An app that enables students to independently and safely solve the problem of truancy
by Caroline Hassing | Bachelor of Communication & Media Design
by Mascha van Oosterhout | User eXperience Consultant | eProseed-NL
eProseed-NL developed TopCase, a platform which automates all the routine work, raises risk alerts and helps human knowledge workers i.e. civil servants, their partners and citizens to focus on more complex activities and the desired result. The knowledge worker is in control of handling the cases, supported by the system that can suggest actions and automates routine activities.
In the design of TopCase we mainly focused on the context, the requirements and wishes of the adult knowledge worker. However also youngsters can be users of TopCase. How can TopCase be used to support them with their activities in close cooperation with e.g. a municipality or a social worker?
That is the reason why we asked Caroline Hassing, a Communication & Media Design graduation student at Avans Hogeschool Breda, to investigate this. In this blog she describes how she designed a persuasive user experience concept, based on TopCase, for high school students.
The problem statement
The objective of my graduation project was to design a solution by means of which a student is able to independently and safely solve the problem of truancy in close cooperation with his/her parents and the mentor. My motivation application (TopMotji) should encourage students to go to school again, with pleasure.
In order to do so I had to find an answer to the question: «Why do high school students skip school and how can they be motivated to attend classes again?»
The people concerned
I discovered that many participants are involved in answering the question «How to motivate high school students who play truant, to attend classes again?» During my research I noticed that these high school students and the people directly involved in motivating them, have different needs and expectations.
For my graduation project I chose to focus on vulnerable young people in the age of 12 to 18. Young people who, in one way or another are stranded, who however are sufficiently motivated to improve their own situation themselves through appropriate individual exercises. My solution in combination with coaching by a mentor and support by people close to them, should provide support to these young people.
Student, parents and mentor work closely together for optimal guidance. The parents are the motivating factors for the student. The mentor guides the student at school.
Students who have to pay a visit to the compulsory education officer form the really severe cases. They need professional guidance. To prevent this from happening I designed the motivation app (TopMotji), a safe environment by means of which the student, his/her parents and the mentor can securely discuss the truancy and define actions in order to help and motivate the student.
In my master project I used several design methods. My action plan consisted of 5 phases.
- During the analysis phase I defined my assignment, created personas for the most important stakeholders – the high school student in trouble is Kelly – and I did literature research.
- In the exploration phase I interviewed all stakeholders in order to define and establish who needs what, to be able to support the student.
- In the imagination phase, I defined the first usage scenarios and design concepts for the app.
- During the implementation phase I created multiple low-and high-fidelity wireframes in Adobe Illustrator.
- In the evaluation phase I performed a usability test with different prototypes with students of different ages in their own environment. During the usability test I asked them to perform specific tasks, with the aim to determine whether the application is in line with the experiences, the demands and wishes of young people.
The motivation theory
An important starting point for the design of a motivational app is the universal theory of motivation (Bors, 2010), as applied in education. The theory states that young people get personal problems the moment the environmental conditions are not met. These conditions are: autonomy, ambition, and relationship. In their interaction they determine the motivation of the student and their possible truancy. Therefor these conditions are key success factors regarding the guidance of the student with the help of my application.
- Autonomy: the student makes her own choices and is solely responsible.
- Competence: the student is challenged in a way which fits her own level of thinking and working. She should experience herself what she is good at.
- Relationship: the student trusts her mentor and is trusted and motivated by her social contacts (including parents and friends).
I found out that most interventions are carried out in groups. It is a challenge to guide the student in a personal way by means of a motivational application like TopMotji. The application should not only be effective, it should also persuade the student to use it. Therefore, much attention has been given to the aspects: motivation, guidance, gamification and rewards, so that a student, after completion of her personal program, finds her problem resolved.
The motivational application: TopMotji
TopMotji is designed to be used by students in their own context, on a smartphone. The app fits with the experiences of young people in which girls like to work with social media and the boys like to game.
TopMotji is used as a supporting medium in the guidance of a student by a mentor, assisted by people in close relation to the student, so called insiders. In their first meeting student and mentor set up a plan of action in which they formulate goals and sub-goals in TopCase. The mentor selects from a library of exercises the ones that fit with the sub-goals. she assigns them weekly to the student who receives them on her mobile in TopMotji. The student can/has to act on them. The results as well as the students’ remarks and moods will be saved in the app. This information serves as input for the regular conversation with the mentor.
In order to persuade students to use the app, TopMotji offers the following features:
- A virtual pin board: The student can pin photos, motivational messages and personal milestones to the board; [Fig. 1]
- A ‘chat room’: The student can easy chat with insiders and share her problems, frustrations, results and questions; [Fig. 2]
- A diary: to register personal experiences; [Fig. 3]
- Exercises: The student must complete them to achieve her weekly goals;
- Tips: Information on specific related topics;
- The student can share the diary- and exercises information with the parents, mentor or friends.
The student is motivated to use the app because for completing the diary, performing exercises and for sharing information, she receives a specific amount of points. With these points she can ‘buy’ a prize, such as a sticker to pimp her pin board or a day trip to the cinema offered by an insider e.g. her mother. [Fig. 4]
TopMotji versus TopCase in this concept
TopMotji is intended to be an extension to TopCase. TopCase will be used by the mentor to invite all people involved in supporting the student and share information. TopCase will contain a list of exercises intended to help students with specific problems. The mentor will use TopCase to set up and maintain the Plan of Action. Information gathered and shared in TopMotji is accessible to the mentor, the parents and the student. With all the available information, they can better support the student in overcoming her problems and happily go to school again.