FREEdback

Students in professional schools (like the ischool or b-schools) work in many group projects. FREEdback frees these students to give each other honest feedback about their strengths/weaknesses and improve themselves.

FREEdback was a class project for “User Interface Design and Development” class.

Role: Team member

Skills: UX research, Participatory design, Interaction design, Usability testing

The Problem

Students at professional schools want to improve themselves in various parameters, not the least of which is their interpersonal skills. They work in various different groups, which gives them a great opportunity to collect feedback about their work habits from their peers.

But in a scenario where there are students of various different backgrounds, cultures, temperaments and working styles, students don’t feel comfortable being honest about the feedback that they give their peers, if they give them any at all.

Also, most of the time, the person receiving feedback becomes defensive about their actions and then either ignore the feedback or justify it to themselves. This leads to frustration on both the person giving the feedback as well as the receiver.

Finally, even if the student does receive good feedback, it is very rarely actionable feedback. People rarely know what to do with it.

The Product Vision

FREEdback is a mobile app which lets students give anonymous but actionable feedback to their peers in different groups. Once the feedback has been received, it lets students have constructive anonymous conversations about the feedback, if required.

Tinder-like binary input screen for feedback

Feedback report for students

What We Did

We used user-centered design methods (contextual inquiry, participatory design, affinity diagramming, etc) for this project.

Initially, we had made three key assumptions.

  1. We assumed student feedback would work pretty much the same way that it worked in the professional world with 360 degree feedback.During our interviews, we learnt that the professional world’s hierarchical system of supervisors and subordinates, as compared to the student’s flat world of peers, makes it into an entirely different dynamic. Because the stakes are lower in an educational setting, it’s more difficult to motivate people to want/give feedback, but an advantage is that there are no financial incentives involved, so people aren’t trying to “game the system” as much. That, along with the fact that students at a professional school are much more open to learning about their own shortcomings, created a completely different set of motivations which needed a different solution from corporate setup.
  2. We assumed everybody would like to receive anonymous feedback because it would be the most honest form of feedback.During out contextual inquiries, we learnt that our assumption that “giving” the feedback was the more difficult than “receiving” turned out to be wrong. People were extremely wary of how they would receive negative feedback. We had to balance between making the feedback superfluous on one hand, and making it possible to receive true but negative feedback on the other. We tried various different input formats and reports using paper prototypes, so that we could create the ideal user experience. After several iterations, we wound up using primarily a tag-cloud interface where users could choose words that “least describe” and “most describe” a fellow group member from a list of positive adjectives. Words like “lazy,” we found, hurt more than being “least described” as “productive.” We stayed away from saying “words that do not describe…” for the same reason. We also allowed comments for elaboration, which users generally enjoyed.
  3. We assumed people would like to give feedback very frequently, especially if the interface was as easy as swiping left or right.When we conducted some usability tests, we realized that while the Tinder-like feedback input mechanism sounds great on paper, but people really don’t want to be doing that every day. We had to find other methods of quickly capturing deeper feedback.To solve this, we designed a weekly mixed-method feedback mechanism where you would be able to unlock your feedback by submitting your feedback about your peers. It would also be randomized, so that you would not be able to mechanically go through the motions of giving their feedback.

 

Tag cloud interface – version 2

 

Tag cloud interface – version 3

Paper prototypes

FREEdback – a storyline

Affinity diagram for Freedback needs

 

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