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Hey UX Academy community! As you may know, we’ve long had a goal of making UX Academy the best online design program in the world — hoping to combine the flexibility and convenience of an online course, with the rigor and community of an offline program. With that goal in mind, we launched Group Hangouts in January 2016, wanting to build on the Slack community and provide a regular weekly forum for students to connect and discuss their work. Through ongoing feedback and Exit Interviews, we’ve heard that many students deeply value Group Hangouts — as an opportunity to connect with peers, talk about the design work, and form lasting connections with their classmates that last well after the course is over. As we grow the UX Academy community, though, we’re continually evaluating the Designlab product and looking for ways to improve learning outcomes, program rigor, and your overall experience.

In this post, we’ll outline how we applied the design thinking process to Hangouts — how we analyzed the strengths and weaknesses, our findings, and the resulting updates that will be coming soon.

We think this post will be of interest both as a product announcement, and as a peek into our own design process as a team.

 

Research Process

We approached some colleagues of ours with a deep background in academia and industry design leadership to review our product for curriculum rigor. The project consisted of the following steps:

  • Reviewing current Hangout instructional materials for students
  • Reviewing current training materials for facilitators
  • Chatting with Hangout facilitators before sessions
  • Auditing Hangout sessions and observing student and facilitator behavior
  • Reviewing findings with the Designlab team

This short 2-week research sprint generated some rich insight that we’ll be using to inform enhancements to Hangouts.

 

Findings

 

Hangouts are an important component of the course experience in UX Academy. Currently, they function as a foundation of the community and social structure in the program, helping students connect regularly, share their work, and feel supported by peers. 

We noticed the following:

  • Our Hangout facilitators approach the sessions with different models of mentorship. Some moderators approach sessions as “critique leaders”, others as “design managers” — which introduces some variability in the format and approach experienced by students.
  • The line between emotional support and design critique isn’t extremely clear. While community support is a huge part of staying motivated in the course, this prevents the work from getting the full benefit of critique, which is a disservice to the learning outcomes that could be achieved with this format.
  • Students aren’t equipped with a consistent format, framework, and language to share their work during these sessions.

 

Here’s a summary of the learning outcomes we expect students to gain from the community critique format:

 

 

Communication

 

Ability to present work in progress and solicit feedback
Ability to formally present work in the context of a design presentation
Discuss and understand design work and methods

Professional Skills

Punctuality and preparedness
Organization of files and materials

Critical Thinking

Understanding of design process
Understanding of vocabulary that designers use in critique
Understanding what makes a good question
Ability to ask the right questions to encourage productive dialogue
Identifying and evaluating tradeoffs in what design methods and tools to use
Identifying and evaluating tradeoffs in specific design decisions
Increasing quality of decision making
Increasing quality of use of design methods
Increasing quality of craft in design screens

 

Next Steps

 

Over the next couple of weeks, you’ll notice the following changes rolling out. They reflect our focus on the importance of community critiques, and are intended to strengthen the overall learning experience in UX Academy:

  • We’ll be updating the title of the format from “Hangouts” to “Group Crits” to reflect that their primary purpose is design critique
  • Moderators will be prepared to host sessions in the role of critique leaders, not design managers — asking open-ended questions to help team members articulate their reasoning; helping students to identify tradeoffs in decision making, rather than providing recommendations; and providing their opinion only after other critique participants have had their say
  • We’ll explicitly define a consistent format for Group Crit presentations, and expect students to attend these sessions with advance preparation. Moderators will hold participants accountable to this format
  • We’re considering updating course policies to reflect how vital it is to participate in these sessions
  • In the future, we’d like students to jointly own their outcomes in the process — taking notes on the feedback they receive, summarizing it for mentors and other students, and carrying it forward to improve their work
  • While we’re sharpening the focus of these sessions, we’d still like the community and social benefits of the format to continue — so we’ll open up the Google Hangouts rooms for 30 minutes before and after the official Group Crit sessions

We expect these changes to come into effect by the end of October.

We believe that the combination of online coursework, project-based learning, 1-on-1 mentorship, and community critiques is a powerful mix — with each component helping students to deliberately practice essential professional skills. With this set of updates, we feel confident that Group Crits will provide a robust structure to support strong learning outcomes for UX Academy students. 

Interested in changing careers or building your skills to make you more valuable? Check out UX Academy and apply before the next cohort. There are very limited available seats and a waiting list for each cohort. Apply now to UX Academy

About Designlab

Designlab teaches you UI/UX design skills through online courses with 1-on-1 mentorship from expert designers.

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