meet volta

Revolutionizing teaching labs with mobile VR

 

Introduction

Project Summary
Volta aims to increase student engagement in remote lab courses by giving students a first hand perspective of key lab techniques through mobile VR.

Project Type: Academic

Role: UX Researcher and UX/UI designer

Project Length: 10 weeks

Tools: Figma, Sketch, Invision, Principle

Design Process
During the creation of Volta, I followed the design thinking process to ensure that I ended up with final product that met the needs and wants of my desired user. The design thinking process is composed the six steps shown below.
1) Empathize
You begin your journey by conducting secondary and primary research in order to build a solid understanding of your user.
2) Define
Here you synthesize your research findings in order to identify the central problem your users are struggling with.
3) Ideation
Your goal at this stage is to generate as many ideas as possible that can be used to fix your user's problem.
4) Prototype
Now you'll build real representations of what your design intervention will look like from your user's perspective.
5) Test
Time to take your design out for a test spin! Put your prototype in real user's hands in order to get their feedback.
6) Implement
You've reached the final step! Now it's time to take your design from a vision into a real product for your users.
 

Empathize

Problem Space
COVID-19 forced university campuses across the globe to close their doors. This resulted in many students and teaching staff members being forced to enter the world of online learning. Students enrolled in science lab courses, alongside the instructors teaching those courses, were among those who were significantly impacted by the transition to remote instruction.
Secondary Research
Many instructors found themselves facing a unique challenge: How do you teach students the lab skills that are vital to their education if they are unable to enter the lab? In order to meet this challenge, some teaching staff members have begun hosting live streams and sending videos of themselves conducting experiments to their students in order to demonstrate important lab techniques. 
 
In these new learning environments, students have reported feeling disconnected from their studies, worried that they’re not learning the skills they need moving forward. Instructors have noticed a lack of student engagement and participation in their lab courses.
These findings lead me to my design question

How might we help laboratory instructors with the remote learning experience in order to improve student engagement?

Primary Research
In order to build a deeper understanding of the problem space,  I conducted six different one on one interviews over zoom with university students and teaching staff members. These interviewees were separated into two distinct participant groups shown below
This was done in order to not only learn from the experiences of those who have experienced a remote lab course, but also to get insight into instructors concerns as they prepare for teaching a remote lab course.
Group A
Current university students and teaching staff members who have experienced taking or teaching a remote lab course.
Group B
Senior university education staff members who have not yet been required to teach a remote lab course.
Key Insights
Students feel disengaged due to a lack of interaction with teaching staff and an inability to deepen their understanding by running experiments. Instructors believe that students are not prepared for higher level lab courses, and fear that they will have severe deficits in their lab technique.
Both instructors and students viewed AR/VR as a promising way to try to bridge the gap in technical skill development between in person and online lab course offerings.
Group A
Interview insights from students and educators who have remote lab course experience
Instructor Intereaction
Both students and instructors stated that increasing the amount of instructor interactions with remote lab students lead to improved student engagement.
Limited Learning
In remote labs, students tend to not understand or retain information as effectively as they would in an
in-person lab course.
Learning by Doing
Remote lab students are missing out on key learning opportunities by not having the ability to run lab experiments. Without these experiments, many students feel disconnected from the course content.
Group B
Insights from interviewing senior educators who have not yet taught a remote lab course 
Technical Skills
Students will most likely face a deficit in technical lab skills when they return to in person lab courses due to educators currently not having an effective way to teach lab techniques remotely.
Limited Engagement
Instructors believe students will find it challenging to connect what they're learning to what they would be doing while running an experiment, leading to disengagement from course content.
Improved Equity and Inclusion
Remote lab courses open the door to students to take lab courses at universities that they may not have had the ability to attend prior to COVID-19 lab shutdowns.
 

Define

Persona Development
After synthesizing insights from the interview data, a persona was generated by incorporating the goals, behaviours, and frustrations revealed by interviewing students who have previously taken a remote lab course.
Talia Hurbert
Archetype: The Stressed Student

About

I'm a busy student who's currently taking a remote chemistry lab course because I need to gain lab skills to meet the requirements for my undergraduate degree.

Wants

I want to be able to practically apply what I'm learning in my chemistry lab course.
I would like to gain the technical skills I need to succeed in future lab courses.
More interactions with teaching staff members would help me deepen my understanding of course content 

Frustrations

My course feels unorganized, I am often left frustrated and confused after lectures.
I feel like I'm wasting my time taking this course since I'm not learning the technical skills I need.
The lack of interaction between myself and teaching staff members has made me feel disconnected from course content.
Experience Mapping
I generated an experience map in order to recognize pain points and identify opportunities for design intervention as Talia goes through each stage in completing a lab report for her remote lab course.
Experience Map
Talia completing a lab report for her online chemistry lab course.
Goal
"I want to be able to gain the skills I need to be successful in my future lab courses."
Pain Point
"What's the point of being in a chemistry lab course if I can't run any the experiments myself?"

