Combining Quantitative and Qualitative User Research for ULB’s New Student App

The Université libre de Bruxelles (ULB) is one of the biggest universities in Belgium with over 40000 students and faculty members. Over the years it has accumulated dozens of different online services catering to the various needs of its 4 campuses (e.g. restaurant menu’s, library occupancy, sporting events, etc.).

With the CampusLife project (part of the SmartCampus platform developed by the Digital Team of the Research Department and with the support of the European Regional Development Fund) ULB sought to combine the student-facing services under a single coherent mobile application. Each student would be able to customize the application to their needs by specifying which services to include on their app’s home screen. Moreover, a new online service was to be included in the CampusLife app: FixMyCampus. This reporting service enables students to report problems with campus infrastructure directly to campus facility services in a few clicks, combining precise data (e.g. pictures, geo-location) with student descriptions of the issue.

Quantitatively A|B Testing Designs

Two designs were on the table. The first design enables students to customize their home screen by longpressing on any service tile and dragging it around to change its placement in the home screen or remove it all together.

The second design enables students to customize their home screen by going to a setting menu after which they can edit their home screen by dragging and dropping tiles.

Two groups of around 20 students each were asked to complete certain tasks in two separate prototypes (one for each design). These prototypes automatically tracked a number of usability metrics (e.g. click heat maps, time spent on each screen, etc.).

 

The collected metrics, in combination with discussion with the students enabled the ULB team to not only determine which design suited its end users the best but also enabled the team to justify this decision towards all stakeholders.

Qualitative Validating Core Ideas in the Field

The ULB team came up with the idea of the “FixMyCampus” service, but had thus far not validated it (or its value proposition) with its end users: students and campus facility staff members. 

The team decided to setup a real-life experiment involving both students and campus facility staff. A fully functional first prototype of FixMyCampus was built and used by a team of 10 students during half a day during which they walked around campus and made reports of various kinds of infrastructure issues (e.g. overflowing trash cans, broken benches, etc.)

These reports were then presented to the campus facility staff, as shown in the screenshot below, in order to validate the validity and usefulness of the collected data. 

This real-life user test enabled the team to validate a crucial assumption: that students would be willing to issue reports and that facility staff members would find these reports useful for their day-to-day tasks. Moreover, it also brought a number of unforeseen concerns to the surface (e.g. student privacy in relation to taking pictures on campus, creation of fake “prank” reports by students, etc).

Following this user-research phase an initial version of the CampusLife application was implemented and deployed at the start of the 2021-2022 academic year. It’s available for download for both iOS and Android.

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