UniPortal

Overview

In recent years, there has been a continuous growing trend of Chinese international students studying abroad. However, when choosing the schools and applying for colleges, Chinese international students usually faces information inequality as they cannot access complete and unbiased first hand information.

Duration: 15 weeks

Project type: Individual

Concept

UniPortal is an app designed for Chinese international students to reduce information inequality. It provides first-hand information about schools and living abroad by connecting Chinese students studying abroad with prospective students back home.

Instructor: Graham Plumb

Tools: Adobe XD, Premiere

Editing: Yuan Gao; Voiceover: Sherrie Guan

Feature Overview

1. Prospective students can schedule appointments to clarify their doubts about aspects of school life through paid voice calls with current students. (The fee is about 15-40 dollars per hour) 

2. View and post in the community forums to collect a variety of opinions from current students and gain a quick real impression about the college experience to determine if the school is as advertised or best matches them.

3. Connect with new friends from the school before making the final decision and moving out of China

Process

Why did I choose this direction?

As a Chinese international student myself, I've experienced many challenges when coming alone to a place where the culture is completely different from the place I grew up. I've always wanted to do projects relating to this area. In my first semester of senior year, I was focused primarily on how to help Chinese international students to acclimate to the cultures abroad. In the second semester, I found the concept of culture was too broad to be defined as individuals would have their own definition. I would like to work on projects that are actionable and realistic to help Chinese international students. Through interviews, I found that Chinese international students have difficulties finding unbiased and complete information when applying to schools abroad; therefore, I narrowed down my senior project to information sharing app about college applications.

What are the struggles Chinese international students have when applying? 

From my 8 interviews with current and prospective Chinese international students, I found:

For Chinese students that plan on studying abroad, it can be difficult to find unbiased and complete information they can trust.  Students mostly rely on three kinds of sources when they search for information about college applications:

1.Official school websites provide lots of information, but tend to market themselves instead of offering a real impression of student life.

2. Existing online forums provide a more informal point of view. Information is scattered and it’s hard to get a complete picture and usually requires a lot of time. Sometimes they can not even find the specific answers they need.

3.Students can pay thousands of dollars to private college counselors from educational agencies; but sometimes, even these services provide biased information, especially when they have quotas to fill, and only get paid when students have been enrolled.

Opportunity Area

From my research, I found an opportunity area...

How might we help prospective Chinese students with the school application process when the information about school life and the application process is biased and incomplete?

Concept Ideation

Initially my problem statement is very broad and target 2 groups of people: who're still in high school and who're already abroad. For this problem statement,  I came up with three concepts: 1. online knowledge sharing platform 2.basic living skill guide app 3. Audio social app. Later on, I realized my topic is still too broad to tackle as a thesis project so I narrowed down my target group to prospective students who are still in China and updated my problem statement to the current one. Later on, I narrow down the concept to online knowledge sharing platform which bridges Chinese current student and Chinese prospective students as from my findings I also found  prospective students would trust and like know information from current students who have similar backgrounds with them more.  Some students also have language barriers to talk to native speakers to know the information fully.

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Concept testing with

low-fi prototypes

Is this service desirable? 

To test the concept, I developed a low-fi web prototype which consist mainly 2 features: 1. to allow prospective students to book voice call and remote campus tour with current student to know about student life; 2. The future students can start a prompt to invite current students to post. When adding a prompt, the current student can choose prompt format (10-second video, image and text) and make the prompt location based. 

I tested this prototype with 4 people. Through concept testing, I learned that:

1. There's a real need. Users already have the behavior of finding and asking current students questions but the process of finding the current students is inconvenient as they need to post on different social media to search for help and sometimes they could not find the same major or related major current students who are willing to talk with them.

Feedbacks: However, there're also some unsolved questions with this prototype:

How do I really know what data / info students are really interested in? Is it a mix of formal and informal information? (The prospective students may be more interested in the informal information) What data will make one school stand out from another?
How will they experience that information? How will the system encourage people to give useful information?

Further interviews & validations

What kind of information is desirable? 

How will the students experience the information?

How will the system encourage people to give useful information?

With these questions in mind, I did 4 more rounds of interview with prospective and current students and I learned that:

1. Apart from informations about schools, Students are interested in the informal information as well such as the environment they'll be in( grocery shopping, daily life will be like)  and the life style etc. Through testing with real content, I found people are more used to experiencing informal information through mobile applications than webs. The response time for using mobile applications is shorter than web applications as well.

2. Students would usually like to know the information about the school facilities, course curriculums, application preparation, academics, surrounding neighborhoods, dining, housing, job prospectives and internships through short text with images in forums or voices calls with current students.

3. Instead of giving very detailed prompts, viewing category tags as reminders is preferred for prompting to ask questions and give information.

Further iterations and high fidelity prototyep

Goal: Refine content + Refine flow + Adjust wanted/unwanted features + Refine visual

Here are the key changes I made between each iteration after user tests with targeted users.

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Style Tile

I'd like UniPortal to be accessible and friendly to use so I set the style to be modern and clean. 

Reflection

This is the last project that I can freely explore based on my interest at CCA as this will be my last semester. Through this project, I recollected the knowledge I learned through my courses at CCA as an interaction design student. Although the response to Covid-19 pandemic changed our thoughts about each country, I'm still thankful that I can work on a project that promotes the fluidity of information and the behavior of sharing.

© 2020 Yuan Gao