The PLanT project is a University funded programme that is designed to get students involved with the design and delivery of strategies regarding teaching and learning. If an application is successful, the group is rewarded £500 to see the project through.
We as a group, applied for one of these grants, using the idea of a web-based learning resource for the typography department, and were successful with this application.
Our application was based around the fact that we collectively do a lot of online research in relation to many aspects of our course, for example, learning software, or getting design tips. Currently our department is lacking in any such centralised bank of resources, and we felt that it would be useful for subsequent year groups to have something like this. We therefore created a questionnaire that asked other undergraduates on our course opinions on the current provision of resources and communication methods within the department. Below asked the questions we asked…
From the questionnaire, we learned that students felt like the department relies heavily on social media, because students opinions of BlackBoard is less than complimentary. The other main result of this questionnaire, was discovering that students were strongly in favour of an online resource bank. This therefore became the foundation for our proposal and the rest of the project.
Discussion of ideas
With the funding in place, we met to discuss the preliminary research that we had attained, revisiting these results from the questionnaire, to work out what exactly would be useful for the department. As the research outlined, students seemed in favour of having the online resource bank. We therefore compiled a list of ideas of what we felt this system should have and be able to do. Ideas included:
- a provision for submitting work for feedback
- anonymous questioning to department staff
- a bank of good previous work, curated by lecturers
- a bank of resources
- a collaborative online working space.
After discussions with departmental staff, and our supervisor for the project, it became apparent that due to department rules, it would be better to refine the ideas into one more focussed, ‘online resource’, that performed the following tasks (condensing some of the ideas above):
- Examples of previous student work
- A collation of internet based design resources
- A collation of user created resources (both by staff and students)
- We proposed the above online resource to other students on the course to gain feedback, and further our ideas. The general idea was received very positively. During this research phase, we were given access to BlackBoard, to determine the limitations, and capabilities of the resource, so that we were able to not only make something that does things BlackBoard is unable to, but also not designing a system that simply replicates aspects of BlackBoard.
Response to research
With all the prior research and market research in mind, we began to design the system. From research, we realised that one of the main problems with the previous methods of handling information, i.e. Facebook and BlackBoard, was that the navigation and user interface was not specifically tailored to what we wanted it to do. We looked at existing methods of navigating information heavy websites, such as Pinterest, observing their filtering system. We felt that this system, which uses a collection of ‘visual cards’ would be an extremely efficient and successful method for our new system.
We began wireframing based on these ideas:
We made the system capable of browsing resources through different facets, such as course modules, but also through more specific key word searches. Once these wireframes were established, we developed the website, integrating it with WordPress so that we could easily manage and search the resources, using it to rapidly accelerate the development process. With the first prototype in place we began user testing.
Using the money from the grant of £500, we set up a focus group where we could interview undergraduates from the department. We spent £70 on food and drinks to help entice students to take part. The focus group asked students to have a look through the website which we had created, we asked them some questions after giving them a chance to explore it themselves.
The responses from the students were very positive and they also provided us with some more feedback. We also got staff to try out the system who were able to provide feedback from their perspective. Staff suggested that they would like to see the option of navigating the system via different categories rather than specifically across year groups in order to make the system more useful for the course.
Our lecturers were impressed with the work we had done to aid the teaching and learning resources for future years and are excited to see continual development and for the site to be live. It was at this point, that the name of the resource bank should be typo resources to encompass it within existing services provided by the department.
Presenting our system
After the focus group we attended a presentation where we discussed what our project was and why we wanted to do it. More importantly for us, it was a chance to present our hard work. We created a keynote that explained the research and the process that we employed during the project. The presentation took place in 3sixty, the centre of campus, in front of around 100 people, most of whom were members of University staff. This was a great opportunity and again, we received a positive response from the audience.
Unfortunately as we are graduating this year we are unable to continue developing this system. However, because the PLanT scheme involves our supervisor, and is for our course, the department is backing the continued development. This means our next step is to recruit other students who are as passionate about this project as we are.
Through participating in the PLanT scheme project we gained valuable experience in team work and research of user experience. We benefitted from discussion and collaboration with department staff, particularly our supervisor Jeanne-Louise Moys, which helped us to gain an understanding of the system and practices as they currently exist, as well as to gain useful insight into the considerations of staff.
Such a unique project came with its own challenges and rewards. Our work on the presentation, although very well received, did have some setbacks, in terms of coordinating the demonstration of the live system on a large-scale screen with all equipment located off-stage. We may have benefited from more practice or potentially creating a short video of the system in use that could have been used. Through this experience of presenting work to a large audience, however, we have gained useful experience of public speaking and organisation. There was also the issue of justifying the creation of a system that could have been seen as overlapping with the provision of Blackboard, so we worked hard to ensure that what we were creating offered ‘unique selling points’ that would be of value to students within the department, and more widely applicable throughout the university when developed further.
Being given the opportunity to work on something that will benefit students in further years has been a very rewarding experience for the whole group. We are proud to have worked on something that will remain after we have graduated, with the potential to improve students’ experience of communication and independent learning, especially as department staff and other students can be involved in developing and refining the idea further.