CourseMate: Facilitating Student Course Exploration @ CMU

Caitlyn Baench
Francis Park
Sarah Xi

Product Design
User Research
Visual Branding

4 Weeks

Although students enter Carnegie Mellon University with a variety of interests and passions, the nature of compartmentalized schools often prevents them from discovering other courses outside their major. My team designed an app that would aid students' ability to take advantage of school resources when exploring interdisciplinary courses.

Project Goals

1.   Identify gaps within the current student course selection system at CMU.

2.  Increase student accessibility to courses to allow for more interdisciplinary studies.

3.  Design a solution that personalizes the course-search experience for students.

Problem Space
As Carnegie Mellon categorizes its courses within departments/schools, our problem space surrounded student awareness and flexibility in exploring other fields or interests. Our team focused on researching pre-existing platforms that currently facilitate student courses and identifying pain points that restrict students from exploring new courses outside their major.

My team first launched into the brainstorming process by mess-mapping our thoughts and understandings of our problem space.

We wanted to first understand what factors might influence a student to pursue different studies or fields of interests to start with, as well as what intrinsic or extrinsic motivations might contribute to a student's decision-making process when shaping course schedules.

After getting a better understanding of our problem space, we looked into the current UI of the course search platform to assess the current system in place.

‍For student outreach, we began gauging student perspectives on the problem space by setting up interactive surveys at the entrance to our school. To accommodate for COVID-19 restrictions, we used push pins for students to safely mark their opinions for our surveys. We first started with open-ended questions that were relevant to the root of our topic space.

To learn more about the accessibility of courses in other schools, we interviewed academic advisors to discuss what obstacles might exist for students who are interested in trying different courses. Interviewing transfer students and conducting interactive surveys also provided insight on the needs, emotions, and satisfaction levels of students at CMU.

Based on our research, we determined that many students are interested in exploring outside their major but have yet to do so due to a lack of available options from the school. Many transfer students also mentioned that student-to-student communication played a key supporting role in trying other courses, and finally, even if students might find courses that suit their interests, it is difficult to match with a course that is tailored towards their working style.

Using these findings, we summarized three main pain points that were highlighted across our findings:

In response to these pain points, our design solution aimed to elevate student capacity and flexibility across courses. “CourseMate” is a redesigned course search platform that provides streamlined service for locating classes based on interests with three main functions:
1. Allows users to build student identity by creating a profile using data from personalized questions.
2. Provides a list of recommended classes that would best fit the user’s goals and individual passions.               

3. Creates a space for students to build connections based on class experience.

Visual Brand Expression

Early on, we started by sketching out some basic ideas of what our character assets could be. Our visual approach was lighthearted and playful in order to encourage students to expand their comfort zones and find value in the exploration process. 

Our visual approach was lighthearted and playful in order to encourage students to expand their comfort zones and find value in the exploration process. 

View our
pdf version.

For our logo design, we worked over Figma to create a logo/app icon to fully build out the CourseMate brand.

Logo Iterations

I sketched out a general user flow to guide the student through the platform. From onboarding to student-outreach, we wanted to ensure that our mobile app was intuitive and easy to navigate.

Wireframing + Prototyping

Using our visual brand guide and interface assets, we started to build out higher fidelity wireframes and began mapping out the navigation of our platform.

UI Development

To start preparing for user testing, we began prototyping the wireframes to assess navigation and content flow.

Quick Prototyping

To present an overview of our progress and findings, our team created a CourseMate graphic that captured the goals, research, and insights of CourseMate's development.

CourseMate User Steps

Reflection + Next Steps

Researching in a remote context helped me better understand how I can use certain methods to leverage new insights from target stakeholders. By applying our insights as a lens to view a design solution, we were able to make much more informed decisions on how to create the most approachable and intuitive structure.

Beyond the research aspect, working on this project was a great opportunity for creative exploration. Moving forward, our team plans to user test a fully playable prototype, adjust based on feedback, and discuss future plans for full development.