Self Reflection on Microsoft Design Expo Project

Part 1: From Week 1 to Week 8

Week 1: Team Zero to Hero

The design brief of this year is much more interesting than that of last year — Envisioning a possible social impact brought by mixed reality — As a high-tech geek, I’m really excited about delving into the disruptive technology and the landscape of future formed by it. Besides, this project will be more challenging than any other projects that I’ve done, because I have no experience in AR prototyping.

Alas, I couldn’t attend the first class because I was sick, so I heard from EJ later that I will work with her, Ash and Allison over the semester. I was kind of relieved when I heard about the roster because I knew that Ash and Allison are all cool girls to work with, despite I’ve never work with them before. Well, I’ve overlooked how team BFF worked last year so I’m pretty sure that I won’t be as stressed as Jiyoung…

Before our first meeting, we referred to the last year’s presentations and explored some possible topics we can work on. Seemed like most teams of last year worked on people in specific field such as paramedics, police force and doctors. Especially we were so impressed on team TLC’s work. It must have been really challenging for them to collaborate with doctors. We heard from Tracy that they could work with them thanks to Calvin’s human network.

This week we wrote a team contract and briefly shared our common interests and what each of us would like to learn. Fortunately, seemed like we were all on the same page about field of interest; all of us are interested in cultural exchange and human-centered design. Besides, we are all somehow skeptical about replacing reality to the mixed reality experience (like replacing me to the hologram surrogate). When it comes to the skills we want to learn, I think our team has a good balance — Allison and Ash love conducting researches while EJ and I prefer making something. I really like my team and I’m looking forward of our next step.

Week 2: Confirming Problem Space

The meetings of this week was super interesting and productive. We all had a same thought that the mixed reality will boost the learning experience. Especially Allison and Ash liked this direction so much because they are also taking Learning Experience Design course.

We looked through some ACM papers about the MR-based education solutions. Overall, there are five main topics that have been dealt by researchers:

  • Body-based metaphor — helps K-12 students learn difficult/abstract concepts such as STEM subjects.
  • Embodied learning — facilitates skill-based learning such as job training
  • Responsive facilitation — provides real-time feedback through remote tutors/guides
  • Simulating situation — creates virtual spaces and trains learners to get used to a certain situation
  • Motivating creative thinking — helps students develop the ability to come up with new ideas

On the other hand, we all agreed that we don’t want to work on embodied learning and body-based metaphor because they are already explored enough. Therefore, we decided to focus on situation simulation and providing real-time feedback.

The next step is to choosing the subject. Based on the examples and our interests, we brainstorming further about the types of learning and categorized them. Among the candidates, we chose three final topics: Medical decision, Music education, Spoken language. Each topic has pros and cons, so we listed up the advantages and limitations about each of them and discussed which one might be the best for us. After the long discussion, we felt that medical decision making might be too hard topic to work on the whole semester, so we scoped out the topic.

It was really hard to make a decision between music and spoken language because both music education and spoken language education are very interesting. While there is an apparent needs in language learning, we need to explore a specific problem space if we choose music education. However, we all hesitated to choose language education because we couldn’t envision an innovative solution.

Each of us is on the same page that we don’t want to create an instant translation solution nor traditional language education tools. Instead, what happens if we approach language acquisition process as cultural learning? We pivoted the topic to language as a culture and we were all happy to delve more into the relationship between a learner and his/her surrounding environment. What a fascinating topic! I really LOVED our problem space.

Week 3: Territory Definition & Exploratory Research

We had the first presentation this week and revealed our territory map as above. Our territory map has four main stages, and we built the stages out accordingly. The first stage shows the individual’s key language skills of writing, reading, speaking, and listening. Many language learners begin learning these skills in traditional educational settings or familial settings, or both. However, there is limited immersion here.

For the fastest and most effective language learning, full immersion is essential. Many students travel abroad and embed themselves in another culture and social context, a process that is both intimidating and empowering. They come into contact with people who may not speak their native language, and they are surrounded by the visuals and sounds of a different environment.

Ideally, out of full immersion comes true cultural learning and understanding. We believe that language learning is not just about the four key skills we identified, but that it can lead to a deeper understanding of cultures that are different than our own. From this came the ‘clear need’ of learning a new language and understanding a new culture. Aspects of a culture beyond language itself that are key to learning how to interact across cultural barriers might include different value systems, traditions, etiquette, festivals, dress, etc. Learning about all these things can be an intimidating process and through our design we hope to address that.

