Assessment Hub

Jun–Oct 2016




create a service that empowers Carnegie Mellon students to enhance their communication skills




1. interviewing stakeholders to understand their wants and needs in our service (used Voyant)

2. creating sketches to use for speed-dating and co-designing with our stakeholders to produce the optimal service

3. wire-framing a UI using Illustrator and Balsamiq



two English professors

two Human–Computer–Interaction Institute professors

one METALS grad student



During the Spring of 2016, a few professors from the English department wanted to create a service that would allow students to take agency in enhancing their communication skills. They gathered additional professors from the English department as well as the Human-Computer Interaction Institute to form a team to ideate such a service. I was invited to join the team as the sole undergraduate summer intern and worked on the project from June 2016 into October 2016.

Our objectives from June–October 2016 were to interview stakeholders to determine what type of service would be most beneficial and practical, and then design the early stages of such a service to present to the Carnegie Mellon administration for review and further implementation.

Understanding User Needs

As our first steps, a professor and I began to interview stakeholders around the university including professors who have done work that is related to our project, and employees at the Eberly Center, a resource center for educators at Carnegie Mellon. As soon as we got enough input, a co-worker and I developed a list of interview questions and conducted in person interviews with CMU students to see what students' attitudes towards communication are, their own assessment in their communication skills, their thoughts on the importance of communication for their careers, what might motivate them to improve these skills, and whether CMU is helping. 


We used Voyant, an app that aids the interviewing process, to interview students using survey-type questions. Along with the answers to the multiple choice questions we received, we found value in the in-person interviews because of the explanations participants gave for their answers. While Voyant recorded the answers and visualized them, we felt that we were missing the reason behind the students' answers, so we decided to code the interviews to get a deeper look into the participants’ motivations and attitudes.

By coding the interviews–categorizing certain quotes that are related to the data we are looking for, apart from the given data that was organized by Voyant–I found evidence that supports those trends.

These are some of the trends that we gathered (click to enlarge).



Coding interviews is a means for organizing qualitative data. We created a code for certain things we wanted to look for in the interviews. For example, we made a code that would indicate that students have intrinsic motivation to improve their communication skills and abbreviated that to MOT-INT (motivation–intrinsic). For every comment the participant makes that implies intrinsic motivation, I would write down the time and the comment, and label it as MOT-INT. Coding allowed better understanding of the interviewees.

We coded the interviews because apart from the controlled answers we received from the students, we needed to understand the trends from the students’ explanations to their answers. 

Key takeaways from the interviews:

1. students want a website/mobile app that they could use at any time, as opposed to scheduling in-person appointments for communication assistance

2. students are most incentivized to improve their communication skills for career purposes

3. students believe they have room for improvement in their writing skills

Based on the initial interview findings, two of the professors and I made sketches to speed-date features of an application that the service may have with our student stakeholders. 


For the speed-dating phase, I interviewed more CMU students showing them the features above and asked for their input into how useful these features would be. Most students commented that they highly valued having a career timeline incorporated into the website to guide them as to what level of communication should generally be expected by each year. The least value added feature was providing alumni video testimonials of what communication skills would be needed in the workplace.

As the end of the summer was nearing, we completed the speed-dating and began to create a user-flow map (below) and wireframe parts of the service. The user-flow map shows the different layers that the service may have and what kind of features the users may encounter.



Why I constructed the map this way:

The map flows from left to right, top to bottom, showing what a new user would encounter at different levels. 

I first thought of the components of the application (its different features), then thought of the order the user would encounter each feature. Since this website is connected to CMU, a login is required once on the home page. The team discussed having the students take a short survey that would help the program understand the students' strengths, weaknesses, and goals. This input would affect the recommended actions and resources. And as a new user, an on-boarding of the features is needed. Then, the user can begin to personalize their home page (dashboard) or move onto their desired task.


After creating the user-flow map, we began to draw simple sketches of the mobile UI.

The first sketch, using Illustrator:


After the first sketch, I decided to use Balsamiq because I wanted to learn the program and use it for further wire-framing.

A few more, using Balsamiq (click to enlarge):


With these wireframes and user-flow map, my co-worker and I presented the summer's work to the school’s registrar representative. This meeting was held (along with a few professors I was working with) to determine whether it would be plausible to combine the student interface that is originally used for class registration, finances, and housing with the communication service we designed. In terms of how the two services might live together, the image on the left is the original home page of CMU's Student Information Online and the right one is how we see our service being integrated (click to enlarge).


Project's Current Status

The professors involved are in the process of presenting to potential funders and alumni so that we can find a client internally at CMU and begin the next phase of building the web service.

What i learned

  • how to turn qualitative data into quantitative data through coding the interviews
  • the importance of talking to anyone who has work that is closely related to our project