For IUPUI’s Interaction Design Practice course, I was tasked with creating a new way of fostering communication in an area that has yet to be explored. I chose to focus on communication between students.
In order to get notes from students, you have to either talk to them in person or send an e-mail. How do you know if you’re getting the best notes in the class in the first place? Additionally, collaboration between students has been shown by research to facilitate growth in learning. Right now, the social aspects of learning have been somewhat ignored in the eBook industry, but there is huge potential to create somethinge effective in this realm.
Transforming the experience of a textbook in eBook format, Uni.Verse aims to make studying considerably easier for students in popular classes. Notes can be added directly to the page of the textbook and shared with everyone at your university, while an upvote/downvote system is used to make sure the best notes are always at the top of a list. Uni.Verse allows instructors and students to interact through the eBook in order to get help with specific problems or passages.
What I Learned
We were required to work alone on this project, which I initially believed to be an amazing opportunity. I quickly learned the negatives of designing an entire app without a team. For starters, a team allows for a fruitful ideation stage where a combination of ideas can be combined into an even stronger idea. By only relying on my concepts and running them past potential users, I believe that this concept is not as strong as it could be. However, without a team, I was able to utilize tools such as JustinMind that would have been impossible for collaboration in this distance learning course.
How can I make this better?
The increased transition towards eBooks opens up a whole new world with possibilities in social computing. An iPad can hold thousands of books, but there is a very small social aspect with these books. While an eBook user can visit forums or in-person book clubs, there is very little he or she can do within the actual eBook. eBooks should have a more social aspect to them, with the ability to analyze and interpret literature with thousands of other people across the world. Imagine being able to discuss a difficult passage from The Lord of the Rings by highlighting a certain sentence and posting your thoughts on it. Other readers could see your interpretation by merely tapping on the passage and even offer their own thoughts. Chapters could have in-app message boards dedicated to them. Additionally, popular textbooks available in eBook format could have thousands of students collaborating on study guides and notes within the app.
Identifying Major Issues
In order to test the concept, I set out to make a simple paper prototype and test it on potential users, including a college student, a high school student, a middle school teacher, and a college graduate. It was with this project that I learned it is extremely hard to get accurate feedback with paper prototyping. If I could do this project again, I would do my initial user tests with a low-fidelity prototype in Balsamiq or similar software in order to get more accurate responses from my testers. I think the reasoning behind the issues with the paper prototype were due to my poor introductions to the problem space with my users and the incredible complexity of the app. Considering this was the first time I had ever made a paper prototype, I think that issues were expected. However, I learned from my failures and I knew what to do in the following tests with paper prototypes. I did not even think of the idea of creating different screen states with colored film and additional pieces, which is something I learned about in a future project.
Regardless, I was able to get valuable insights from the people I tested.
1. The voting function was not clear. I based my upvote/downvote system on what Reddit, Disqus commenting sections, and many forums use. The user did not know how the votes work, so I had to explain that the upwards arrow adds a point to the score and the downwards arrow subtracts a point. So if 100 people voted positively and four voted negatively, then the score would be 96. I realized that this system might not be familiar to everyone.
2. ALL NOTES should have a search function. If there are hundreds of notes on the app and the user wants to find her friend, she’d have to look through a huge list. Additionally, having certain sorting functions would help. This is a logical addition I overlooked.
3. Introduce a reward for good notes. The user suggested that maybe changing the color of the user’s name when chatting or putting a star next to their name would make other users want to contribute positively.
Gamification of notes, chat messages, and annotations would make users want to do well. I think that a system like this might be easier to display in a more detailed prototype.
4. There are a ton of features, but no explanation. This is a limitation of a paper prototype, but I figured that when the user opens the app for the first time, he or she will go through a walk-through on how to use the app (with the option of skipping). Once again, this should be easier to display in a more refined prototype.
5. Too few settings, especially for people with disabilities. Another limitation, but the user suggested that fonts should be able to be changed in terms of face and size, highlight and page colors customized, and a night mode should be introduced. Quiet mode required some explanation (it turns off all in-app notifications and cuts out anything that might be a distraction to studying).
6. It wasn’t clear how Hal J. wrote on the diagram on his notes. This was an oversight of mine. I knew I wanted a pen feature to write on pictures and diagrams, but I forgot to show how to access it. I am deciding between putting another icon on the top or making it a hold down to access feature.
7. It wasn’t clear how to add an annotation. I intended to make it where the user tapped the passage and the notes popped up on the side. This could be addressed in a tutorial.