We also saw what topics that other teams chose. There were some interesting but might be really challenging problem spaces, especially aging and mindful consumption. I really wonder how they end it up.

After the presentation, we started interviewing language learners and experts. It was so easy to find first interviewees because I’m now taking the language lecture at ICC. However, our first interview with ICC was very nerve-wrecking…they were not really supportive on our research but they gave us many useful resources found in Hunts Library.

Ashlesha and I attended the ‘Small Talk’ seminar hosted by ICC. The purpose of this seminar is to help international students understand the importance of small talks and facilitate those conversation in the real world. We pretended to be participants and observed other students. Each attendee came from various countries including China, Indonesia and Rwanda. Though most students have fairly advanced English proficiency, they are not familiar with the American culture yet, especially when it comes to having a conversation with American people.

We learned the interesting social background about why ‘small talk’ culture is developed in the States; unlike other traditional countries, the US is the country built by immigrants from all over the world. That is, each individual don’t share the commonalities. Since it is hard to feel similarities between community members, people used small talks to lower emotional barriers and build relationship with those from different background.

Her explanation totally struck my mind. That means the history of a nation affects everyday social interaction. Without understanding it, it would be hard to have empathy in building relationship. Then how might we give these background information to language learners in a real situation? This is definitely the most important question we need to consider.

Week 4: Exploratory Research

Allison also reached out some language experts at Dietrich College and we interviewed them this week. We prepared a short protocol to guide our conversation, but we let the interview flow pretty freely to understand his experience, goals, and perspective on technology in language learning. In general, they all pointed out that language and culture are deeply intertwined and we can’t separate them. This means that culture serves as motivation for language learning.

It was really interesting that they are all super intrigued in high technology. (Maybe because we belong to CMU!) They said that online and distance learning lack interaction, so if MR can bring more interactions between learners and their target culture, that would be fantastic.

As an observation, Allison and I also attended a Spanish conversation class held at Carnegie Public Library. Unlike other observation, we had to join the conversation and experienced how speaking foreign language is like. Since I haven’t learned Spanish for 4 years, it was literally nerve-wrecking to start speaking Spanish because my Spanish database hasn’t been updated for a long time! But funny thing is, I still could understand what native speakers said. It was just I couldn’t speak it out loud well. I was drenched in sweat…

From this experience I felt that it would be really awesome if the technology can suggest good expressions when I’m asked a question. It was very frustrated especially when I understand the question but don’t know how to response. Without knowing basic expressions, it is impossible to maintain conversations at all.

Week 5: Research Synthesis

Over the past few weeks, we had six main things we did for our exploratory research: language acquisition expert interviews, language and cultural teacher interviews, language and cultural learner interviews, observation and participation, secondary research & diary studies and synthesized our key findings. We jotted down our interview takeaways and rearranged the buckets a couple different times throughout the week in hopes of not basing our findings off only our first few interviews and using the rest to merely affirm our early hunches.

During our research methods class we also tried a rose/thorn/bud sorting, marking some stickies with red stickers (current highlight moment, should keep/capitalize on this), blue stickers (current pain point, should ameliorate this), and green stickers (current area of potential), but this exercise wasn’t really helpful to us in the stage we were in during that class session. We had a lot of trouble defining the roses, thorns, and buds for ourselves, since we hadn’t explicitly heard about pain points and highlight moments.

We also had the second presentation this week…wow, time flies! We drew a motivation map of the learners to describe the learner experience and it worked really well. Motivation stays pretty constant because of their need to use the language in context. However, because this situation is more closely tied to their everyday lives, there’s a lot more emotional weight. Oftentimes, when learners first enter immersive environments, fear or shyness can keep them from engaging with people right away. Once they are able to build relationships and integrate into a community, though, they are much more comfortable. It’s at this personal level where we believe true language and cultural learning can peak.

After the long limbo, we finally got the feedback about our first presentation from Irina and Kevin. It seemed like they were all very excited about our problem space, mainly because they both put themselves into the same shoes. However we were not sure whether their suggestions were particularly helpful because they sent us mostly positive feedback with a few hints at needing to scope, which we’ve done throughout our synthesis process already.

