Academic Pathfinding

Supporting long term academic planning at the University of Washington

OVERVIEW

Long term academic planning can help students fulfill requirements, graduate on time, and reduce stress during course registration.  However, long term academic planning is currently not well supported by the University. We identify challenges facing students and address these problems by replacing an existing planning feature on MyPlan.  

MY ROLE

Ashley Boone

Research, Design, Evaluation

Kathy Bui

Research, Design, Evaluation

Timothy Sun

Research ​

Char Palacay

Feedback ​throughout process 

Jason Civjan

Mentorship throughout process​

 

RESEARCH

Interviews

We conducted informal, on-campus interviews aimed at hearing student stories about how they found their academic path

Surveys

45 participants responded to our 12 question survey, which we used to further validate the results from our interviews and discussions with campus advisors

Findings

1. Students do not know what courses will be offered in advance

2. Decentralized information is difficult to find

3. Sample plans are difficult to read, inconsistent, and uncustomizable

4. Planning is significantly harder for students before being accepted to a department

How can the University better support long term academic planning? 

Provide accessible and reliable information to help students decide which classes to take and when 

Organize data to make academic requirements more clear, improve consistency across departments, and allow students to customize their plans

Support students with no major to explore, compare options, and move toward graduation

 

Previous Solutions 

Students had previously been offered two resources to help with academic planning at the UW.   

My Plan Interface

Findings indicate that this digital tool does not offer enough guidance to help students with academic planning. 

Departmental Sample Plans

Students find the sample plans inconsistent, overly prescriptive, and uncustomizable, making  them difficult to use for most students

 

DESIGN

Low fidelity sketches

Used to quickly convey design ideas and explore possible directions for design work. 

Wireframes

We chose to move forward with the two vertical panel design.  The left panel shows the student's plan and the right shows the requirements for the chosen program.  Wireframes were used to explore the details of the design and to establish workflows. 

High Fidelity Prototype

The high fidelity prototype was used in usability tests to evaluate the design.  After making changes based on the results of the usability tests, we delivered the high fidelity prototype to developers to convey our solution. 

 

EVALUATE

Usability Testing

Using the high fidelity interactive prototype, we ran usability tests with 8 UW Students to evaluate the efficacy of the design.  We use the findings from these usability tests to improve the design and to further validate many of the choices we had made throughout the design process.

Design Changes

Surface salient course information

We discovered that participants in the usability test considered the course title as highly important course information that was not prominent in the prototype.  We changed the position of this information to make it more salient to students

Improve Readability

The acronyms used in the prototype were unclear to participants in our usability studies.  We clarified the acronyms by writing out the full text or by adding the color codes of the larger system to reference quarters. These changes improve the readability of the system

Clarify Iconography

Many of the icons we used were not correctly interpreted by participants, so we redesigned them to make the purpose more clear. 

Positive feedback

Positive feedback from participants in our usability test validated many of the design decisions we had made throughout the process. 

"This is better than anything that I've currently used to plan.  This combined the best part of MyPlan with the best part of DARS" (p1)

"I didn't have to go hunting for it in different areas and it was nice that it was all on the same page and didn't navigate me to a new window" (p4)

"Having the list that removes things from itself is a lot better than DARS because it still has a long list of things even if you have them done" (p7)

 

FINAL PRODUCT

Two Panel design allows students to see graduation requirements and course options as they create their academic plan.

The collapsible compartment provides important course details and allows students to add the course to their plan. This information is commonly used by students to make decisions about course selection. 

Students specify the desired quarter, year, and number of credits for variable credit courses. These inputs determine where the course will be added to their schedule.

Click "load more" to view other courses that fulfill the English Composition Requirement. 

Collapsible compartment displays courses that have been taken in the past by students in the major in order to fill this requirement. 

Reflection

The biggest challenge of this project was checking every assumption I brought in from my own experiences with academic planning. Like the participants in our studies, I am also a UW student who registers quarterly for classes and must plan in advance in order to graduate with my desired degree. Throughout this project, I challenged myself to question all assumptions and back up all decisions with data from others, rather than basing the design on my own experiences.

This "Question all Assumptions" mindset has made me a better designer by forcing me to justify decisions through data and to remain curious and open to diverse perspectives, goals, and needs. 

aboone06@uw.edu | (971) 732 9246

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