BUILDING STUDENT-CENTERED SOFTWARE BY ACTUALLY TALKING TO STUDENTS
University of Minnesota (UNITED STATES)
About this paper:
Conference name: 15th annual International Conference of Education, Research and Innovation
Dates: 7-9 November, 2022
Location: Seville, Spain
Abstract:Student-centered software is a critical component of the modern higher education environment. Yet much of the software that we ask our students to use is clunky, impersonal, or mistargeted. The relationship between students and technology evolves far more rapidly than the rate of change within academic institutions, so today’s software often addresses yesterday’s student, or worse, a hypothetical student imagined by staff or third-party developers.
During the development of the CLA Career Readiness Initiative at the University of Minnesota, we created a playbook for building software that achieves our pedagogical goals while taking into account the needs of today’s students. This paper will explore that process and provide a roadmap for development activities at other institutions.
The CLA Career Readiness Initiative endeavors to help our students identify, refine, demonstrate and articulate the ways in which they’ve built the ten “core career competencies” which are at the heart of any liberal arts education. When the initiative began in 2015, we knew that a core need would be software to help students track their progress in building these competencies, and to allow them to practice articulating these competencies in the context of their future career experiences. This process, which we’ve called RATE (Reflect, Articulate, Translate, Evaluate), walks students through a metacognitive activity in which they reflect on an experience, articulate the connections between that experience and a core career competency, and then translate that use of the competency into a post-collegiate environment.
Given the level of engagement we were seeking from students, we knew that the software would need to be highly targeted. We suspected that students would be far less likely to engage authentically if the tool felt impersonal or generic. Therefore, we combined agile development methodologies with intensive testing, feedback, and iteration cycles. We’ve refined this process as we’ve developed other tools in our career readiness ecosystem.
The process we have developed involves students at each step. We began by developing RATE as a simple paper prototype, and then asked groups of students to walk through the process. We began to understand which types of language resonated with them and which topics were confusing. We then quickly built a “minimum viable product” (MVP) application and began usability testing to better understand the student thought process when completing the RATE in a digital format. We built this MVP prototype knowing that our final product would very likely be totally different. Indeed, we scrapped almost all of that code when building the next release. We then repeated our usability testing, while also engaging in “think aloud” sessions and in-class test runs. As the product moved into production, we began a deep and ongoing data analysis process to ensure students are getting the expected benefit from the process.
We believe that this approach to student-centered software development, in which students shape the process from day one and in which the software adapts with the student population, is a viable, replicable process and we are enthusiastic about the possibilities for the future.
Keywords: Software development, agile, career readiness, academic technology.