An application made to streamline, enhance, and enable connections for remote first year Georgia Tech masters students.
First year online masters students rely on their school community for friendship, advice, and support. However, online students are separated - figuratively and physically - from their support network. For new students, getting integrated into their community is a crucial, but incredibly difficult task.
The onset of Covid-19 exacerbated this issue for many students, and revealed weaknesses in online collaboration tools. With so many platforms for communication, it is easy to lose track of conversations, and it can be difficult to organize and maintain connection.
Design a solution to help remote, first year masters students at Georgia Tech connect with their program communities upon enrollment.
Grouper is a mobile app and a central hub of the different communication channels and subgroups that Georgia Tech master’s students must juggle during remote learning.
During orientation, students get connected to the online platforms their school uses, and enter their interests to find related groups.
Grouper provides a cross-platform overview of all the online groups available in a student's community. Students can join any group directly from Grouper, and keep track of which groups they are a part of.
Students can create new groups hosted on any platform directly from Grouper.
Our team worked together to conduct initial user research, including several surveys and exploratory interviews. These helped us learn more about common struggles in online learning communities, such as finding other remote students with common interests.
We used an affinity map to compile user insights and key problem areas. We learned that remote students consider creating groups with others who share interests a key task, and we conducted a hierarchical task analysis to learn more about the steps involved.
We used our research findings to begin to piece together our users' goals, motivations, and needs. Our research taught us about how first year master students define community, and the type of support they want to receive:
With a better understanding of what our users were looking for in their online communities, we were able to start drafting the features our future solution should support.
01. The system should share user states.
Students should have the ability to convey emotion and availability.
02. The system should support group formation.
Students should be able to form small groups from shared interests.
03. The system should be flexible.
The app should support mobile usage so students can engage in spontaneous interactions.
04. The system should allow customization.
Students should be able to accomplish group formation in accordance with their own unique goals, preferences, and circumstances.
We kicked off ideation by brainstorming as many ideas as possible individually. We created 12 simple concept drawings and descriptions to start with, and used these as a basis to start refining our solution.
To start storyboarding, we narrowed down our ideas to two solutions. These ideas satisfied different design goals, and approached the problem space in different ways.
Moments is a spontaneous chat platform that allows users to build temporary groups. Students post topics related to what is currently going on in their lives. After the conversation ends, the group fades away.
Rona World is an immersive virtual campus. Students create an avatar and move through themed rooms. Students meet others in their community with similar interests, and form closer bonds.
We brought these ideas in front of some HCI experts from our program to get feedback. During feedback, we found three potential problems:
01. Neither concept catered specifically to our user group.
They were general solutions that could be implemented in many situations.
02. These solutions add onto the information overload.
Students already have to juggle multiple communication applications.
03. Designing a chat app means entering a very saturated marketplace.
A chat application would have to compete with highly developed and well established competitors.
Our team designed Grouper as a response to this feedback. Grouper provides exploratory and organizational benefits that can help our users feel a sense of community during their remote program, without the burden of keeping track of another communication platform.
To kick off prototyping, we started by defining 3 key features Grouper should include according to our research findings and expert feedback.
01. Users can find, join, or create sub-groups related to their interests.
02. Users can browse and join popular or trending sub-groups.
03. Users can manage sub-groups that they are a part of across separate platforms from a central location.
After defining key features, we drafted user flows and wireframes to illustrate how students would navigate through the application.
The branding and design for Grouper is fun and playful, but also clean and uncluttered. To encourage informal community bonding and personal interaction among Masters students, Grouper avoids appearing too clinical, and instead appears youthful, upbeat, and social. The use of primary colors is a reference to construction, and echoes Grouper's purpose, to construct friendships and community.
01. It is easy to get caught up in your head and 'think inside of the box' when designing. To avoid this, user needs and goals should be revisited throughout the design process.
During ideation, my team thought only of 'chat' applications because these are the platforms we were accustomed to using. However, if we progressed with a chat app, we may have ended up overwhelming our users with yet another social media platform, or our application may have never been used at all.
02. For an application to succeed, all stakeholders (not just end users) must stay at the front of the design process.
We were able to re-align our design with end-user needs, but there are several other stakeholders we would need to consider if this application ever went into production. For instance - we would have to find a way to motivate existing applications like Slack, Discord, and Microsoft Teams to integrate with our application.