Leveraging User-Centered Design for Student Success

Workshop Session 2
Research Equity and Inclusion

Brief Abstract

What is the best way to design systems that are user-centered and put student voices at the center of student success initiatives? This session will describe how to employ user-centered design to uncover valuable insights and develop systems that support student success and retention through an interactive session based on a real case study from a large institution.

Additional Authors

Lesley Reilly is an experienced online course facilitator and instructional designer at Western Governor’s University. For twelve years prior to joining WGU, she worked for EdTech Leaders Online (ETLO) helping clients understand and meet their educational needs by drawing from her experience as a classroom teacher to design and develop meaningful learning experiences online. She has a M.Ed from the Harvard Graduate School of Education and a B.Ed from the University of Michigan.

Extended Abstract

As post-secondary enrollment numbers continue to drop nationwide, institutions are joining conversations and creating committees to find new approaches for retaining current students. Common themes in academia and the workforce conversations point to a need for increased investment in student support and belonging efforts to retain individuals and increase success metrics such as graduation and student satisfaction.

In response to nationwide decreases in enrollment and retention, a nonprofit research and development hub for a major university found that finding and connecting to institution services was a key pain point for students, and one that may contribute to issues of retention and student success. Often, a college has many ways to help students. Yet, a student close to graduation might find a service new-to-them and say, “I didn’t know that.”

In order to design a solution to this problem, the team utilized a user-centered design process that included A/B testing to uncover the underlying issues, and ultimately support the development of a solution that met student, faculty, and administrator needs.

The user-centered design process resulted in a 2021 qualitative study with students, faculty, and administrators through which the team discovered that long resource lists feel overwhelming because they require students to scroll through numerous unrelated links. They learned that accessing essential resources may be stigmatizing, especially when such resources are related to mental health, financial aid, or food insecurities.

Our user-centered design process and methodology contains the following stages:

DISCOVER is the first phase to understanding the needs of the humans your project will serve. The discovery phase is used to dig deeper into the problem or issue we are trying to solve. We typically start with interviews or surveys to get a deeper understanding of the problem from the user’s perspective. Here, we build empathy with our learners through user interviews, surveys, subject matter expert (SME) interviews, and contextual inquiries.

DEFINE provides space to analyze what was learned in the discovery phase. Here, we synthesize information from the discovery phase by creating personas, journey maps, learning objectives, insight reports, and site mapping to help us better understand our next steps and directions we should take for a project.

IDEATE is a slate for coming up with as many ideas as possible to solve the problem through brainstorming, eliminating or promoting ideas forward, and co-design sessions.

PROTOTYPE & TEST is the launchpad for exploring ideas in an iterative way. We don't ever think things will be perfect on the first try. That's why we usually always have at least one round of prototyping and testing. We test our ideas in multiple levels of fidelity working up to our final design, incorporating user feedback along the way.

MEASURE(ment) is an important part of our process. We use this phase to determine if we have met our success criteria laid out in the beginning of the project. We use surveys, click data, and product usage data to determine if we have met our objectives and product experience on a larger scale.'

Participant learning outcomes for the workshop

  • Participants will receive essential understandings related to the user-centered design process, the importance of creating user-centered solutions, and best practices in developing their own methods related to their work.
  • Participants will gain and apply best practices in the user-centered design process through the ‘Discover’, ‘Define’, ‘Ideate’, ‘Prototype & Test’, ‘Measurement’ stages applied to a case study through a review of instruments (surveys), and user-personas, and their design implications.

Interactivity components

  • In this interactive session, a learning design team will lead participants through a workshop that addresses the key actions and decisions made through each step of a user-centered learning development process by using the case study outlined above. Participants will be invited to brainstorm effective discovery methodology based on the case study prompt; analyze information, insights, and personas unearthed during the introductory phase; ideate potential solutions in small groups; and brainstorm potential routes for the prototyping and testing phases of this solution. Participants will walk away with a thorough understanding of the user-centered design process, the importance of creating user-centered solutions, and best practices in developing their own processes. The session will conclude with a brief Q&A regarding the case study and user-centered design process to support participants in developing their own human-centered solutions.
  • Participants will work in small groups for the workshop, and collaborate with their group partners in discussions and solutioning.

Workshop outline:

  • 15 min: Introduction
    • Introduction of user-centered design and case study development (problem, methodology, solution)
  • 15 min: Discover Phase
    • Participants will review interview questions from the case study and brainstorm additional questions, user groups, or methodologies to procure additional information.
  • 15 min: Define
    • Presenters will provide groups with personas and insights from the case study to find out how students’ needs were unmet. Participants will review materials and ideate additional synthesis documents that could provide further assistance in developing solutions to student user challenges.
  • 15 min: Ideate
    • Participants will ideate solutions via brainstorming on sticky notes or note pads.
  • 15 min: Prototype, Test and Measure
    • Participants will review case study results and envision additional opportunities to prototype and test ideas generated during the previous discussions, in addition to potential measurement challenges and opportunities.
  • 15 min: Q&A

Practical Application

Participants will walk away with a thorough understanding of the user-centered design process, the importance of creating user-centered solutions, and best practices in developing their own processes.

Materials Requirements

  • Presenter requirements: Presenter laptop and sticky notes
  • Participant requirements: none

How will workshop participants be able to apply the effective practices shared in the workshop at their home institution?

  • Participants can teach our user-centered design process and methodology to internal development committees to create a cohesive framework, standardize best practices to follow, and set agreed upon measures of success. Doing so can help them delegate tasks effectively throughout change/project management cycles and create a streamlined project history to refer to if roadblocks appear.
  • Who do you envision as the primary audience types? Who would get the most out of this session and why do you believe they will benefit?
    • Our primary envisioned audience includes academic deans/associate deans, curriculum developers, faculty, DE&I VPs/directors and staff. We believe the individuals would benefit most because their job roles and duties are directly tied to matriculation, retention, and graduation outcomes which are tied to the student experience. Students are the core customers/users of academia but aren’t referred to or thought of as such despite being a primary consumer of programs and services (LMS, Career Services, etc.). Creating user-centered in-demand products and services which are easily accessible, effective, engaging, and offer a return-on-investment creates satisfaction and increases the likelihood of continued and future engagement/use. Improved experience outcomes increase the likelihood of increased matriculation, retention, graduation, and sense of belonging outcomes, and willingness to refer potential future students.
  • What takeaways and/or activities will your workshop participants engage in that make your workshop unique, innovative, and relevant to the OLC Innovate 2023 themes and track you have selected?
    • Our workshop activity and recent case-study prompt are based on improving student support and success metrics. The design process and methodology are built around creating user-centered offerings (human/learner/student) to put learners in the customer seat of academia again. It guides universities on how to design sustainable products and services which are in-demand, more easily accessible, reliable, engaging, and applicable to the student needs which support student engagement milestones (matriculation, retention, graduation). Participants receive hands-on experience and live-feedback during the activity to gain experience and assess their understanding. We hope participants will teach it to key individuals at their institutions to aid their own student support and success initiatives.