Assignment 4: Artifact Redesign (Social Communication or Organization)
Due Date: Thursday, March 30, 2006
Here is a list of ideas we came up with to enable new forms of communication or organization within Student Central. Each idea is followed by whether or not we decided to pursue it, defer it for a later assignment, or reject it, and the reason why.
Each idea is followed by a color-coded disposition. Red is Rejected, Blue is Deferred, and Green is Accepted.
Our Selected Idea
Our idea is to implement a social networking tool within Student Central with the goal of greatly enhancing collaboration and networking among students. While the idea is similar to other social networking tools such as facebook, myspace, etc. we've built in a number of enhancements to our design. In designing our artifact, we looked at the needs of our personas Chatham and Paula, and wanted to provide them with a number of functions that would improve and enrich their student experiences. Our main design points are:
Here's how it works. Each student has a private and public profile by default. The information in these two views are populated by the student during initial enrollment after receiving some training on how it works. To make sure the tool remains useful and for consistency, the students' UNC ONEcard picture is displayed by default, or the student can opt to not display a photo. Students' profiles also contain basic directory information such as class, major, and contact information. Students can populate their profiles with email, IM handle and cell phone numbers if they choose, and can display this information on their private profile, their public profile, or both. In addition to basic demographic info, the profiles also contain many customizable fields such as hobbies, interests, clubs, sports, current projects, languages spoken, career interests, etc.
Students can update their profiles and privacy settings at anytime. Students can also create rings or private networks of friends, and update these networks at anytime. Students control their buddy networks.
When students are enrolled in a class or other official school activity, team, club, or organization, the students' public profiles are automatically updated and included in the new networks for those classes or activities. Enrollment in these school networks is automatic--students can only control what information gets displayed. So each semester, students profiles are added to the networks for each of their classes and at the end of each semester, their profiles are removed.
This allows students to see and manage the various social networks to which they belong at any time. This could be useful for making and meeting friends, contacts for clubs, interests and activities, getting to know their peers and classmates, and getting assistance from other students for various things.
The tools is also extensively searchable such that students can search for other students who share their interests, hometown, hobbies, sports, speak a certain language, etc.
Scenario: End of semester drawing near...
The end of the semester is near. Assignments and papers are due, finals are coming up. Chatham has been barely scraping along. He is now behind and needs serious help with Spanish and Psychology. He needs to prepare an oral presentation in Spanish and also needs help with a Psych paper on operant conditioning.
He logs on to SC, and pulls up his school network screen. He searches the profiles of students he is in class with for those who have set their "Willing to help other students." After looking at various combinations, he sees that there is one student who is in both of his Psych and Spanish classes. From what he remembers, she seemed pretty smart too. He pulls up her profile to see if he can IM or call her but he sees that her profile does not have any contact info other than a dorm phone number. He calls and leaves a message introducing himself and stating his dilemma.
Paula has been doing well all semester and is looking forward to summer and thinking about summer school. But her mother has fallen ill lately and Paula would like to go home to visit her. But she has no car and the bus takes forever getting to Maysville, stopping at every little town along the way. And she has work to do. She gets Chatham's message but she is not sure who this person is--she doesn't recall him from her classes so she doesn't call back right away. She logs on to SC and pulls up her class network and verifies that Chatham is indeed a student in her classes. Odd that she has never seen or noticed him in class before. She sees that he is a senior, a Psych major, lives off campus and plays intramural beach volleyball. She loves volleyball. She emails him to meet her in class. He comes to class, they talk. She would like to help him she says but she is busy and she has to go visit her mother in Maysville. I have a car he says. She is not sure, but finally agrees.
They drive to Maysville in Chatham's red convertible with the top down. Paula has a blast. They speak Spanish along the way such that by the time they get to Maysville he has his presentation down pat. They have a nice visit. Paula's sisters are very jealous of Paula, they think Chatham is cute, but Paula doesn't see it--she thinks Chatham is nice enough, but shallow, kind of dopey, and spoiled rotten. Nice visit. Mom OK. Family takes a liking to Chatham and fatten him up. Chatham has the time of his life.
On the way back Paula explains operant conditioning to Chatham who thinks he gets it. They return, Chatham writes a decent paper on his own for a change and does a respectable job in his Spanish presentation.
The following week, Paula goes with Chatham to check out the beach volleyball action. She would've never joined on her own but is emboldened since she now knows someone who plays. She joins Chatham's team. They play, everyone is impressed with Paula's wicked spikes and serves. They have a great time. Later, they add each other to their private networks. Summertime....
