Construction Site — a new platform that enhances collaborative learning at General Assembly

Over the past two weeks, my UX team and I researched and built a new, collaborative learning platform for General Assembly (GA) students called Construction Site. We believe this product can add tremendous value to the General Assembly ecosystem and enhance the quality of education that General Assembly students receive.

Why does General Assembly need this platform?

The answer is simple: Students come to GA to acquire skills, build strong portfolios, and build relationships, but it is difficult for students in one bootcamp to collaborate with students in other in order to build innovative products, or at the very least impart knowledge upon one another. In such a competitive space, the opportunity for General Assembly to be more than a school is one that should be taken advantage of quickly and swiftly. What I am trying to say is that General Assembly can not only be educational, but also a new class of accelerator or incubator — a workplace where entrepreneurial students not only learn, but also produce. Who is to say that the next billion-user product could not stem from collaboration by students at General Assembly? Construction Site is the platform by which GA students have the opportunity to collaborate with one another and actually produce the products of which they can currently only dream.

Research.

We began our research assuming that the problem most GA students were facing was stress from too much work. We spoke with many students in the GA community and asked them questions such as “How are you dealing with stress?”, “What is causing you to be stressed?”, “Are you currently stressed?”, etc… We dug deeper and deeper in order to wrap our heads around this issue of stress at GA. But after hours of digging we did not find any gold. That is to say, we did not find a valuable problem. But maybe we did dig deep enough to discover a silver-lining… if we had found anything at all it was that most students were not experiencing tremendous stress. Feeling defeated, we asked one more question: Is there anything that worries you? This was our turning point. Every student responded by saying, “Yes, what worries me is getting a job and finding employment in the professional world.” Ah ha! From this, a new round of questions rushed to surface: “What helps you feel more confident about getting a job?” “What do you feel like you’re lacking?” “How can GA help you?” Now we were finding a valuable problem — how can we make active and graduated GA students feel more confident that they can get a job?

Our findings unearthed two primary personas — those who were current GA students and those who had graduated within the past 6 months from GA and were not yet working.

Persona 1: Active GA Students worried about finding a job
Persona 2: Early GA Alumni worried about finding a job

Ways in which we can serve our personas reflected our research, which showed that students will more confident about finding a job if they (i) have great portfolios and (ii) are able to display in their interviews that they have a more well-rounded knowledge of tech production. The former and latter can both be enhanced through collaboration with other GA students. Everyone at GA can grow through the sharing of knowledge from different courses — through collaboration on the Construction Site platform.

Synthesis.

Since there are many platforms upon which students, entrepreneurs, and professionals can work collaboratively on desktop and laptop computers, we wanted to build a platform that simply connects GA students from different courses and organizes them onto a team to work on a project. Once they are in a team, then they can go share files on Slack, Google docs, sheets, slides, etc. The point on Construction Site is to connect students, not to create a workplace for file sharing, etc. Construction Site is the kindling to the fire, not the fire itself. With our research in our back pocket, we asked ourselves — How can students connect in a project-driven manner on a mobile platform? Brainstorming and feature prioritization led us to three decisions for primary screens that are both essential and easy to build.

Primary Screen 1: A feed of project ideas from all corners of the GA community.
Primary Screen 2:
Profiles of all students in the GA community.
Primary Screen 3:
Project detail page — showing which skills are needed for a project, what problem the project intends to solve, and who is working on the project.

The rest of the platform takes form around these three primary screens.

Building it.

Feed of project ideas

1. Feed of project ideas

On this screen, all GA students and alumni can post the projects on which they are collaboratively working or on which they would like to work. The creator of the project can add skills that they (or the team) need for their project to succeed and other students with those desired skills can contact the creator and request to join the project. Students can also “upvote” a project to simply express that they think it’s a cool idea and encourage the project to move forward. This “Feed of project ideas” is the default opening page of the app and the page that expresses a great sense of community as it is premised upon the innovative, entrepreneurial spirit of the GA students.

Student profile

2. Profile of GA Students

The profile of GA students is essential to matching projects with students who have the skills necessary to contribute to a project. In this example (left), Philip is quite skilled in both development and UX design, hence he may be a very good candidate for many projects that post on the “feed of project ideas”, which we refer to as the Home page. As you can see in the image, the AI Robot project has been upvoted by Philip himself (yes, he “liked” his own project). When a project is upvoted by a user, the upvoted button turns green. From the “My Projects” section, we can see that Philip is currently working on at least four projects, two of which he is the only member on the project. In the “AI Robot” project, there is one other collaborator.

Project details page

3. Project details

The project details page is essential to creating awareness about a project within the GA community and matching the skills that the project needs with the skills of other GA community members. On this page, the use can also send the creator of the project a chat message and initiate conversation through Slack. A user can also view the team members on the project and view their individual profiles.

Testing it. Again. And again.

We completed two rounds of usability testing to flesh out the structure and intuitive organization of the platform. Generally, the processes of 1) sending a message to the creator of a project, 2) creating a project, and 3) viewing and editing “My Profile” was straightforward and not difficult. These three processes were the main user flows and goals that we asked our testers to accomplish. By the end of our two-stage usability testing process, the navigation that we had designed and iterated upon proved successful.

A controversial decision.

The slack integration — the act of pushing users off of our platform in order to initiate conversation on Slack — was a controversial decision. I am referring to this process:

From left to right: Step 1) user taps “Message Bob on Slack”, Step 2) type in message, Step 3) confirmation of message sent

Although it could be argued that the user should be able to message the creator of a project in a chatroom within the Construction Site platform, we believe that many chatrooms would clutter the Construction Site platform at this early MVP stage. Our thinking was that the internal chat room can always be added later. Also, students who are collaborating on a project would probably end up chatting on Slack anyway since there is file sharing and many other Slack-specific features conducive to productivity already built into the Slack platform. So why not simply let users migrate to the Slack platform initially if they are going to end up there anyway? Some disagreed with this logic, but we stand by it for the MVP launch.

Next steps.

We would like launch on iOS initially — this would speak to the majority of the GA community. After iOS launch, we want to quickly add Android platform in order to be fair to all GA Students.

Three main things we want to do to improve going forward:

  1. Refine the prioritization of projects in the feed. The projects that users see in the feed should primarily be relevant to him or her. We want users to see projects that need their skill sets. It is only these relevant project that students can work on and use to enhance their portfolios.

2. We want to carefully provide a little more leniency with the type of post that user can post in the feed. In the MVP, users will only be able to post projects to the feed, but what if a user simply wants to post a question saying, “I need a Python developer asap! Anyone available?” We want to allow for more conversational posts too, rather than only project-specific posts.

3. Build-in chatting platform. We want to explore the idea of having a light, built-in chatting platform to initiate conversation with people working on other projects. We assume that students who are collaborating on projects will migrate to Slack because is it a more productive work-culture, but for introductory conversations Construction Site should probably have a lite chatting feature inside the app.

In conclusion, by bringing the GA community closer together in a productive, project-focused way on Construction Site, (i) job confidence will increase for students during GA courses, (ii) they be able to learn about other skills and different areas of technology through collaboration with other students, and (iii) the rate of students being hired will likely increase, thus adding value for the GA business and lending more credibility to the GA brand.

We look forward to Construction Site becoming an integral part of the General Assembly ethos and enhance the educational experience for all students beginning and graduating from General Assembly programs.

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