How might we provide a better support for students with SIO before they arrive at CMU?
Getting an acceptance letter from CMU is thrilling and rewarding. However, students’ excitement often becomes overshadowed by anxiety from all the tasks they must complete before the school year begins: filling out pre-enrollment paperwork, registering for classes, and deciding on life logistics, such as relocation.
Student is exciting after being accepted to CMU
However, the hype is washed away by overwhelming tasks before arriving on campus
Currently, Student Information Online, or SIO, a digital hub for students to pay tuition, register for classes, update personal information, and check grades, only provides support during student's time at CMU.
Current transitional experience after receiving the acceptance letter (from March to August) is full of roadblocks and lacks support.
Our client’s high-level goal was to redesign the SIO system to better support students throughout their journey at CMU from start to end.
My role is to use research to get to the bottom of the problem, identifying design opportunities, building solution from ideation, and coordinating with our client.
The new on-boarding experience through a designated section on SIO
Fill in the gap: smoothen students' experience at from the very beginning
Centralization of information that is well-tailored
Transparent progress and in-time feedback
FAQ forum that provides support from the school and other students
How is SIO supporting students currently?
Firstly, we explored the CMU campus support ecosystem (both academic and extracurricular) by conducting secondary research, then interviewed 11 students from multiple schools and colleges, including grads/undergrads, and PhD, which also covered domestic students and international students. Faculty members such as academic advisors and career consultant were also covered.
Affinity diagram for problems and findings
The current SIO home page, with four major features in the middle
The usage of SIO occurs in phases - prior to coming to campus, or at the beginning and end of semester.
These are the two touch points that have biggest potential to make big impact.
SIO's interface is confusing, which makes student hesitant to explore other resources via SIO.
Revamping the SIO interface to make it more informative and engaging.
Although SIO provides a wide range of features, students mainly use it for academic purpose.
To conduct more research to see if SIO might serve students' other needs.
How might we provide a better support for students with SIO before they arrive at CMU?
In order to scope down, we held several meetings with our client and used prioritization chart to analyze our ideas and their impact vs. effort.
Ideas included developing mobile version, crisis response on SIO, improving information architecture on the homepage, walk-through on-boarding session, faculty relationship management, etc.
The prioritization chart for ideas
I advocated for this following theme due to its high value with lower effort, alignment with client's interest, and tight mapping with the insights from initial research:
Create a new on-boarding experience to make the transition to life at CMU smoother.
I believed this theme as worth pursuing because it focuses on one of the recurring phase of the student journey, is related to SIO's interface, has close relationship to academic needs, and has potential to tap into other needs from students.
Me, Melissa, and Zixuan formed a small group to focus on this theme, the other three members set off on exploring class registration.
What's wrong with the current transition process?
We first sent out a survey regarding on-boarding experience and current SIO usage to a broader range of students. We received 99 completed responses.
Over half of people needed more instructions on what to do from acceptance to physically being in Pittsburgh.
Insufficient information and not receiving notification/feedback mainly contributed to problems.
(Less than 15% of them felt having enough information)
SIO did not help.
70% people would search in emails for deadlines; 49% check CMU website constantly. Main source of info are Administration (84%) and Department or Program Advisor (63%)
Part of the survey data
The need for a new on-boarding is validated, and there is a strong need for more relevant information in various forms during transition phase.
In addition to that, our group went through previous emails sent to students to recount the information and tasks received during pre-enrollment process, and also reflected on the process for both domestic and international students.
The event-based journey map. Rather than demonstrating student's mood, it focuses on categorizing the tasks she/she needs to do from March to August into four main pain points.
Decentralization of information
Requirements for paperwork, notification of events, and useful resources information, etc. are coming from multiple directions. Students need to take a long time to clarify the timeline and list out tasks.
Limited to no transparency in the process
It's hard to know whether a document is received or not. Since this affects the official enrollment, no feedback adds on a lot of anxiety.
Anxiety due to isolation
Students who have never been to Pittsburgh, or even the U.S. felt disconnected. This feeling contributed to their increase of anxiety during transition phase.
Design decision 1
Have a hub for on-boarding that tracks tasks, presents useful resources, and connects students.
All of the three low-fi prototypes explored designs of process tracking, presentation of resources, information organization, and time-related features.
The highlight of this design is the bar tracker that visualizes the time associated with each task.
However, the client passed this design due to implementation issues.
This design has good features that solves the problems, but having the calendar, upcoming deadlines and status tracking all together was overwhelming and generated confusions during walkthrough.
This design got the most vote from the team and love from the client, but lacked details.
Finally we picked the third design to move forward with, combining strengths from other two designs.
Design decision 2
Present the right information students need the most.
The second design decision was to ensure the information students need are included in our solution. To achieve that, we need to understand student's mental models regarding the displayed content and those needed to be added. Thus, my group conducted 4 content sorting workshop with CMU grad students.
Students want to know their immediately actionable items.
Students want to be able to track their task history, and feedback of tasks and congratulation marks after completion are desired.
Students need touchpoint that connects school and life, for example, housing and school map.
Finance was a common pain point that were missed previously.
Based on these findings, we made following changes:
Our client's positive feedback affirmed our grouping and prioritization of information. However, the FAQ section generated concerns because of its unconventional placement and interaction, which we planned to explore more through later usability testings.
To see how new students will respond to this design, we reached out to non-CMU students, who are not familiar with the CMU on-boarding process but have similar needs as students at the same area. We used 5s test and desirability testing methods.
Upcoming Deadlines and Status Tracking are redundant features.
Some semantics did not match user expectations and created confusion.
Side FAQ is unconventional but it is favored by the students because it does not compete for attention. However the grouping of information inside of it lacks clarity.
The interactions between students and the tasks under Status Tracking are not matching the reality.
There's a strong need of exporting the task deadlines into personal calendars.
To further refine the design, I added micro-interaction to the "Status Tracking" panel (which renamed as To-do List in the final version), with which students can check the task once it's done.
SIO will start to update the status once a task is checked. There are generally three status: incomplete, in transition, received. Some events such as attending advising webinar will update automatically after a student registers.
We received highly positive feedback from final presentation to our client and staff at CMU who is working on SIO or related products/service. Our client is planning on the implementation of our new design.
We also got recognition of the HCII department due to high performance that the client continues cooperation with HCII department.
Group photo with clients and advisor, Skip Shelly
This is the first time many of us worked with a client on a real-life project. Although there is still room for improvement, overall, we are proud with the work we produced and the process we took to accomplish it.
We applied many different research and design methods and adapted them to serve our needs and the current stage of the project. We worked effectively together as a team during the research, design, and presentation.
We were especially glad when the head architect said he just wish he could “copy and paste all the design into SIO.” We had never imagined such recognition and we truly thank everyone who had supported us.