interview questions and accompanying script. As we moved through the interview process we quickly saw some theme emerge. We then drafted a survey to further discover the roots of these themes. After and while collecting these qualitative data, we used affinity and empathy maps to understand and explore the themes and connections we uncovered.
We discovered that NYU graduate students have difficulty cultivating the trust needed to create actionable, continuous feedback. We learned that cultivating trust throughout the feedback loop is necessary because mutual understanding yields valuable feedback specific to an individual. A few things we needed to keep in mind throughout the design process: a sense of belonging helps develop trust which helps bridge the gap between different levels of expertise and also builds confidence in oneself when both giving and receiving feedback. We believed that, if we were successful, we would see that students would be empowered in their ability to give feedback and that students would receive insights that they trust. This would ultimately lead to more actionable, purposeful, meaningful feedback and a more sustainable feedback loop.
In market research and competitive analysis, we found that peer feedback solutions may be in the style of forums, digital documents with the option to add comments, or more instructor-centered programs that allow for management of the peer feedback loop. These tools do not necessarily encourage students to feel empowered in engaging with each other. These tools also do not address the need for established trust and digital community building.
Developed through our thorough research, these personas were made to continually guide our design moving forward. Pooja is our primary persona and Austin the second.
Our design process would also be influenced by jobs to be done and our "how might we..." statement developed from research:
How might we establish trusted relationships between graduate students to encourage the exchange of valuable feedback and a sustainable feedback loop?
Using the design studio workshop process and collaborating with Mural, we began with individual brainstorming and sketching then moved into collective workshop sessions. By discussing and critiquing elements of each sketch, we identified three major features that were imperative to our design: a customizable portfolio with some core elements that will allow other users to understand levels of expertise, the ability to ask specific questions or vouch for one’s own work, and quick, varied communication in order to ask these questions in many ways and be able to get answers quickly.
Integrating the use of personas and insights from the workshopping process, we created storyboards that would allow our team to understand the user's interaction with the Feedback Loop tool.
Wireframes and Prototypes
Using Figma, we repeated the design studio process to create a prototype. Each of us created a wireframe that included the elements we found to be essential in our ideation phase. Then, we used our individual ideas to draft our hifi prototype and began our Heuristic Evaluation. We used five criteria to evaluate our first draft of the prototype:
- Match between system and the real world: passed Using sticky notes to categorize information and editing concepts to signal actionable and valuable feedback
- Consistency and standards: passed Using different iterations of the plus sign to signal similar actions with different purposes
- Error prevention: passed Because three sticky notes are required on the upload portion of the prototype, the user must be able to click on previously completed sticky notes in order to edit
- Recognition rather than recall: passed Profile and accompanying sticky notes give quick access to feedback giver’s profile to help reduce external load
- Help and documentation: failed In this iteration, there is no help/documentation page. To sidestep this issue, the next iteration of the prototype instead singles out a simplistic, step by step flow to be carried out by the user
Then, after completing a hifi prototype, we conducted usability tests to determine what worked and what needed to be changed. Our testers helped us understand changed we needed to make like clarifying confusing copy or eliminating clutter.
Take our upload product page. We began by giving users the ability to add infinite sticky notes, but testing showed that users didn’t realize what to do with the sticky notes. The prompts were overwhelming and users didn’t realize that the accompanying plus sign was connected to the sticky note process. While testing also showed that this idea was valuable to users, they still needed more guidance on how to complete the task. In turn, we refined the page to clear clear direct prompts.
We put a lot of thought into our aesthetic design decisions, using color and contrast to help the user understand how functions of the website relate to one another. User testing revealed that users enjoyed the warmer tones of the site because they make it easier to spend time looking at a screen to review a project. The hierarchy we’ve established intentionally places the user’s profile at the center, because the user’s needs in the feedback process hold the most importance.
We made sure that connection and mutual understanding were top priorities in our design. Features that enable users to see who is online, that ask users to create a profile that is visible throughout the feedback loop, that give users the opportunity to explain themselves, and get specific on sticky notes create that community of trust NYU graduate students are currently lacking. With this learning community, users will feel like they can get feedback they can actually use. Feedback Loop will bring out the best in graduate students’ works by keeping the process of giving and receiving feedback continuous and rooted in action and trust.