8. It wasn’t clear if a passage had annotations. Instead of cluttering up the pages with everything being highlighted to indicate annotations, I left everything normal. I did inform the user that the option to highlight annotated passages was in the settings.
9. The user didn’t understand the difference between the normal textbook with annotations and the saved notes. Probably something I’d have to explain in a tutorial. I intended the normal textbook to be a student collaboration, while personal notes you create for yourself can be saved and shared.
A Resounding Success
I was tasked with creating a high-fidelity prototype for user testing. Realizing that interactions and animation were crucial to the user experience, I decided to use Justinmind Prototyper, as it allowed for extremely high-fidelity prototypes that can even be coded into actually functioning. The features I needed to work as closely to the real concept as possible were the upvote/downvote systems, sending messages to a professor, and accessing other students’ notes. This was all made possible through some coding and the features of the tool I used. Some features I could not simulate properly were allowing the user to write on the notes on their tablet and seeing comments for every passage. Due to time limitations, I had to limit what the user could do, but making sure that he or she was aware of this function.
Once again, I tested this prototype on the same users who tested my paper prototype. I noticed how warmly they reacted to this high-fidelity prototype. They were more willing to give feedback and discuss painpoints, as it appeared to be more clear on the functioning of Uni.Verse. The high school student and middle school teacher both gave me an incredible insight on the entire functionality of my app—middle school and high school students would be likely to abuse the social media aspects in class as a way to circumvent restrictions on cell phones found in most schools. The teacher told me that her students do use technology in the classroom, but most of the programs that are used do not contain social features and by default, all social media is blocked on the internet. The high school student also told me that students would probably abuse the note-sharing portion with obscene words and pictures, so having a moderator or filtering system would help. He did not think that the upvote/downvote system would effectively curiate those poor notes and people might even upvote funny, but unhelpful notes.
The college student shared the same concerns with low-quality notes that were humorous, but she said that if the professor was able to see this, students might be less likely to publish such work. She also noted that writing notes requires a stylus for an iPad, so it would be something a student might have to purchase. Additionally, she did not believe that students should be required to have this app to be in the class, as it would be a financial burden to buy a tablet to some people.
All users praised the creativity of making eBooks social. Some indicated that this could be expanded to novels, where fans could collaboratively annotate their favorite books. I had conceptualized this idea from the beginning, so it was interesting to see my users formulate similar concepts. The textbook application seemed the most logical to the users, however. Some stated that this could push publishers to put out more eBook formats for textbooks, which should be cheaper to purchase. This could mitigate the cost of a tablet. History did not seem like the best subject for an exemplar, as indicated by users, but accounting, math, chemistry, and physics were all mentioned as ideal subjects for a Uni.Verse eBook. The college student suggested that Uni.Verse takes the stigma and anxiety out of requesting notes from classmates and it can be extremely helpful to have an entire collection of notes produced by different students. She said the different perspectives can help you find a student whose methods of learning are similar to yours.
In the end, I was able to see the limitations of this design, but I also saw aspects where it truly shined. I think some of these pitfalls could have been caught by teammates if I were to have any for this project, but I was surprised I was able to do this quite thoroughly.
Selling the Idea
Copywriting for the Final Presentation
For the final portion of the project, we were instructed to pitch our idea through snappy dialogue to sell it to potential investors.
In development, it was discovered that users wanted a social textbook designed for the university level. For this reason, Uni.Verse was born. While the app is in its early stages, many features that users wanted were unavailable. For example, users want to see top-rated notes from the library page. A Bookstore also needs to be integrated so students can purchase their textbooks through the app. Additionally, students could purchase codes to unlock access through their campus bookstores to ensure that only students at a particular campus have access to a book. The simplicity of the app did cause a few issues in the review stage of the process, so in this case, a bit more text is reasonable. I hope to solve these issues in a future update.
Connect with your classmates through collaborative annotating. Browse through a curated list of textbook notes to help you get an A on your next test. Need help? Chat with classmates directly in the app instead of dealing with finding their e-mail address or phone number.
Never forget where you put your notes. With the Cloud, you will always have access to your notes and textbooks, no matter where life may take you. With an internet connection, you have unlimited access to all resources.
A clean, simple interface minimizes unnecessary distractions and helps you keep organized. Classmates bugging you? Turn on Study Mode to cut out the interactions and to keep you focused. Uni.Verse is fully adapted to visual and hearing disabilities, allowing anyone to use it with ease.