Week 6: Generative Research Workshop w/Duolingo

As Confluence is coming soon, each of us (except me) decided to take a break and focus more on job hunting. Since I’ve already been there and done that, I totally understand how hard to get a job so I prepared for our generative research workshops for my teammates.

A week ago, Molly bridged our team and Duolingo designers, which was a great opportunity for us to talk about language learning and technology. (Thank you so much Molly!!) After confluence, we visited Duolingo office and met Myra, a lead community specialist and Aya & Vivian, product designers. We spent the first half an hour to learn more about Duolingo and the recent linguistic theory and did a pilot generative research workshop for the second half of the meeting time.

It was so interesting that all of them have multicultural backgrounds; Myra is half German, Aya is German/Japanese and Vivian is Brazilian/Swedish. We asked them to create a journey map about their language learning experience and explain about their emotions on each stage.

At first I thought they have more advantages than other learners because they could expose more to their second/third language from their family. However, all of them pointed out that their first living experience abroad was the hardest moment. It’s because their language ability was quite limited to get used the full immersive language experience, so they had to practice more with their host families and friends. It was also painful for them to dedicate their leisure time to learn a language, which is why they came up with the idea of learning languages with fun.

When it comes to ‘sign translator’ technology, each participant had different opinions; while Myra thought it might help people understand their surrounding environment easier, Vivian said that it wouldn’t really encourage learners to try understanding a different language as itself.

Besides the workshop, I personally think Duolingo is one of the coolest workplaces I’ve ever visited! I’ve been using Duolingo even before coming to CMU and was really surprised when I learned that Duolingo is the Pittsburgh-based start-up company. It gave me a huge inspiration on how might technology provide equal education opportunity to all people.

Week 7: Workshops w/Teachers & Learners + Synthesis

This week we hosted two generative workshops: one with two language professors, and one with five language learners with a variety of learning backgrounds. Allison and I alternated between facilitating and taking video/photos. I’m still not quite confident in facilitating meetings & workshops, maybe because of cultural difference but I love to push myself to break the emotional barrier.

I facilitated the second workshop with learners which gave us a lot of insights that we haven’t thought about. We recruited the learners who have immersive language & cultural experiences. It was super interesting to listen to their stories and their diverse thoughts & ideas about “the magic technology”.

After the workshops, we spent a few hours on doing synthesis. We basically took all their ideas, mapped them to a learning experience, saw where mixed reality might be most effective, and narrowed that down to three concept spaces. Ash and Allison brought “the learning process curve” learned from Stacie’s Learner Experience Design course and talked about the ideal learning experience. We took the opportunity spaces from our bucket titles and mapped them first to a circular learning cycle and then to a hilly journey. Then, we finally came up of three main key concepts as below:

  1. Passive Exposure

We heard that successful language learners start early and surround themselves with this second language and culture. Since we’ve chosen to focus on designing for intermediate or advanced learners with a variety of backgrounds, it may not have been possible for these learners to be exposed to the sounds and environments of this secondary culture from an early age–but can we introduce them now? Being surrounded by these sounds, words, and environments can help learners with their pronunciation and application of the language, allowing their entrance into a new linguistic landscape to be a little less stressful.

2. Immersive Virtual Environment

This is the biggest component of language learning that traditional language learning lacks. Both of the professors we spoke to built a virtual environment with the cards and props we provided. A virtual environment can help students locate themselves and their confidence within a low-stakes environment before heading out into the real world for language and cultural learning and application. Virtual environments can also shift easily, so for example, if you’re learning French you can visit both a hospital in France and a hospital in Senegal.

3. Contextual Social Interaction Learning

Our learners who either are currently in a secondary language culture or have been immersed in one came up with some ideas about prompting learners with appropriate dialogues, vocabulary, etiquette, and more. While they may have learned component skills in a limited immersion space, applying those skills is a different way of thinking that might benefit from nudging.

Week 8: Generative Research Presentation & Spring Break

Again, time flies! We’ve done 50% of our design project and talked through what we’ve found so far and showed our 3 major concepts and rough envisions to Microsoft people.

Honestly, I was kind of disappointed about our presentation mainly because we didn’t get enough constructive feedback from Microsoft (maybe because Kevin lost attention). Also, since each of our key concept has a different direction, it seemed like Peter and Bruce didn’t understand well either. Well it’s true that we still need to narrow down our concept.

Anyway, we are all tired of our long journey. We need to get some good rest and come back!

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