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webapp that improves the office hours experience by optimizing tutor pairings

background

Illustration of students in a various rooms of a building from a floor plan side-view. Some students have question marks over their heads.

In the lower‑level computer science courses at University of Illinois, there are multiple teaching assistants (TAs) with overlapping office hours for tutoring over 500 students per course. Students use a webapp to enter a course’s single queue to meet with TAs, who physically find the student within the building to help them. We knew from first‑ or secondhand experience that TAs and students had a general dissatisfaction with the system.

finding pain points

We interviewed students and TAs from various academic and cultural backgrounds, identifying pain points in the service:

We also examined solutions other courses used, but found that they didn’t adequately address these issues without bringing in problems of their own.

responding to pain points

Illustration of three TA faces with checkboxes under them. Text says 'Choose your TA tutor'

Since the existing alternative solutions were lackluster, we opted to tweak the current system instead:

evaluating the design

We took some creative risks with our interface that needed to be evaluated by users. Users gave us almost unanimous feedback that our skeuomorphic interface elements were terrible.

refining the design

In response to feedback from users and other designers, we altered skeuomorphic interface elements to reflect current standards.

lessons for next time

We made some poor decisions during our design process:

It was also unfortunate that we didn’t have the resources to rigorously test our proposed changes to the service system, and only iterated on the interface. Many of the changes in the design proposal are theoretically reasonable but empirically unproven.

endsign
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