Until now, Student Central has not been lovingly embraced or held in high esteem by UNC students, but has instead been grudgingly accepted as a necessary evil. It has been viewed as a tool for students to use for the minimum amount of time possible, and only in very limited roles such as course registration, paying tuition and fees, etc. TARA, introduced in Assignment 3, began to change that perception. However, in almost no way could the Student Central of the past be thought of as a social enabler. The only social aspect of SC mentioned by our interviewees in previous assignments, was commiserating over SC's failings: the sharing of a bad experience.
Clearly in order to enable new forms of social visual communication or organization, significant changes to SC will be required. During our brainstorming session, our thoughts were influenced by the success of the most popular social-networking websites available today: myspace, facebook, friendster, and similar sites. Indeed, these sites' success demands attention: they must be doing something right.
We gave considerable thought to the role that social communication and organization should play during students' interactions with Student Central. As can be seen in our list of brainstorming ideas, many of our ideas duplicate the most successful aspects of the existing social-networking websites mentioned above. This is because in order for SC to be successful at enabling new forms of social communication, it must allow communication -- that is, allow students to network with other students -- something the current SC doesn't do.
In addition to the popular social-networking websites, other inspirations for us included any other avenue via which students presently socialize and network with each other electronically. We discussed electronic mail, instant messaging, and bulletin-board type websites, including UNC's BlackBoard. We decided that while in an ideal world having a unified way to interface with and access all of these resources is desirable (our "collaborative workspace" during brainstorming), simply turning SC into a portal to other resources would not enable new forms of communication, but merely re-polish those existing "old" electronic forms.
Our chosen idea, to add to SC a social-networking tool, is simple in concept and for students (our intended audience) to use, but must necessarily be more complex in design. Each student, when enrolled in a course, would be added to the social network for that course. We envision that not only would the student be in the network for his own section of the course, but also in a larger network for all sections of that course. It is important to note that our term "social network" doesn't imply any sort of predetermined purpose. We envision that by making it easy for students to contact classmates, many uses will develop. Some students might use it for making new friends, some for finding romantic interests, some study partners, etc. UNC administrators would neither mandate nor control its use; UNC simply provides the tool in the same way that UNC provides email addresses but does not censor or eavesdrop.
In addition to course-based networks, other networks would exist. We envision that student clubs and interest groups, from academic, political, or cultural, to religious or fraternal, would find this aspect invaluable. Similarly, informal group networks could be quite useful; whether for intramural sports, carpools to concerts or parties, or even... academic group projects! And of course once a connection is made, if it is via a "provided" network, students may add their new friends to their own personal network groups, ensuring that they are able to maintain contact once the semester has ended.
In order to prove useful as a social-networking enabler, this aspect of SC must be highly customizable and privacy must be taken into account. We propose that by default every student's UNC ONEcard photo be displayed along with his directory information. Some students might choose to provide more information: additional pictures, detailed schedule information, hobbies, hometown, interests, etc. Similarly, some students might choose to restrict access to their personal information: either to persons in a "provided" network, to persons specifically allowed to contact the student, or to opt out of the SC network tool altogether.
Adding our social networking capabilities to SC should provide a definite benefit to students, especially new students who are already used to electronic communication as a form of informal social networking. As we have discussed in class, a very high percentage of incoming UNC students create facebook and/or myspace accounts within days of arrival. These third-party sites therefore seem valuable, but rely on active participation by a large number of students at the same university to prove useful for anything other than vanity. By adding similar functionality to SC, UNC is encouraging, but not forcing, all students to participate in his/her social networks without requiring students to take additional steps.. without relying on third-party sites.. without having to worry about the implications of parents, future employers, or other persons outside the UNC-community spying on their college-age activities.
Our thought process during brainstorming was clearly influenced by myriad already-existing social-networking websites. We endeavored to expand our thought processes and not be limited to borrowing from facebook, myspace, and similar sites. However these ideas involved either creating "yet another portal" to existing electronic resources, or expanding away from the web and into the more physical world of handheld gadgets and other hardware. For this reason, our ideas re-centered on the best aspects of those third-party social-networking websites. We did, however, feel the changes we detailed necessary and, most importantly, attention must be paid to privacy. However the new networking possibilities this part of SC will make available to students should prove beneficial on both the social and academic fronts.