Student Personas: Representing Student Voice in Design and Decision Making

Concurrent Session 4

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

Participants will engage in a hands-on experience as they explore the value and practical application of personas for informing design work in education. In addition to learning about the steps and processes for developing personas, participants will walk away with methods to employ these strategies at their own institution.


Breana Yaklin is an Instructional Designer for the MSU Hub for Innovation in Learning and Technology and for Teaching and Learning Technology with IT Services. She supports faculty to design strong student-focused learning experiences, and has been conducting interviews with undergraduate students to gather student voice and better inform curriculum design. Lately, she has been working closely with academic advising units to support proactive advising and student success change initiatives.
Caroline White is a learning technology designer at Michigan State University’s Hub for Innovation in Learning and Technology and MSU IT Services Academic Technology. She graduated from MSU with degrees in professional writing and English, and has previously worked as the managing editor of the Red Cedar Review, a user experience designer at FEB Digital, and a freelance writer and copyeditor. She is passionate about creating engaging learning experiences, and currently works on designing courses, curriculum, and communications and engagement strategies.

Extended Abstract

How do you know what learning experiences students find most engaging? What motivates them? What frustrates them? How they will react to a new curricular program or resource? Although we strive to design better programs and courses for students, we do not always do so knowing the answers to these questions or allowing students to actively contribute to the design and development process. It is not always possible or feasible to involve students directly in the design process, but it is important to represent the student voice to ensure the right issue is being addressed.

According to Goltz (2014), personas, which are frequently used in market research and web development, are a “way to communicate and summarize research trends and patterns to others” and to “create different designs for different kinds of people.” In education, personas can serve as a valuable resource for incorporating student voice into learning design work and student-focused decision making. In this session, participants will learn about our process of developing student personas at Michigan State University, and actively engage in the steps to gather and synthesize qualitative data to create a persona. As Emerson, R., Fretz, R., and Shaw, L. (2011) discuss in Writing Ethnographic Fieldnotes, developing “analytic themes” is key to synthesizing and coding qualitative data (p. 178). This session will teach participants how to identify key themes and build them out into the characteristics of individual personas. Participants will walk away with templates and strategies to employ in their own institutions and reflect on how generating these personas--both for students and for other stakeholders--can inform their work. The processes, strategies, and discussion shared in this session will be valuable for all attendees to incorporate into their decision-making processes.

Approximately 15 minutes will be dedicated to an introduction to personas, the reasons MSU sought to develop student personas, and the process used to gather qualitative data and develop student personas. Following this, participants will have 15 minutes to engage in an active learning exercise to practice applying the process, conducting qualitative research, and creating a persona. Finally, participants will spend 5-10 minutes engaging in a reflective discussion on their findings and how this can be applied at their own institution. 5-10 minutes will be left for questions at the end.


Attendees will:

  • Discuss the value of personas to solve problems and inform design work in education.

  • Identify steps/process for developing personas.

  • Practice gathering data and developing a persona.

  • Reflect on how personas can inform their work.

Works Cited:

Goltz, S. (2014). A Closer Look At Personas: What They Are and How They Work. Smashing Magazine. Retrieved October 25, 2016, from


Emerson, R., Fretz, R., Shaw, L. (2011). Writing Ethnographic Fieldnotes, 2nd ed. The University of Chicago Press. Chicago.