Touch Points

Signs in to watch lab live stream
Watches instructor complete experiment
Analyzes experimental data after live stream
Writes lab report
Emails report to
lab instructor

Channels

Doing

Gets workstation ready to take notes during the live stream
Taking notes on the instructor's lab techniques
Reviewing notes and lab material to try to understand the data.
Contacts classmates and lab teaching staff
with questions.
Cleans up workstation and begins to prepare for the next lab

Thinking

I hope I'm able
to do well in
lab today. I really want to do well in this course.
I wish I was in the
lab doing this experiment myself. This is so confusing.
What does this data mean? How does it connect with the experiment
I watched?
I have no idea what's going on - I just need to finish this report and I'll figure things
out later.
I'm so happy that's over - time to get ready for the next lab lecture tomorrow.

Feeling

Excited
Confused
Upset
Frustrated
Relieved

Opportunity 

Provide a way for Talia to feel more connected with the experimental procedure her professor is following.
Create a digital solution that allows Talia to get a first-hand perspective on what the experimental results correlate to inside of the lab environment.
 

Ideation

Design Intervention
After overlooking the insights yielded from interviews, persona generation, and experience map creation I decided on how I would place my design intervention in the problem space. My design intervention is to build an app that allows students to learn vital lab techniques first hand by using mobile VR.
Task Selection
I created a series of 28 user stories to help plot out what tasks my app would have to provide to users. These stories were then segregated into four distinct epics. The final task I selected to be explored further in the prototyping stage followed a user using an app to locate a titration module for their chemistry lab course.
 

Taskflow

User story: Student searches for tutorial module for their remote chemistry course
Home Page
User Taps
"Chemistry"
Chemistry 
Module Page
User Taps
Search bar
User inputs
"Titration"
Valid
input?
N
User taps
"Titration"
Titration
Module Page
Y
User taps
"Titration"
Location
User
Action
Y
N
Yes
System
Decision
No
Legend

Prototype

Gray-scale Wireframes
After choosing the core task flow, I began sketching possible design solutions. I then translated these sketches into gray scale wireframes and compiled them into a prototype for user testing.
greyscale wireframes.png

The video below walks through my gray scale prototype.

Test

User Testing
This greyscale prototype underwent two rounds of user testing. After each round of testing, I reiterated the prototype to improve the app’s overall information architecture. Most of the changes made were focused on improving the overall user experience of navigating the chemistry module.
Key Design Changes
This greyscale prototype underwent two rounds of user testing. After each round of testing, I reiterated the prototype to improve the app’s overall information architecture. Most of the changes made were focused on improving the overall user experience of navigating the chemistry module. A list of key design changes, as well as the high fidelity version of the prototype yielded through this process are included below.
 
The video below shows a walkthrough of the current high fidelity iteration of Volta.
 

Implement

Branding Development
When it came to creating the brand image for Volta, I was inspired by the impact educational pursuits have on students. Education can open doors to new worlds, help one build connections, inspire both personal and professional growth, and show students that the sky is the limit for they can accomplish.
 
I was primarily inspired by the “light-bulb moment" students experience when they finally understand a complex concept for the first time. I translated these pieces of inspiration into images, and from those images came the brand colours for Volta.
Ad Campaign Creation
As a way to promote awareness of Volta in the digital marketplace, a responsive digital marketing landing page was created. 

Explore the mobile version of the digital marking landing page using this prototype.

Impact
I used the tarot cards of tech to help brainstorm what non-ideal scenarios Volta may incur upon launch. I selected the backstabber card to explore what situations would cause Volta users to lose trust in the product
Many students have privacy concerns with the new educational software utilized during COVID-19. If news emerged that Volta was extracting student and educator information from their phones, it would result in a monumental loss in trust in the brand.
 
To prevent this situation from occurring, Volta would need to make securing the privacy of their user’s data one of their top most priorities and have an extremely transparent privacy agreement with users.
Next Steps
After COVID-19 I plan on pivoting Volta into becoming a pre-labortory learning tool, aimed at helping students familiarize themselves with new lab techniques before entering the lab.
I also plan on learning how to fully prototype out the VR experience in the app.
Lastly, I would like to conduct further rounds of user testing to ensure that Volta is extremely easy to use and fully attuned to both student and instructor needs.
Reflections
Throughout this project, one of the largest lessons I learned is that experimentation is key for one to succeed in UX design. During the design process, I hit a major wall when I first attempted to transition from medium to high fidelity wireframes. There were so many different directions I could go in - I was completely paralyzed by the amount of choices.
In order to push myself past this roadblock, I pulled from my chemistry background and decided to run some experiments. I made a list of all the possible types of UI aesthetics I could use for Volta. I then created a version of the home screen in that aesthetic. From this process I was able to not only further develop my UI skills, but I also managed to create my own aesthetic for Volta.
I'm proud of the quality of work I was able to complete in such a short amount of time with Volta, and thankful for lessons I've learned from both the educational staff and my cohort classmates at BrainStation. Thanks to this experience, I now feel prepared to take on a UX designer role of my own.

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