Taking #NOBACKROW to heart
When I received a recruiter message in 2016 regarding a position as a TA for Georgia Tech’s coding boot camp, I never knew how much it would change my life. My journey with Trilogy Education Services (which was later acquired by 2U) started in the classroom: first as a TA, and then as an instructor. When offered a full-time position aboard the boot camp team, I leapt at the opportunity. I have always firmly believed that a four-year degree shouldn’t be the only way to a successful career, so being able to support an alternative path to success for so many was an exciting opportunity.
When joining the boot camp product team as their first UX designer, I had to create space for design in the development process. My mantra was (and still is) “data-driven decision making.” We as a company needed to be making decisions based on evidence to ensure we delivered necessary products and features. My primary focus was curriculum delivery and learning experience, as well as student retention and job readiness. Conducting research with potential, current, and graduated students, as well as other student categories like those who didn’t complete the course, was crucial to creating product offerings that enriched the educational experience.
- User research + testing
- Market + industry research
- Wireframing + high-fidelity mockups
- Strategic roadmap planning
- Stakeholder communications
- Taking organizational goals into account to produce successful outcomes for both the students as well as the business
Tools + tech used
- Instructure Canvas
- Google Analytics
- Github for Businesses
- Adobe Creative Cloud
- Slack Block Kit + Platform API
- Atlassian Jira for agile project management
- Atlassian Confluence for project documentation and designer/developer handoff
- Feedback Loop for product research
- UserTesting for user research
1. Data gathering: User + market research, stakeholder interviews, metric analysis
2. Understanding + strategizing: Research synthesis and ideation, participatory decision making, stakeholder discussions, technical feasibility
3. Layout + mockups: Wireframing, asset creation, interactive prototyping, rapid iteration prototyping
4. Handoff: Specification writeups, designer/developer discussions
5. Next steps: Testing, KPI gathering, further iteration (ie. let's do it again!)
Major projects + initiatives
In an attempt to preserve costs while also improving student experience, centralized services were introduced to boot camps. A tutor team, centralized grading team, and learning assistants team available to support students on Slack were three services that helped complete this goal.
When building a Slack application to connect students with a knowledgeable learning assistant, UX was taken into account heavily from UX writing to laying out the Slack app interface using Slack’s Block Kit. Tutor scheduling saw a dramatic overhaul by adding a scheduler into Canvas. A portal that aggregated all student homework was created to allow graders to grade assignments quickly and with minimal friction.
The tutor portal LTI, Slack app, and centralized grading tool have all evolved over time with constant design evolutions. Our goal is to challenge our metrics constantly. After the introduction of centralized grading for our in-person courses, we then worked on bringing grading of Canvas homework into our platform, thus drastically cutting overhead costs involved in having centralized graders be assigned Canvas accounts. The introduction of learning assistants and centralized graders have also saved hundreds of thousands of dollars in staffing costs by reducing the number of TAs assigned specifically to only one course at a time. The designs and features of these platforms are iterated on consistently. Over the last year and a half there has been a 270% increase in usage of our Slack app. Over that same period of time, we’ve been able to reduce grading time by 31% through more efficient UX.
Online campus experience
Even before a global pandemic, market research we conducted showed that more students favored an asynchronous, online boot camp experience. Instructure’s Canvas was chosen to be our learning management system (LMS) due in part to its ability to expand by way of the IMS learning tools interoperability (LTI) standard.
Strategic planning of the additions we made to Canvas was critical to making sure the tools were easy to use for students and instructional teams and flowed seamlessly with the rest of the LMS experience. The learning design system (LDS) was another UX/visual design project that focused on making course content easily readable, digestible, and enjoyable.
When compared to the live in-person course, the first consumers to take on this asynchronous model reported feeling both more supported and more engaged, based on weekly student surveys.
After introduction of this new model and the creation of a career services LTI, the NPS score for career services saw a 46% increase.
The first enterprise course to take on this asynchronous model saw approximately a 9% boost in the “Would You Recommend” NPS score.
Education needs to be accessible. 2U’s #NOBACKROW motto wouldn't be true if we didn't take into account students who use assistive technologies. My team head up a full audit of our student-facing applications and services to make sure all products were easily usable without a mouse, via screen readers, and via voice-control applications.
To date, 138 accessibility problems have been identified and addressed in accordance with WCAG 2.1 AA standards.
Moving forward, a QA process that takes into account accessibility concerns will be implemented and our UI component library will be updated to make sure these changes take effect across our digital offerings.
A slide deck with a more in-depth look at my projects for 2U is available upon request