Project Goal & Problem Statement

INFO 5450 Computer Mediated Communication, Cornell University
Other Team Members: Nicole Calace, Vilas Vasudevan

The interconnected nature of the internet allows us to connect with and learn from people all over the world. Despite rapid advancements, current video conferencing technology is still not perfect for learning environments. The project goal was to identify problems with the existing technology and its usage, and to design solutions to enhance it.

Identify Users & Create Personas

The first step after problem definition was identifying who the target audience is. Since the focus was on videoconferencing technologies used in a school setting, the users were students, faculty and staff who use such technologies for attending classes, teaching classes or addressing a group of people virtually.

After identifying the users, a series of interviews and observation sessions were conducted. We decided to interview students and teaching faculty and staff who participated in a virtual class and asked them to answer a series of questions about their thoughts and experience with the class. We also observed this virtual class by attending a few lectures. We observed how the class was being conducted, the flow of the lecture, student's reactions to certain elements and the problems with the lecture.

Observations & Findings

Despite the fact that technology has come such a long way and is so developed and advanced, the most common issue that arose from out of videoconferencing educational settings was connection issues (i.e. poor video quality, call dropping, voice lag, and internet speed issues).

• About 20% of class time was spent diagnosing internet problems to sure everyone is connected,.
• Due to internet issues, students experienced disengagement from the lecture.
• In the absence of a physical instructor, most students found it frustrating to travel to the campus to attend the virtual class.
• Students wanted the flexibility to attend such classes from any location, at their leisure.

It was found that in the case of online courses, without the human-video component, it is hard to engage people since they are only looking at a screen full of continuous text.

• Absence of student-instructor interaction increases distraction.
• Lack of Q&A facilitation made students lose track of what they have been studying and at what point they get stuck due to doubts.
• If the same class has students distributed over different cities, students often feel disconnected with the other half of the class.
• Students want ability to interact, engage, and collaborate with their peers.
• Students desire a sense of community with their “virtual peers” for sharing opinions, ideas and collaborating on assignments.

In situations where audience size is huge, it becomes essential that the turn-taking process flows smoothly.

• Students prefer digital hand-raising tool.
• Students felt more comfortable asking questions in a chat or written form rather than verbally speaking in front of the class.
• This tool helps students with social anxiety issues by reducing the discomfort perceived by being called out in front of a large audience or attention being drawn to them.

Design Sketches

We brainstormed 50 design ideas in 50 minutes and I came up with the below 3 sketches, a combination of our brainstormed designs, incorporating the important affordances that our design needs.

Handling Connectivity Issues

Providing a dedicated function for flagging issues with audio and video could be much more successful. When there is an issue with audio and/or video, students could flag with buttons embedded in the application client. Students could use this same interface to note when the issues had been resolved. If one student reports a connectivity issue, all students will see this and the professor will see who reported it so that they can act as a point person for working with the other classroom to fix the issue. This will prevent mass confusion in the classroom over who should be communicating with the other room, and will hopefully make the process go more smoothly.

Built-In Turn-Taking

One of the most popular tools amongst students was a built in hand raising tool. With a press of a button, a digital queue that everyone could see can be created. The professor, or the student facilitating discussion, could then call on other students based on the digital queue created, as list of who raised their hands was showing on screen for every member of the class.

Since it helps organize who is getting called on by the point at which they raised their hand, everyone can have a sense of feeling that they have an equal opportunity to speak. This button can then activate the student’s mics when it was their turn to speak, based on the queue and handle the mic and webcam changes, saving class time and making conversations feel more normal.

Lecturer Presence

We figured that students pay attention better when they could see the face of the lecturer larger and more clearly. Students who were not co-located with the professor cited having an immense amount of difficulty focusing when they could not see the professor speaking.

An immediate solution is to make sure that the lecturer has their own webcam and their face is always present on the main screen and/or student’s laptop screens.

Initial Wireframes

I used the last two sketches and built wireframes based on those because they looked more aesthetically appealing without overcrowding the application screen.

Mockup 1
Mockup 2

Final Prototype

The below high fidelity prototype was created based on the above two wireframes.

The final design incorporates the 3 main issues faced by students, namely, instructor presence, flagging connectivity issues and digital hand-raising for turn-taking. The design also incorporates a feature to ask questions by typing it out rather than verbally, in addition to a screenshot button where the students can just click the button to take a screenshot of any important information that is displayed on the slides or or any information that the professor manually writes on them.