The Classroom

The Classroom

An online platform prototype for students

While I was having my student exchange at FH Joanneum in Graz in spring 2020, a big lockdown started due to the COVID-19 situation. The whole university switched to online teaching. In one of the courses, the professors wanted to give us a challenge to try and solve the problems we might face with online teaching.

These problems were approached through the Design Thinking process, which we would simultaneously learn more about, while we did this practice. There are 5 steps: empathise, define, ideate, prototype and test. We were divided into groups and got to try out what we would come up with.

Empathise and Define

At first, we empathised with ourselves to think through what we find problematic about online teaching. We started to think through how the first weeks of remote studies had been going so far.

We collected all of them in one sheet and organized them under certain topics. Then we voted for what we thought was the most important problem to solve. We decided on:

  • “How might we still be able to work with our co-students and learn something from each other?”
Illustration of three problems described in the text.

Ideate

The next step was to come up with ideas to help out with the issue. To get the ideas flowing, each member did their own crazy eights, a sheet of paper where the person draws eight fast doodles of different solutions. The point of this exercise is to get all the ideas out of the brain in an effective way.

After everyone presented their own doodles, we voted for the best solutions out of all the ideas and decided to combine 3 of the most popular ones into our prototype.

Prototype

We decided to build a new online platform for the university, where the students can attend courses and hang out even after work. We felt like the current platforms couldn’t provide that so nicely. We wanted to create a space, where the students can simultaneously have a video- or a voice chat, play games, draw on a shared artboard, listen to music and have breaktime together. The first sketch we drew together with the whole group.

The user can either have a private chat or create a group, where they can split the screen in up to 4 parts. The options are video chat, shared drawing board, typing chat and embedded online games. People can invite their friends or groups for a coffee meetings. There is also a shared playlist where everyone in the group can add songs and it will play at the same time for all the participants.

image of a draft of a prototype details mentioned in text.
Image of the prototype.

Test

After we discussed and developed the general idea, we thought about 7 different activities the user could engage with on the platform. Then each team member took one activity and created a flow of pictures for it.

My responsibility was to create a flow for making a coffee invite, a function where people can invite other users and groups on the platform to take a break together in a relaxed setting. During the coffee session, there is a different background in the platform as a visual indicator that it’s break time now.

We tested these seven scenarios with our friends and relatives to see how the site works in use. Our friends would tell us in words what buttons they would press and if they guessed correctly, they would get the next slide. This was a very effective way to get immediate feedback and to see how certain functions could be improved. 

Reflection

In the end we made changes to the flows we created based on the feedback we got. I learned a lot about how design thinking can be a good help with problem solving. It can also be a valuable tool for quick brainstorming in a group.

What I mostly valued about the exercise was the part where we tested the very raw version with real people and how incredibly useful it was. Before we actually created anything real, we could already solve big issues and make drastic changes to the design, because we were basically working with a doodle. That is something I want to keep in mind with my future projects as well.

Inspired by all the cool ideas my group had, I created a quick sketch of how the platform could look like, if the design would be taken further in the future.

Image of the prototype with improved visual features.