Student Course Planning
experience & product design
A new way to discover and plan courses.
The Problem— A school’s course planning system is a key tool in ensuring the quality of a student's education; however, the current system at CMU is outdated.
My Task— How can I redesign the course planning system to engage students based around their needs and objectives?
How do students use the current system?
I started by conducting in-depth walk throughs of CMU’s course schedule planning process with three students in different majors to understand the various ways students interact with the current system and what kinds of problems they encountered.
Key Problems Based On What Students Said
1. Students are not informed about their own studies
"I have to look up what courses I need to take because I never know what the names of them actually are."
—Sam, Sophomore, Chemical Engineer Major
2. Students don’t check unit requirements when they are planning
“I don’t look at units too often, but now that I’m a senior I do… but I have to go to Academic Audit.”
—Michelle, Senior, Business Administration Major with Finance Concentration
3. Course browsing feels tedious and endless
“So many of these courses in this category don’t work for my concentration so I feel like I’m just perusing forever.”
—Langston, Junior, Architecture Major
The most important resources during the course planning process are either hidden or not present within the system, which prevents students from making informed decisions about their education. The core problems students face within the system are due to poor content integration and disorganized information architecture.
So, what do student need during course planning?
Defining redesign principles around student needs.
Keep students focused during course planning by simplifying and clarifying process
Enhance Course Selection
Engage students and increase course planning investment by improving course discovery
Help students make informed decisions by surfacing hidden/external content and organizing existing content
Remapping the course planning experience.
I walked through the current SIO portal one more time to inform how I could remap the user experience to be more fluid and progressive.
Current User Experience
I found the current planning process to be segmented and repetitive. Lack of integrated content (eg. required courses and unit requirements) and poor structural organization (eg. modal dialog for course catalog) breaks the process, forcing students to repeatedly leave and revisit the system.
New User Experience
I decided to restructure the new process to be fluid and progressive, creating a streamlined experience that students can complete in one visit if desired.
By creating a progressive user flow, students can dedicate their full attention to each task at hand (browsing, planning, registering) instead of trying to multitask and getting distracted by unnecessary exit points.
Building a new system, page by page.
I started by analyzing the existing pages to identify definite structural changes. I then defined the necessary content for each page and iterated by moving around the most important pieces of content to find the most sensical flow that students can easily track.
New Course Discovery Process
Course Catalogue Structure Analysis
Modal dialog segments the experience and doesn’t utilize space to full capacity
→ Separate page for course catalogue
Horizontal list content makes it difficult to scan course information
→ Group course content in card format
Restructured Plan and Registration Pages
Schedule Plan Structure Analysis
Columns show redundant information
→ Use space to surface hidden or external content
No way to distinguish/organize first choice and alternative courses
→ Account for backup courses
Calendar view is over emphasized
→ Condense calendar to make room for more relevant information
Color coding is more confusing than helpful when there are many courses
→ Only assign color to first choice courses
Registration Structure Analysis
No visual of final schedule
→ Integrate calendar view
Each course needs to be registered manually, but the titles are often condensed to unrecognizable extreme
→ Establish one-step registration
Final Site Map
How does the new system work?
See how Julie, a third year studying HCI and psychology, plans for the upcoming semester.
Julie starts her course plan by inputing topics she wants to learn more about in the upcoming semester. This allows the system to better recommend courses relevant to her as her interests shift throughout her time in school.
She then starts browsing a selection of recommended courses just for her, saving the ones she finds interesting. This step encourages students to engage fully in finding the right courses for them, before they get distracted by scheduling.
Once she's ready, Julie moves onto creating her semester schedule by adding her top choices to her plan. She can stay organized by adding alternatives for courses with schedule conflicts or similar subject matter.
While organizing her plan, Julie can easily check her graduation requirements to make sure she is taking the right number of units and make sure she's meeting her requirements.
When registration is open, Julie will be prompted to register her schedule. If any of her preferred courses are full she can easily replace with an alternative or add from her saved courses list.
Once her schedule is finalized, she can export her semester calendar and she's ready for the new semester!
In the end, a course planning system that...
Changes the experience from finding to discovering courses.
Accounts for both short term and long term schedule planning.
Streamlines the process so students can simply and efficiently plan their education.
One of the biggest challenges throughout this experience was project scoping. Because it was a personal project, I had to set boundaries to prevent myself from tackling too many problems. I was able to scope better once I defined the new user experience and narrowed down the four pages I would create, with a couple edge cases to show.
For the future, I would like to explore how peers and instructors can play a role in helping inform student decisions during course selection. I would also be interested to test my designs with students from different schools to uncover more universal student needs.